Burpees, dumbbells, kettlebells, jumping jacks, deadlift or landmine press are exercises and pieces of equipment you are most likely familiar with if you have ever stepped foot in a gym. Have you ever wondered where their names came from? Wonder no more, for you are only paragraphs away from uncovering some of your gym’s greatest mysteries.
Dr Burpee and Mr Hyde
The burpee was named after Doctor Royal Burpee, an American doctor in physiology. Dr Burpee developed the burpee as a simple test to assess physical fitness in the 1930s. Also called squat thrust, the original burpee did not feature the pushup as we do it today. By he 1940s, the burpee had become a staple of the US army fitness test. The world record of burpees in one minute is 47.
In the 18th century, people started to lift small church bells to increase their strength. The clappers were removed, turning the bells into mute bells, or 'dumb' bells (the original meaning of 'dumb' was 'silent'). Dumbbells predate barbells and it is fair to assume that barbells were the result of some enlightened lifter sticking a bell at each end of a pole.
Dumbbell-like equipment has been around for more than two millennia. Ancient Greeks used stone weights with a hole for a handle. China's Shaolin monks trained with heavy padlocks to get stronger. Scots used handheld weights that they threw over a bar during the Highland Games. They still do. The design evolved over time to become the dumbbell we know today.
Kettlebells, another type of handheld free weight equipment, are made of cast iron and look like tea pots that lost their spouts, hence the name. Kettlebells were originally used by Russian farmers as counterweights. Farmers then started to use them at fairs during which they would compete in feats of strength.
Jumping Jack and the beanstalk
Jumping jacks were named after a popular wooden mechanical toy whose arms and legs move up and down together when you pull on a string attached to its back. The original toy was known as 'pantin' in France and 'Hampelmann' in England and Germany. The world record of jumping jacks in one minute is 103.
Deadlift is one a the few exercises that starts with the concentric phase (as opposed to the eccentric phase when you lower the weight first such as bar squat). In plain english, this means lifting weight with no momentum; lifting dead weight off the ground, hence the name, deadlift. The world record for one repetition is 500kg.
The movement of the barbell moving up and down during a landmine press is reminiscent of that of a land mine exploding form the ground up. A land mine is a military device that detonates when soldiers step on it. For the anecdote, a land mine costs as little as AU$4 to produce but up to AU$2000 to remove from the ground.
Other exercises such as pushups, pullups, lunges, rows or squats are self-explanatory since they derive from the verbs that describe the movements performed. I already covered the history of the treadmill in a previous blog so I invite you to check it out if you haven't read it yet. In my next blog I will tell you the story of Steven Seagal, the man who invented aïkido in his first movie. Just kidding.