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Did you know, the treadmill has a rather disturbing past? The device originated in prisons in the 1800’s as a form of torture.

Exercising on the device often feels like torture, and that’s not exactly a coincidence. In 1818, an English civil engineer created a machine called the “tread-wheel” to reform convicts. Hence the term tread-mill.

Prisoners would step on a large paddle wheel, climbing it like a modern StairMaster. As the spokes turned, the gears were used to pump water or crush grain. Hence the eventual name treadmill. Prisoners would be on the treadmills for hours at end. The exertion, combined with poor diets, often led to injury and illness (as well as rock-hard muscles!), but that didn’t stop jails all over Britain and the United States from buying the machines.

Over the years, the machine went out of fashion in favor of other backbreaking tasks, such as picking cotton, breaking rocks, or laying bricks. In England, the treadmill persisted until the late 19th century, when it was abandoned for being too cruel. The machine was all but lost to history.

When health benefits of aerobic exercise in the 1960s were noted, the tread mill made a triumphant return. As unlikely as it sounds, the running machine is in fact the most likely cause of injury in the gym. From cases of trapped fingers, concussion, bruising, sprains and broken bones, running on a treadmill is a seriously risky business.

Some tips to avoid an injury while using the treadmill:

Tie your laces
TURN IT OFF – Turn off the machine before getting on or off
DON’T MULTITASK – Don’t play with your phone or change channels or read a book!
CHECK THE SETTINGS – Make sure the settings from the last user have been cleared before you start using the machine
LOOK AHEAD – That’s right. Look ahead and focus on the machine and where your foot lands

Watch this TED video on the history of the tread mill!

The treadmill's dark and twisted past

Running on a treadmill can certainly feel like torture, but did you know it was originally used for that very purpose?

Posted by TED-Ed on Saturday, 8 April 2017