If ever there were an award for the least “sexy” piece of fitness equipment, the treadmill would be a major contender. Despite a PR image problem as dull and boring, the treadmill is enjoying a resurgence of popularity in global physical fitness trends for 2019. Still, the mere mention of the word can conjure up Sisyphean images with a hint of torture. That’s thanks to the treadmill’s dark history. English civil engineer Sir William Cubitt created the prototype in 1818 specifically to “reform stubborn, idle convicts”. It looked nothing like today’s streamlined, high-tech treadmills. Cubitt’s device forced prisoners to step on the spokes of a large paddle wheel and climb it, much like a Stairmaster (the modern device that replicates benefits of running up and down an infinite staircase). As prisoners stepped on the spokes, gears pumped water to power plumbing or ventilation systems in mines or simply to crush grain — hence the later title of treadmill. Prisoners considered the device...

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