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The Sport Digest - ISSN: 1558-6448

The History of Strength Training

Strength training is not a modern invention. Egyptian tombs show pictures of lifting bags filled with sand and stone swinging and throwing exercises. These types of things were also popular in early Germany, Scotland, and Spain. Weightlifting competitions date back to the early Greek civilization. These events led to the origination of games that later became known as the modern Olympics. The pioneers of these events did not have the sophisticated equipment that we have today or the research on training and physiology to back up the exercises, but they did have the most important thing — the desire to lift something heavy for fun, sport, and physical health.

Mother Nature’s gifts are all that these originators had to use. They made equipment out of whatever they could. As time went on, they created more modern inventions for weightlifting. For example, dumbbells originated in the 1700’s when a rod was placed between two church bells. When a clapper was removed from the bells, they became silent, or dumb, hence the word dumbbell. Indian clubs, which resemble a bowling pin and kettle balls (cast-iron balls with a handle), were popular in the early 1800’s. Weight-training equipment evolved in the form of pulleys, air pressure devices, and multi stations in the 19th century. At first, the people who used this type of equipment were strongmen performing at contests and exhibitions. Amateur weightlifting became a sanctioned event at the Olympics in 1896, although there were no female athletes. Women’s weightlifting didn’t become a sanctioned Olympic sport until 2000.

Weight training progressed significantly in the 1900’s with the invention of the adjustable, plate-loaded barbell. Weight training became more popular at this time because it was much easier to change the weight on the barbells. Weight training really gained momentum when sports coaches began to see that it was an excellent addition to athletic and physical education programs.

Bodybuilding soon followed on the sandy shores of Muscle Beach in Venice, California. Bodybuilding was practiced by men and women who participated in physique shows, weightlifting competitions, and acrobatics demonstrations. This was when women’s progression into weightlifting really took hold. This is primarily contributed to the Nautilus machines. These machines used variable resistance. The Nautilus variable resistance machines hit the market in the 1970’s. The machines were great because they were less intimidating than free weights. They allowed people to lift light weights easily, which was perfect for the woman who was just starting out. The creator of the Nautilus, Arthur Jones, preached a philosophy of training that gave people a road map and instructions for the use of his machines. He proposed a 20-minute workout three times a week that included one set of 8 to 12 repetitions for each Nautilus machine. Many people are still following his recommendations today.

The innovation of the Nautilus machines inspired a fitness revolution, and many different companies came on the market with their own resistance machines. In the 1970’s, the aerobics revolution began, and it flourished throughout the 1980’s. Women who had previously been training with weights were now jumping and stepping in huge proportions aerobics rooms rather than going out to weight floors. A hybrid of selector zed equipment was the plate-loaded machine, which was introduced in the later 1980’s. Hammer Strength was the first of these machines. Entire body movement was the focus for these machines, rather then specific body parts. The machines felt natural and smooth, and they actually led to a resurgence of lifting free weights. Women were coming back into the weight room. It was also becoming apparent, through research and anecdotal reports, that resistance training produced huge benefits for those who participated in sports. There probably isn’t any serious athlete or sports team today that doesn’t believe in training with weights.

Strength training in the past was very plain; there was not a lot that could be changed about the way an exercise was done. Today, the world of weightlifting is changing all of the time with new machines, workouts, equipment, and techniques. Fitness and everything associated with it has come far. Strength training, to me, is something that is only going to get better. The benefits that come from it are astronomical. We, as a society, have come to figure out that weight training is not only for a select few; it is for everyone. Every person needs strength training in some way or another.

Strength training is evolving as we speak. From circuit training to multiple muscle workouts, functional core training is the cause of this evolution. Balance, stability, pure core strength, and functional training are vital to the new strength trainers. It is only going to get better. Future strength training practices will allow us to function better and be able to produce a much faster, stronger, and more agile athlete. Who knows how far it will go? Where will it all stop? Is there a stopping point? I hope not!!