The Dark Side of Fitness: The Treadmill’s Forgotten Past

There are few things that I hate more than running on the treadmill.  I am a fitness enthusiast, don’t get me wrong, and am in the gym at least 5 days a week (sometimes 6 in season) but I just cannot stand bouncing up and down in place on that infernal machine.  I prefer to do my running outside, even if it is like 4 degrees out there and snowing.

You might even say that, for me,  the treadmill is torture.

Needless to say I was not surprised to discover that in fact, the treadmill’s namesake and predecessor was the 19th century tread-wheel invented in Jamaica’s burgeoning prison systems to extract labor from black inmates and serve as a form of punishment.

Slaves were made to “dance the wheel”  while their wrists were chained to the beam above.  Failure to keep pace with the tread-mill would result in banged and bruised shins and a whipping courtesy of the overseer.

Running in place while going nowhere (on the treadmill) also served as a beautiful albeit painful metaphor for the ’emancipated’ Jamaican negroes who were supposedly free, yet remained bonded and subjugated by the rise of the modern prison system.  Despite the promise of gradual emancipation, racism remained a pervasive force in the Atlantic World and the modern prison system replaced slavery as a way to ensure a reliable free labor force that could be exploited indefinitely.  The world’s first treadmills played a pivotal role during this formative moment for the creation of a prison society in Jamaica.

Next time your coach, trainer, or fitness guru tells you to do some cardio, I hereby grant you the right to protest the treadmill on the grounds of moral opposition.

Besides… why not lift heavy things instead, it’s so much more fun!