The History of Weight Training and Lifting

How Weight Training Evolved

Lifting Weights
Lifting Weights. (c) Paul Rogers

Considering the history of wars and conflicts in the 10,000 years of human civilization -- many fought hand to hand and with personal equipment -- it's not difficult to imagine how strength, power, speed and size was a very desirable characteristic for warriors. Drawings in Egyptian tombs seem to show pictures of a variety of weight training objects, and similar historical practices show up in ancient Rome and Greece.

Consequently, training to improve these characteristics in order to achieve an edge on the battlefield would no doubt have occurred to protagonists as well as chieftains, generals, and rulers. The Olympic sports of discus, shot put, hammer throw, and javelin demonstrate the basic skills that would be required to throw a spear, a stone or an ax, or even pour a barrel of oil over castle invaders. Modern 'strong man' contests reflect superior skills in moving common heavy objects, the application of which could be seen in construction tasks or in any number of applications requiring bulk and strength, for military purposes or other.

The Evolution of Equipment

The word 'dumbbell' may have originated from a device designed in the early 18th century to practice bell ringing, yet without the bells actually being rung, that is, 'dumb bells.' Kettlebells and clubbells also have an early origin, perhaps from the early decades of the 1800s.

Barbells, originally using round globes that could be filled with sand or gravel, followed in the late 1800s, and eventually, globes were superseded by more flexible plates or disks.

Free weight and crude cable machines evolved, and Charles Atlas made his isometric exercises and equipment popular from the 1930s.

In the 1970s, Arthur Jones introduced his Nautilus machine equipment, which became very well regarded and popular. A wide variety of machine trainers and home gyms are now available.

Olympic Weightlifting

Weightlifting was introduced as an event at the Olympics in 1896, for men only. Women’s weightlifting became an Olympic sport in 2000 at the Sydney Olympics and has been a great success in subsequent Olympic Games.

Weightlifting was first introduced to the Olympic Games in 1896 as a part of track and field, was left out of the 1900 Games, reappeared in 1904, and did not return to the Olympics again until 1920 when it was admitted in its own right. Initially, Olympic weightlifting featured some event criteria that would seem unusual in the current era. One and two-handed lifts and no weight divisions are examples.

By 1932, five weight divisions and three disciplines made up the competition - the press, the snatch, and the clean-and-jerk. The press was discontinued in 1972, leaving the snatch and clean-and-jerk as the sport's two lifts.

Men compete in eight classes from 56 kilograms (kg) to 105 kilograms and greater, and women in seven classes from 48 kilograms to 75 kilograms and greater. Kilograms are the official Olympic unit of weight. Countries are allowed two competitors in each weight class subject to Olympic qualifying standards.

Powerlifting

Powerlifters compete in competitions to see who can lift the heaviest weights in three lifting exercises - the dead lift, the bench press, and the squat. The techniques and culture are substantially different to Olympic weightlifting. Powerlifting, although popular, is not an Olympic sport.

The Future

As far as equipment is concerned, barbells and dumbbells will continue to be the mainstay of weight training even if a few minor design or aesthetic improvements emerge. Kettlebells, club bells, stretch bands and tubes will also contribute in a lesser way. Regarding machines, the sky is the limit for new design tweaks, but let's hope we never see another ab cruncher device!

Continue Reading