How Burpees Got Their Name and Other Surprising Exercise Trivia

Senior woman jogging in public park

Courtney Hale/istockphoto

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Senior woman jogging in public park
Courtney Hale/istockphoto
Burpees outside at the playground

Burpees Were Named After a Physiologist in NYC

CrossFit fanatics might like you to believe that they came up with this tormenting calisthenics move, but it’s actually the invention of exercise physiologist Royal H. Burpee in 1939. Originally conceived as part of a fitness test, the four-position full-body sequence was to be done four times consecutively in a row, but has since evolved into numerous variations. It was also quickly adopted by the U.S. military to gauge the fitness of men enlisting in the service in WWII.  

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An Asia Chinese man yoga in living room. Training at home due to coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic.
Kong Ding Chek/istockphoto

Handstand, the Handiwork of Chinese Acrobats

It seems like many people’s fitness goals these days include pulling off a handstand. The trick, however, dates back to ancient Chinese history where acrobats are said to have invented this inverted strength exercise. In 1958, in the Xiaomachang Village of Wuqiao County in China, archeologists unearthed tomb murals from Eastern Wei Dynasty (534-550) in the Southern and Northern Dynasties Period (386-581) showing various acrobatic acts such as plate spinning and hand balancing. The Chinese aren’t alone in their love of balancing on one’s fingertips, ancient Greek and Roman soldiers were also known to use handstands to display their strength and dexterity. 

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Sportsman Lifting Weights at a gym Gym

Russian Kettlebell Swings Have Existed for Over 300 Years

In a nutshell, the difference boils down to how high you swing the kettlebell. The Russian style sees it go to the chin level but the American version has the kettlebell reaching overhead. Which is better? It’s entirely based on the individual, but it is advised to master the Russian version before attempting American variation, which involves a larger range of movement. For trivia nerds, the kettlebell (or girya) shows up in a Russian dictionary published in 1704, and there’s a 315-pound version on display in the Archaeological Museum of Olympia in Athens.

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Muscular Athletic Fit Man in T-shirt and Shorts is Doing Squat Exercises at Home

Hindu Squats Helped a Wrestler Stay Undefeated for 50 years

As if squats aren’t hard enough, busting out some Hindu squats — think of them as squats but done with arm movements and on one’s toes — will have you gasping for breath while your quads are on fire. This full-body compound exercise gets its name from ancient Indian wrestlers who used it as part of their training to develop extra endurance, mobility, and overall strength in their legs. The poster child for them is Ghulam Muhammad, also known as The Great Gama, a Pehlwani wrestler who became the World Heavyweight Champion in 1910 and remain undefeated for 50 years. His secret weapon? Ostensibly, he did 5,000 grueling Hindu squats every day. 

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Ancient scene on marble

Medicine Balls Date Back Millennia

Hippocrates is credited with using medicine balls as a fitness device over 2,000 years ago; he encouraged patients to toss balls made of stuffed animal skins to recover from injuries. Need further proof of their longevity? Ancient written texts point to Persian wrestlers who trained using sand-filled bladders. Today, fitness historians class medicine balls as one of the Four Horsemen of Fitness, along with dumbbells, weighted wands, and Indian clubs. 

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Mature woman doing jumping jacks at home
FG Trade/istockphoto

Jumping Jacks Are the Official Exercise of Missouri

If you live in Missouri, there’s little chance of escaping the torture known as jumping jacks. In 2014, it was officially acknowledged as the state’s official exercise in honor of Missouri-born Gen. John J. Pershing. First created by Pershing as a training drill for West Point cadets, the exercise continues to live on as a way to raise your heart rate and engage numerous muscles.

School sports day long jump competition (Focus on foots).

The Standing Broad Jump Was an Olympics Event Until 1912

Greek Olympian Konstantinos Tsiklitiras holds the last Olympic record for the standing broad jump of 3.37 meters set in 1912. Once part of three standing variants of the track and field events, it has since been removed from the Olympics' schedule. However, this exercise continues to be used as a way to test individuals; it’s an event at the NFL Scouting Combine (watch this incredible 12-foot 3-inch jump by Miami Dolphins Byron James) and as a test for cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy. 

Real Roman Centurion in a Modern Rome

Box Jumps Trace Back to Roman Gladiators

This dynamic move where you jump from the ground to an elevated surface may star in countless gym-fail YouTube videos, but it doesn’t stop the masses from aspiring to perfect it. Blame the Roman gladiators who made this body strength move part of their intense training program. By weaving in variations of jumping as a way to build functional strength, box jumps were done either as part of an obstacle course or with weights in hand. Aside from the strength gains, it was a surefire way to build one’s explosive energy, which no doubt came in handy in the arena. 

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Exercises for Victorian Women, Part 5of 5 in a Series

19th Century Women Did ​​Calisthenics

When you think of calisthenics, the image of a perfectly coiffed woman in a corset and flowing dress exercising is possibly the last thing you imagine. However, in A Treatise on Calisthenic Exercises (1827), author Signor G.P. Voarino details the various exercises he designed for women. Taking into account their wardrobe restrictions, most of the exercises involved careful movements (arm circles, walking in patterns), skipping, and oftentimes using a cane as a prop and for balance. 

extreme winter climbing

Gladiators Climbed Ropes to Build Strength

What do young children and gladiators have in common? Rope climbing. A core exercise apparatus of the gymnasium, gladiators used rope work as a part of their training, scrambling up and down them, or hanging from them to build a strong grip and strengthen stabilizer muscles.