The constant thud underneath your feet. The constrained space. The monotony of going nowhere fast. Running on a treadmill can certainly feel like torture, but did you know it was originally used for that very purpose? Conor Heffernan details the dark and twisted history of the treadmill.






  • thud – a dull, heavy sound, such as that made by an object falling to the ground
  • constrained – restrained; confined; unnatural
  • abysmally – in an extremely bad way; appallingly
  • solitude – the state or situation of being alone
  • filthy – extremely or unpleasantly dirty
  • dire – used to emphasize how serious or terrible a situation or event is
  • spoke – any of the rods that join the edge of a wheel to its centre (a bicycle spoke)
  • whip into shape – to cause someone or something to be in a better condition
  • win – a successful attempt at achieving something
  • vengeance – revenge
  • forerunner – a thing that precedes the coming or development of something else
  • craze – a popular or widespread fad, fashion, etc.
  • to thrust – to push or drive with force; to shove
  • in the limelight – at the center of attention
  • to hop off – to jump off something



Discuss in pairs, small groups, or with your teacher:

  • Did the history of the treadmill surprise you?
  • Do you feel you`re torturing yourself when using the treadmill?
  • Do you think it was severe punishment for prisoners?
  • Is it more fun to exercise alone or with other people?
  • Do you think people who exercise are happier than those who don’t?
  • Why is exercise so important?
  • Do you think not exercising is a crime against your body?
  • What kind of exercise do you think is best for you?
  • What do you think of the idea of having higher hospital charges for those who don’t exercise?


Practice Makes Perfect

Fill in the gaps in the text below with the words from Glossary. Go to: the_treadmill_s_dark_and_twisted_past to check your answers.


In the 1800s treadmills were created to punish English prisoners. At the time the English prison system was (1) ………….. bad. (…) Those who were locked away faced hours of (2) ………… in (3) ………. cells. So social movements led by religious groups, philanthropies, and celebrities, like Charles Dickens, sought to change these (4) …….. conditions and help reform the prisoners.

These devices were seen as a fantastic way of (5) ……….. prisoners into shape, and that added benefit of powering mills helped to rebuild a British economy decimated (=destroyed) by the Napoleonic Wars. It was a (6) …. for all concerned, except the prisoners.

Answer the questions:

What`s the latest craze in health food?

How do you feel about being in the limelight?

Do you know anyone who is in dire need of help?

What was a forerunner of the modern computer?


Fill in the gaps: 1. abysmally; 2. solitude; 3. filthy; 4. dire; 5. whipping; 6. win





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