As humans (well, we assume only humans are reading this; Westworld hosts need not apply), we’ve long been predisposed to becoming obsessed over our appearance. It isn’t just modern times—for ages, we’ve all been trying to get as shredded as possible for whatever purpose, whether that’s to attract a mate or to feed our inherent narcissism.
Of course, some of the methods used in the past have been more, ugh, unorthodox than others. In celebration of that weirdness, today we’re taking a look at six of the most wack-ass ways humans used to get swole. Let’s go!
1. Milo and the Calf
We’ll start off with one backed by actual science and roll from there. Back in ancient times, Milo of Croton, a 6th-century B.C. wrestler, purportedly trained by hauling a young calf around on his shoulders. Really! It’s said he did so every day, and as the calf got larger, he grew stronger. After four years, he was ripped and carrying around a full-grown bull on his shoulders.
Now, while the veracity of this story is certainly questionable, the science isn’t: it represents the ‘ole principle of progressive overload (gradual, consistent improvement).
2. Cauldron Lifting, Anyone?
Cauldron lifting was an ancient Chinese sport during China’s Warring States period (475–221 BC). Known as dings, their ceremonial cauldrons would be lifted above the heads of one or two participants in an effective if painful strength test. Now, while this on the surface certainly seems more reasonable than hauling a bull calf around, it brought its own problems. Because the bronze cauldrons weighed several hundred pounds—and due to their width, general construction, and the stance necessary to hoist them upward— back injuries were not uncommon. Additionally, King Wu of the Qin Dynasty supposedly broke his kneecap during such an attempt.
Calf carrying and cauldron lifting are the “reasonable” workouts on this list, though. From here, things go south fast…
3. Your Friendly Neighborhood Tape Worm
While this isn’t technically a workout—passive or active—we couldn’t help but place it on this list. After all, it’s inarguably a way to get lean…
True story: In Victorian times, some folks felt that the tapeworm (ya know, a friggin’ parasite) was the best and easiest way to get rid of that spare tire. They would ingest one into their system and just watch the pounds fly right off! Unfortunately, while the practice did prevent weight gain, it also prevented nutrients from reaching the host’s system. Further, side effects included abdominal pains, epilepsy, and even dementia, and the tapeworm eventually had to be killed or forcibly removed. How dumb.
4. The Horror Machine
Vying for the “Top Spot of Stupid” on this list, however, is “The Horror Machine.”
Wearables that purportedly provide a passive “workout” are not a new phenomenon… and they used to be far worse. Take the “Relax-A-Cizor” from the 1950s. Endorsed by Doris Day, it was said to give the common folk a chance to get fit fast, even while they slept. Just place the electrode pads (two to 12) on your bod’s problem spots, flick the machine on for maybe half an hour, and voila! The pads completed an electrical circuit on the body with electric pulses that could be controlled by a dial. You were all set—and fitter than ever!
Well, as your sarcasm meter can guess, all was not well. Not only were weight loss and muscle tone results, ugh, less than ideal, but there was a nightmarish list of issues. These included fibrillation of the heart, loss of consciousness, and paralysis. It was so bad that the FDA recommended owners destroy any and all existing units to save future generations from this scourge upon mankind.
Cheery, right? Read more on this one here!
5. Wonder Sauna Hot Pants (Yes, Real Name!)
While not horrific, the Wonder Sauna Hot Pants were a passive “workout” method more than comfortable with vying for the BS crown alongside the Relax-A-Cizor. Debuting in the 1970s, it was predictably big and in your face—literally a set of inflatable rubber shorts you were supposed to wear in order to sweat out your water weight. Intriguingly, they were endorsed by the AAU (Amateur Athletic Union), which was, you know, a meaningless badge of honor.
While you likely don’t have access to a calf to lug around on your shoulders (and that’s probably a good thing), don’t feel bad about “only” knocking out a few crunches and/or pushups this evening. You’ll still be doing a lot better than many of our ancestors!