Harold J. Reilly, owner of a New York gym during the 1930s and 40s, promoted the idea of using children as exercise equipment. Pick them up and swing them around, he urged parents, as one would a dumbbell or kettlebell.
The advantage of using kids as dumbbells, he pointed out, was that as they grow older their weight will increase, thereby naturally helping the parents to develop their strength.
It's an intriguing idea, although a set of dumbbells is a lot cheaper than having children. And won't break if you drop them.
Minneapolis Star - May 31, 1942
"Reilly recommends that parents (or grandparents) work out by swinging their youngsters around from childhood. Says it helps both out." NY Daily News - May 2, 1948
Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph - Aug 3, 1941
Text from the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph - Aug 3, 1941:
Some years ago Mr. Reilly was thumbing through a volume of Greek mythology when he read how Hercules, as a boy, started lifting a small calf every day. As the calf grew, so did Hercules' strength so that when it became a full-grown bull Hercules could still lift it.
Mr. Reilly thought that the story could be given a modern twist and proceeded to do so. He became "Hercules" and his infant son and daughter the small "calves."...
For years he carried out this theory conscientiously with his own children and it worked so well that it prompted him to write a recent book about physical culture in which he advocates that both fathers and children will benefit greatly if the former raise the latter as dumb-bells.
"I'm not suggesting that you bring a bull calf into the house and go to work on it. After all you're not Hercules," Mr. Reilly points out in "The Secret of Better Health," published by Carlyle House, "But you can work out the same idea by starting to exercise with your pride and joy when he's only a year old, and keeping it up until he's ten, 15 or even 20. The child will benefit, and so will you...
"You may start when your child is an infant," says Mr. Reilly. "But as babies are delicate, don't begin by wrestling with him. Just manipulate the baby's arms and legs. Wiggle them around, being careful not to twist harshly... Then as the child begins to walk, you can swing him by the arms."...
"From three to six, you can become a little more strenuous. Pick the child up and swing him around, holding him by the arms. Let him lie on his back and take his two hands in one of yours and his ankles in the other and swing him around that way, back and forth, sideways and between your legs as though he were a medicine ball...
Mr. Reilly says that the swinging-around game should be kept up during the six-to-nine period of the child's age. In addition he should be picked up by the ankles and walked around, wheelbarrow fashion...
"From nine to 15 keep up the same exercises, if you can, and begin to box and wrestle with him," says Mr. Reilly. "It is just as easy with a daughter, for a little girl is a natural tomboy. She doesn't begin to be a female until around 12 years when adolescence sets in. Then a certain amount of care is necessary. But until then, treat your daughter the same as your son."
Update: Found a video of a guy using his kids as weights.
Oliver Halsted was granted a patent for an "exercising machine" in 1844. It was later marketed as the Health Jolting Chair. AKA the "wake-up chair." By pulling the levers on the side, it would bounce up and down. It was said to be a panacea for "dyspepsia, liver complaint, low spirits, general debility, constipation, 'so-called malaria,' jaundice, melancholia, and anemia."
Debbie Drake was the first woman to have a daily exercise show on TV. The show's intended audience was housewives, but as the Physical Culture Study blog notes, it was more popular with men:
Debbie Drake’s The Debbie Drake Show went national in 1961 and warned female viewers about the consequences of an unhappy marriage if they did not take care of their bodies. Drake’s media outreach included a newspaper column titled “Date with Debbie,” exercise albums and books, and a Barbie-like doll sold by Sears in the early 60s. Alluring and wearing a tight-fitting leotard that emphasized her incredible figure, Drake was reported as being more distracting than encouraging as a fitness instructor. No doubt this was aided by the fact that many stations broadcast her show at off hours, guaranteeing larger numbers of male viewers who appreciated her sexual appeal.
Richard Burgess's 1941 patent (No. 2,244,444) describes a pair of feathered wings that could be attached to the arms of an individual, who would then flap the wings up and down. This, claimed Burgess, would create a sense of buoyancy, while simultaneously providing physical exercise. In particular, it would "develop the chest, back, arm and leg muscles, while also tending to create accelerated breathing and thus general physical tone." It would do all this, he said, while also being "very diverting and accordingly attractive."
Paul Di Filippo
Paul has been paid to put weird ideas into fictional form for over thirty years, in his career as a noted science fiction writer. He has recently begun blogging on many curious topics with three fellow writers at The Inferior 4+1.