Funny Failures: Unsuccessful Exercise Machines throughout History

An account of failed and forgotten exercise and weight loss inventions from history includes Bike to Nowhere, Early Pogo Stick, Early Pilates Class, Poor Man’s Bow Flexe, Tiny Paddle Ball Device.

picture of weight loss bicycle from LeonardoThroughout history mankind invented ingenious exercise and weight loss machines.  These machines failed.

Bike to Nowhere This early stationary exercise bike from 1599 was inspired by Rubens, invented by Leonardo da Vinci, and used by the entire De Medici family.  The absence of a seat led to irritability and several poisonings.  Weight loss was minimal.

Picture of a stickless pogo stick

 Early Pogo Stick

This early attempt at the pogo stick was a commercial failure due to the absence of the lower, springy part.

Pictured here, inventor Jacques Peugeau insisted his stickless pogo stick would lead to healthy fitness and hopped throughout much of France.  

Peugeau indeed lost a great deal of weight, due mostly to being penniless and starving.

Beard Theory Much later in life Peugeau would devise his spectacularly unsuccessful “follicular theory” of weight loss, based on the idea that a rapidly growing beard taps fat stores.

Photo of William Cullen Bryant for Failed Exercise Inventions

Above: Peugeau is shown demonstrating to his followers how to “urge” the beard to grow faster and burn belly fat first.  Urging hair growth on one’s back was purported to have the opposite effect, reducing the buttocks. Peugeau’s followers squabbled about which approach was most effective, splitting the group into two hairy (and fat) schools of thought that died out within a generation.

Woodcut of nobility urging troops to exercise

 Early Pilates Class Before they were called Pilates, the low-impact exercises were known as “rampart leaning.”  To make extra cash, the Duke of Bleubarry and his brother experimented with the exercise regimen in a plan to sell it to their wealthy (and portly) friends.  Testing with common workmen did not go well The brothers spoke only Dutch. The workmen, who spoke English, kept trying to guess what sort of work they were supposed to perform. They actually gained weight.  An utter failure.

Picture of a lever pulling on a cut tree


Invented around 1622, the “Poore Man’s Bow Flexe” purported “fitnesse, strengthe and a tiny gutte.”  Several units sold.  But the fuss of partially felling a tree and affixing the rope and handle left many of these exercise devices gathering dust in peasant attics.  Just like today.




Tiny Paddle Ball Device  Invented for fun and healthy exercise, this table top game proved much too difficult for the average player.  To save money, inventor Clive Blixter made the ball and the paddle so small that getting a “hit” became an exhausting ordeal.

Players did lose some weight but became irritated and frazzled.  See below:  the Count of Norway before and after a tournament.

                     Before                                                                                                 After

Photo of man with a mustache and neat hair

Photo of man for failed exercise equipment

Hair is mussed and composure frazzled by playing the Tiny Paddle Ball Device.

Ultimately a failure, Tiny Paddle Ball Device was later issued with a larger paddle and ball.  Still nearly impossible to hit twice, it continues to frustrate most.  (See Blazing Saddles for demo of “defective” paddle ball paddles.)

Like many failed exercise and weight loss inventions, Tiny Paddle Ball Device is now mostly forgotten.

Stay tuned for the next installment of Funny Failures: Unsuccessful Exercise Machines throughout History — The Industrial Age.

All photos courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Ten-inch paddle ball (not defective)

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