From Jumping Jacks to Burpees: The Origins Behind 7 Common Exercise Names

Once we dig into the historical past of exercise names, we start to be taught in regards to the evolution of the health business typically. Some title origins are simple to determine — many strikes are usually named after the inventor or, on the very least, the nation the place the train turned common. Whereas others have a way more difficult backstory that solely provides to the mythology of health tradition immediately.

And beneath, we’ve rounded up the origins behind seven workouts (and one bonus health time period), a few of that are simple, whereas others are way more obscure. However both method, they’re all fascinating in their very own proper.

The Origins Behind 7 Train Names

The Leaping Jack

If you happen to ever thought that leaping jacks felt like a punishment, effectively, you is likely to be proper. The primary motion on our record gained recognition, partly, as a option to situation (and presumably punish) army cadets in america. Common John J. Pershing initially championed this easy however efficient train again in 1885 at West Level, according to one biography about his life.

The guide says that Pershing lined up troops of males up and assigned odd and even numbers to every cadet. He would then pull an imaginary string within the air, at which level all of the odd-numbered males threw their arms out at proper angles. When he dropped his arm, the evens would soar their legs out to make a V, ostensibly turning the lads into human marionettes, because the guide explains. 

[Related: 16 Best Creatine Supplements for Muscle Growth]

Whereas it’s unclear if Pershing definitively invented the transfer, it’s possible — if not sure — that he was impressed by jumping jack toys which had been first offered within the 1700s. These had been small picket figures hooked up to a string, and while you pulled the string, the figures’ legs and arms jolted out, akin to the train motion.

So whereas common health lore attributes the title “leaping jack” to Pershing (his nickname was “Black Jack,” in spite of everything), its origin really comes from the toy. Since then, the transfer has change into a health staple utilized by everybody from elementary faculty college students to professional athletes. 


Opposite to what you might need believed, burpees weren’t named for any form of gastronomical misery you could expertise whereas performing this much-loathed train. As an alternative, they had been merely named after their inventor, Royal H. Burpee, a graduate pupil at Columbia’s Lecturers Faculty within the Thirties.

The origin of the transfer took place as Burpee perfected his Ph.D. thesis in Utilized Physiology, which was centered round bodily health and, extra importantly, adequately take a look at it. This was an vital level as bodily training academics hardly ever, if ever, have entry to the scientific tools usually utilized in testing health. This meant that health assessments for academics wanted to be comparatively easy and, ideally, require little greater than a stopwatch.

[Related: 10 Lower-Body Exercises Named After People to Add to Your Workout Routine]

Considered one of Burpee’s health measures was the transfer that may ultimately naked his title. Initially, the train was divided into four movements:

  1. Squat down and put each fingers on the ground in entrance of you
  2. Pop your toes backward right into a plank place
  3. Carry your toes again ahead.
  4. Stand again up.

Observe: The push-up on the backside of the motion was added later.

The place Burpee acquired fortunate was together with his timing. In December 1941, america formally entered the Second World Struggle, and the army was in search of a option to whip its servicemen into form.

Confronted with testing 1000’s and 1000’s of males, the army introduced the burpee in 1944 as a method of rapidly evaluating males’s health. The unique take a look at concerned seeing what number of burpees a soldier may do in 20 seconds — eight or much less was thought-about poor, whereas 13 or extra was thought-about glorious.


Calisthenics, or bodyweight-only train programs, have loved one thing of a resurgence prior to now decade. Whereas dips and pull-ups be sure that most trainees have interaction in some calisthenic work, many people now practice solely utilizing their physique weight.

And the origin of the title calisthenics goes again to historic Greece. Particularly, the time period is an amalgamation of two ancient Greek words: kállos (κάλλος), which implies magnificence, and sthenos (σθένος), that means energy. We may then outline it as lovely energy or magnificence in energy (relying on how poetic one likes to be).

Whereas calisthenic applications date to the traditional world, the time period’s recognition elevated dramatically within the nineteenth century when early bodily educationalists and gymnasts started to use it to their coaching programs. Certainly, many books from the 1820s on bodily training include the phrase calisthenics within the title.

A woman performing calisthenics
Credit score: BLACKDAY / Shutterstock

[Related: The Best Arm Workouts for Size, Strength, Beginners, and More]

Some of the influential voices to make use of the phrase was P.H. Clias, an American-born gymnast who taught bodily training in each mainland Europe and Nice Britain. In 1829, Clias published Kalisthenie oder Uebungen zur Schoenheit und Kraft fuer Maedchen, which roughly interprets to Calisthenics or Workouts of Magnificence and Energy for Women.


In 1996, Japanese researcher Dr. Izumi Tabata published a study centered on just a few easy questions: What would occur if brief but intense intervals of train had been used for a brief period? Wouldn’t it be attainable to enhance health in a comparatively quick time frame? And what, if any, worth would this technique maintain for athletes?

Finding out the impression of this technique on each male bodily training school college students and Japanese velocity skaters, Tabata and his workforce put collectively a easy however efficient program. Utilizing a stationary bike, individuals would carry out explosive bouts of train for 20 seconds, relaxation for 10 seconds, after which resume once more. The objective was to “exhaust topics throughout the seventh or eighth units.”

People on exercise bikes
Credit score: David Pereiras / Shutterstock

[Related: The 13 Best Quad Exercises for Serious Strength and Size]

The outcomes had been groundbreaking, because it appeared that the Tabata system improved each cardiovascular health and muscular strength concurrently. Initially revealed in educational journals, the “Tabata” system rapidly caught the eye of coaches and health execs all over the world.

This, as Dr. Tabata made clear in 2019, has had some unexpected penalties. Based on Dr. Tabata, the most effective outcomes (as discovered within the literature) come from utilizing stationary bicycles or tools that may stimulate a excessive depth as quick biking. Thus, many trainees who use it for strolling, weight coaching, and even operating are oftentimes not following the designed protocol.

Does this imply that Tabata’s system isn’t efficient for these different workouts? Not essentially. However it’s an fascinating have a look at how rapidly train developments and programs can change.

Bulgarian Cut up Squats

Bulgarian split squats, some of the punishing quads workouts a trainee can do, acquired their title from former Bulgarian weightlifting coach Angel Spassov. That could be a easy assertion for what’s an extremely contentious backstory.

Spassov was the top coach of the Bulgarian Nationwide Weightlifting workforce for six separate Olympic video games from 1968-1996. Throughout the Nineteen Eighties, he toured america and revealed influential articles in bodybuilding magazines, preaching an unimaginable message: the Bulgarian weightlifting workforce didn’t use back squats in any way of their coaching. As an alternative, they had been stated to have relied on cut up squats and step-ups.

The concept the profitable Bulgarian and Soviet weightlifters had utterly dropped the again squat instigated the inclusion of the cut up squat and step-ups in numerous applications in America and elsewhere.

[Related: The Story of How Body Part Splits Rose to Popularity]

Nevertheless, according to an article by American weightlifting coach and writer Kim Goss, Spassov’s claims that the Bulgarians by no means utilized again squats had been merely unfaithful. Not solely did one other legendary Bulgarian weightlifting coach, Ivan Abadjiev, outright deny Spassov’s claims, in keeping with Goss, however Bulgarian weightlifters from the Nineties claimed to have by no means carried out step-ups.

Although the main points across the transfer are murky, the title will without end be linked to the Bulgarian weightlifting workforce, and, extra particularly, to Spassov.

Romanian Deadlifts

In 1990, famed 100kg Olympic weightlifter Nicu Vlad and his coach Dragomir Cioroslan, traveled from their base in Romania to america, the place Vlad was going to compete within the Goodwill Video games.

Throughout his journey, Vlad and Cioroslan had been requested to conduct teaching clinics for USA Weightlifting. Considered one of these clinics was on the gymnasium of Jim Schmitz, some of the revered and high-profile American weightlifting coaches.

As Schmitz later wrote in regards to the clinic:

“A part of the clinic was Nicu doing a exercise the place he cleaned and jerked round 220 kg to 230 kg, after which he proceeded to do that elevate, a mixture stiff-leg deadlift and common deadlift, however really neither. He did a number of units, working as much as 250 for triples.”

[Related: The Thrilling History of the First 1,000-Pound Squat]

This train fascinated Schmitz and the American athletes, however when an observer requested what the motion was referred to as, Vlad and Cioroslan didn’t have a reputation in thoughts. It was merely a transfer Vlad did. After a bit, Schmitz wrote that he recommended “Romanian deadlift or RDL for brief” in entrance of the group, and it’s caught ever since.

CrossFit’s Benchmark Exercises

CrossFit burst onto the health scene within the early 2000s, due to founders Greg Glassman and Lauren Jenai. Promising holistic health, and an enormous quantity of selection, CrossFit offered strength tests and coaching strategies that had been not like something being provided at the moment.

For these unaware, certainly one of CrossFit’s early mystiques was the creation of WODs or exercises of the day. Every day, exercises had been posted to measure the trainee’s energy and progress, with probably the most hallowed of those being the benchmark WODs.

Put merely, these are exercises, carried out for time, which can be utilized to measure somebody’s progress. And early on, many of those benchmark WODs got conventional ladies’s names, like Angie, Linda, Cindy, or Grace.

And among the many best-known of those exercises is Fran, which breaks down like this:

For time:

Inexperienced persons are anticipated to complete Fran in seven to 9 minutes, whereas Elite trainees can obtain it in underneath three.

[Related: 15 Exercises for CrossFit Beginners to Learn to Build a Strong Base]

One query you’ll have — other than why anybody would do that willingly — is why the unique benchmark WODs had been named after ladies.

The reply comes instantly from CrossFit co-founder Greg Glassman in a 2003 CrossFit Journal article [PDF]. He apparently took cues from how hurricanes and tropical storms got ladies’s names in america beginning in 1953.

According to the Nationwide Hurricane Heart, “using quick, distinctive names in written in addition to spoken communications is faster and fewer topic to error than the older, extra cumbersome latitude-longitude identification strategies.”

The previous method involved designating storms “by yr and the order by which they occurred throughout that yr.” Giving them frequent names made it simpler to trace a number of storms directly, and might be conveyed to the general public with much less confusion.

However simply because the U.S. started using conventional male names for storms within the Nineteen Seventies, so, too, did CrossFit, ultimately. Now, WOD names run the gamut, together with a sequence of exercises named in honor of fallen servicemen and ladies. There’s even one named after everyone’s favourite ape-run-amok, King Kong.

Bonus: Fitness center

Have you ever ever thought in regards to the phrase gym? Like, actually thought of it? Certain, you most likely know that it comes from gymnasium. However its roots return to the traditional Greece verb gumnazo, that means “to train,” and gumnos, which implies “bare or loin-clothed,” as PBS points out.

This gave delivery to the “gymnasia,” an ancient exercise complex with a monitor, fields, and different areas for males to compete towards each other — and as you most likely guessed, they weren’t significantly clothed whereas doing so. Briefly, the phrase itself mainly interprets to “a spot for bare train.”

This entry is likely to be somewhat little bit of a cheat because it’s not an train, however it’s too good of an anecdote to go away out on a technicality. 

Featured Picture: tsyhun by way of Shutterstock

Trending Merchandise

Add to compare
IRON °FLASK Sports Water Bottle – 32 Oz, 3 Lids (Straw Lid), Leak Proof, Vacuum Insulated Stainless Steel, Double Walled…
Add to compare
Add to compare
Water Bottle Insulated 32oz 40oz 64oz 128oz Straw Lid Spout Lid & 3 Lids, Leak Proof, Vacuum Insulated,Stainless Steel…
Add to compare
Add to compare
Venture Pal Large 64 oz/Half Gallon Motivational Water Bottle with 2 Lids (Chug and Straw), Leakproof BPA Free Sports…
Add to compare
Add to compare
Coldest Sports Water Bottle with Straw Lid Vacuum Insulated Stainless Steel Metal Thermos Bottles Reusable Leak Proof…
Add to compare
Add to compare
H2 HYDROLOGY Adventure Water Bottle with 3 LIDS | Double Wall Vacuum Insulated Stainless Steel Wide Mouth | Sports Hot…
Add to compare
Add to compare
H2 Hydrology Water Bottle – 18 oz, 22 oz, 32 oz, 40 oz, or 64 oz with 3 LIDS Double Wall Vacuum Insulated Stainless…
Add to compare
Add to compare
COKTIK 32 oz Sports Water Bottle With Straw,3 Lids, Stainless Steel Vacuum Insulated Water Bottles,Leakproof Lightweight…
Add to compare
Add to compare
HYDRARANK Half Gallon Water Bottle with Straw and Chug Lid – 2.2L Gym Water Jug with Storage Sleeve and Handle – BPA…
Add to compare
Add to compare
JoyJolt Borosilicate Glass Water Bottle with Strap, Silicone Sleeve and Lid (Grey). 20oz Water Bottles. Reusable Water…
Add to compare

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

Leave a reply

Register New Account
Compare items
  • Total (0)
Shopping cart