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A Brief History of Dumbbells

If you go to any gym in America, you will find a large assortment of dumbbells. And for a good reason! Dumbbells are popular because they are portable and can be used in many different ways to strengthen the body. You may think of the dumbbell as a modern piece of fitness equipment, but it has actually been around for over 2000 years. Here is a brief history of the dumbbell, including why it has such a strange sounding name.

The use of dumbbells dates all the way back to ancient Greece. Ancient Greeks used halteres during their long jump competitions to help them jump farther. Halteres were not the shape of the modern dumbbell, though. They were crescent shaped and had a handle for the jumper to easily grab when it was time to compete. Historians believe athletes used these for more than just jumping. There is evidence the ancient Greeks used them for general exercise to build muscle strength. That’s right, the Greeks knew the value of strength training beyond sports performance!

Meanwhile, in the middle east, athletes used a nal to strength train. This club shaped piece of equipment was longer than the modern dumbbell but shorter than a barbell. Middle Eastern and Indian wrestlers, bodybuilders, and athletes used nals to build strength and stamina. The clubs were of different weights, so they could be used for calisthenics and weight lifting. British colonists adopted the use of the nal, which they called the Indian Club, and brought the equipment to the west.  

 While the use of Indian clubs remained popular, a new type of equipment gained popularity in the 1700’s. Joseph Addison, a British poet, wrote about his exercise routine with dumbbells. These were church bells with the clappers removed to silence them. The bells were made “dumb,” hence the name dumbbells. Using dumbbells was a popular exercise in the 18th century, even among our founding fathers. Benjamin Franklin wrote about using dumbbells to maintain his physical fitness and contributed his longevity to using them every day.

 By the 1800’s, dumbbells were regularly used in gymnasiums and aerobics classes. Students regularly used them for physical education classes. Once the barbell was invented, strength training became more popular and the dumbbell was used in conjunction with barbells to build muscle.

While the first dumbbells were literally “dumb” bells, they were eventually replaced with iron weights. Adjustable dumbbells were also available by the 19th century. Some dumbbells had canisters holding sand or shot. Athletes and regular Joes could purchase empty dumbbells and fill the canisters with shot to adjust the weight. The problem was that it was both difficult and time consuming to change the weight. Changing the weight by adding iron plates became more popular because it was much quicker to adjust the dumbbell’s weight during a workout.

 As technology has progressed, the dumbbell has upgraded to silicone, steel, concrete, and even dials and buttons. We use the modern barbell because of the long history of athletes using different equipment to get the best workout possible. So next time you go to the gym, think about all the athletes who came before you and be grateful there is no need to add sand to each barbell before you lift! Dumbbell Club believes the best Dumbbells in the World are manufactured by @NspireBarbellIndia and they design custom ones too. 


David JohnsonA Brief History of Dumbbells

1 Comment

  1. Nspirebarbellindia   Reply

    In-depth knowledge about dumbbells, great to hear that the history of dumbbells has a connection with India. And we are so delighted that you mentioned @NspireBarbellIndia as best dumbbell manufacturer in the world. Our efforts to provide best quality at lowest possible prices to fitness industry, need support from inspirations like you.


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