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The History Of The Dumbbell

The dumbbell concept was first introduced by the ancient Greeks dating back nearly 2,000 years ago. They invented a crescent-shaped piece of equipment out of stone, with a hole for a handle and called it a “haltere”. This was used within the ancient Greek version of long jump events to help athletes jump further but there is also evidence that they were used for muscle building purposes within these times.

The name dumbbell was not introduced until the 1800’s and is derived from the literal meaning “dumb bell”. This name was given to this certain piece of equipment when the use of lifting church bells as a fitness exercise became popular, due to their conveniently heavy weight. The term “dumb”, meaning unable to talk or noiseless, comes from the fact that the constant lifting of a church bell would be extremely loud, so users of this form of weight exercise, would remove the clapper to be able to exercise without deafening themselves in the process.

The man who originally set the bar for the dumbbell event within strongman competitions was British strongman, Thomas Inch. Inch was declared ‘The World’s Strongest Youth’ at the age of 19 in 1902 and was the first official ‘Britain’s Strongest Man’. He was famously recognised for the “unliftable” Thomas Inch dumbbell, also known as “172”, which is a dumbbell with a weight of 78.27kg (172lbs 9oz) and a handle with a diameter of 6cm (2.36 inches). This particularly thick handle, along with the weight underneath it, made lifting this dumbbell extremely difficult without an extraordinarily strong grip. Inch claimed that he had over-headed the 172 “hundreds of times” but had never encountered anyone who could even clear it off the floor! This was until 1957 at the NABBA Mr. Universe Contest in London, where John Gallagher became the first man in modern history to successfully deadlift the Thomas Inch Dumbbell after Inch himself. This legendary dumbbell has defied thousands of strongmen over last 100 years and still does to this day!

About The Dumbbell

The dumbbell that is used within these strongman events comes in all shapes and sizes, varying from the gym bunny’s favourite 1kg rubber-coated dumbbell, to a monstrous 110kg+ iron-cast circus dumbbell. The core of the event is always the same, lift the dumbbell from the floor to an overhead position with a fully stretched arm. The exact rules vary from competition to competition, but they usually allow a two-handed “clean” to the strongman’s shoulder height but then require the overhead press to be one-handed.

In strongman competitions the dumbbell can be used as a max-weight event, with competitors taking it in turns to lift ever-increasing weight loads. Alternatively, it can be a timed event, either for maximum repetitions or as part of a medley event. While you may be familiar with a dumbbell from your local gym, strongman dumbbells are on another level. In particular, circus dumbbells or inch dumbbells (named after Thomas Inch) have a very thick handle as we explained earlier. This makes the lift a lot more difficult, as it is much harder to grip. It has been described before as like trying to hold a can of coke that weights the equivalent of a 100 bags of sugar!
Although this event might sound straight forward, usually there are four dumbbells to be lifted in this way within these events. With each dumbbell weighing in at between 100-115Kgs each, this is far from an easy challenge! Some strongmen have explained that trying to break one of these dumbbells from the floor (let alone four!), is like trying to lift a thick concrete post with one hand. Even though it takes great strength and power to be able to lift these extremely heavy dumbbells from the floor to an overhead position, the grip strength that these strongmen need to succeed within this event is phenomenal. From a spectator’s point of view, these dumbbells look like small pieces of equipment, but the weight in which they hold is incredible considering their size.

Training for The Dumbbell: Training for The Dumbbell might seem like a straight forward task, but the dumbbells that we all know and use within the gym (even with euro bars), are far different from some of the beasts that turn up within these strongman events. When training with free weights in a gym or even using normal dumbbells weights at home. We can grip tightly to these bars with a good hold, while ensuring that they stay stable and we keep a good form while lifting and performing the exercises at hand. Unfortunately, if you are going to train with the dumbbells that are used within these strongman events, kiss goodbye to that firm grip that we are all used to. The biggest thing within training for this event is making sure that you have got the grip strength to hold onto the dumbbell before even attempting to throw it over your head. This is why when training for this event, it is important to build your strength so that you are ready to be able to chuck such heavy weight up in the air with one hand. This can be achieved by first, working on your stabilizing muscles and core strength. These are going to be vital to be able to hold your body in position while performing such a one-sided push. You can do this by performing your exercises slowly and making sure that you are hitting a high amount of repetitions. Also, using body weight exercises within your routine, will ensure that you are building the correct muscles to help you keep a good posture throughout your lifts. This is especially important for beginners to the weight lifting sport.

Once you have developed the muscles needed to be able to support your stance and posture throughout your exercises, you can start training the larger muscles that are needed for pushing the heavier weight. For this event in particular, doing one-handed dumbbell presses for at least 5 reps at a time with some medium weight load will be a good way to work on the muscles used for that one handed press. Exercises such as Romanian deadlifts along with some other basic back and shoulder compound exercises should ensure you are building your core and overall strength ready to take on that heavy single dumbbell. Once you have mastered the technique of picking a lighter dumbbell up from the floor and pressing it for 5 reps one-handed. Then you can start looking for the bigger boys within the dumbbell rack. Remember, nail your technique first and control your breathing. Once you feel comfortable and you have mastered some good balance while being able to push the dumbbell up and lockout. You are already half way there! Continue the good strong pushes while increasing your weight load and you will be chasing after them Thomas Inch Dumbbells in no time!


Heaviest Dumbbell World Records

Date: Name: Event: Record Weight:
Mar 2020 Mateusz Kieliszkowski Deadlift Championships, Leeds, England 145Kg
Jun 2017 Dimitar Savatinov Ultimate Strongman Summermania, Southampton 143Kg
Mar 2017 Mateusz Kieliszkowski Arnold Sports Festival, Columbus, Ohio 141.5Kg


In 2017 Dimitar Savatinov gained his world record with a lift of 143kg beating Mateusz’s world record, that he had only achieved three months prior to this. Savatinov’s winning dumbbell record was achieved at the Ultimate Strongman Summermania. He had held this record for some time and looked quite capable of pushing 150kg+. This was until Mateusz Kieliszkowski made a comeback three years later and stole Savatinov’s title of world record holder for the heaviest dumbbell at 145Kg. Here is the amazing footage of Kieliszkowski claiming back his world record title:

Although there are some other world records that have been achieved within other strongman events such as the Strongman Champions League, these events take place with varied weights and time limits, which makes it hard to distinguish the top title holder.

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