Dumbbell History and Types of Dumbbells

Dumbbell History

Prior to the use of Dumbbells other training and conditioning aids have been available for those individuals wishing to improve their strength and power.  In India a weighted handle was used, known as the Indian Club of ‘Nal’.  It was generally longer than a modern dumbbell and the centre of inertia would not be in the handle.  In this way it was suited to developing good wrist strength.  The ‘Nal’ resembles the modern ‘club bell’ in many ways. In earlier times the Greeks used an item called ‘halteres’.  These can be seen in ancient manuscripts and decorations and were also used in athletic event like the long jump to aid with balance and momentum. For several hundred years the ‘Kettlebell’ or girya has been used in Russia and particularly by the military.  These are effectively not unlike a cannonball, (will a flat bottom) which has a handle attached to allow the user to perform various exercises.  The kettlebell particularly lends itself to explosive or dynamic training.

The modern dumbbell gets its name from late 17th Century England.  During this time bells were commonplace both handheld and in the bell tower, (like a church tower).  Typically these bells were made from Bronze and being heavy/dense offered suitable resistance to the motion of the users hand to promote some strength conditioning.  The tower bells were operated by a rope, but again, the user would grasp the rope in their hand to operate.  It is widely believed that the first ‘Dumbbells’ were an adaptation of the hand bell.  However, as a clapper was not required to produce noise it was removed rendering the bell dumb.  And hence the name Dumbbell.  From this initial name we get the names for the other members of the family.  Barbell, (the weight is attached to a bar), Clubbell, (the shape that or a club) and Kettlebell

Fixed Dumbbells, (typically sold in sets).

These are typically found in a commercial gym environment and generally come in pairs of each weight.  They are a Dumbbell of a fixed weight in either pounds or Kilos.  Depending on the type of training required, (and the funds available) a gym will have a set, for example from 2.5-50Kg.  The increments between the sizes will also have a big impact on the capital outlay for the set.  A 2.5Kg incrimination is very typical but some gyms will have a smaller incrimination in the lower weights, (where the DB are less costly) and a higher incrimination in the larger sizes.  For example: 2Kg, 4Kg, 6Kg, 8Kg, 10Kg, 12.5Kg, 15Kg, 17.5Kg, 20Kg, 25Kg, 30Kg, 40Kg, 50Kg.  Conversely a very comprehensive set in a large gym may also include more pairs in the popular weights ranges from 20Kg - 40Kg. 

These sets are becoming more popular for the discerning home user.  However, space required and cost renders them beyond the grasp of most home gyms.  The construction and style of these Dumbbells vary greatly and this is expanded in our technical section.

Also falling into this category is the Studio Dumbbell.  These are typically used for classes in a gym studio for low resistance and dynamic training.  The weights would generally be much smaller, (1-10Kg) but many of each size would be requires so a class of several students may all select a weight/resistance suitable for their level of training.

In both cases a gym/studio will usually have a dedicated storage rack where the DB can be returned when not in use.


Users adjusted/manual Dumbbells.

Popular for home use these are dumbbells built up using bars and plates to a weight suitable for the user.  The weights themselves will usually be round with a 1/1/4” , (standard) or 2” (Olympic) hole in the centre.  Typically a kit will comprise 2 handles which are either hollow or solid and a selection of plates.  The plates may be made from steel, cast, rubber coated or water, sand, cement filled vinyl.  The user will place the weights required on the handle and secure either with a clip, spinlock or screw.  Although this type of Dumbbell is very cost effective they are tiresome to use as quite some time is required to build the dumbbells up each time the user wishes to change the weight load.


Automatic Dumbbells

In recent years the automatic Dumbbell has become available.  This style is not really suitable for gym as although the dumbbells can be quickly set to a variety of weights only person can use them at any one time.  The dumbbells are kept in a storage position.  When a user wants the dumbbells he simply adjusted a knob to the desired weight the handles will attach the required plates.  The user then simply lifts up the handles from their storage location.  These can be good for home use as there will be a significant saving over a set of fixed dumbbells and are far more convenient to use than user adjusted/manual dumbbells.  This said always reliable and are large and cumbersome.