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by Dr.

Ken Leistner Dumbbells In a world of specialization during an era of specialization, one of the lost aspects of effective training for powerlifters has come from the demise of dumbbell work. There are those like Louie Simmons who combine many new, innovative approaches to training with old school techniques and equipment and Louie specifically incorporates some dumbbell work into his programs. Most do not and for those lifters who are so specialized that they take an Eastern European Olympic Weightlifting Approach to powerlifting, doing only the three lifts or some variation of them, they may never use a dumbbell in any training program. For the powerlifters of the 1960s when the sport was first organized, dumbbells were a staple of many training routines as both adjunctive and major exercises. As our previous installments in this series discussed the quality, differences, construction, and most other aspects of the barbells used in training and competition, a few descriptive words are warranted for the oftforgotten and recently maligned dumbbells. Allow me please to first raise the hackles of numerous readers and many more self-appointed experts who have, in the past fifteen years, touted the praises of kettlebells. It is true that any training modality can be effective in enhancing the muscular size and strength of a trainee. I have often stated that the tool used in training is far less important than the manner in which that tool is used. I believe a single, albeit lengthy, sentence can place kettlebells and kettlebell training in its proper perspective: Many decades ago there was a great battle that spread across the globe, encompassing the time and effort of thousands of individuals and leading to the overhaul of long held dogma and activity, and in that great battle, kettlebells lost, dumbbells won.

Classic York dumbbells

It really is that simple. The fact, and it is a fact, that a balanced dumbbell allows for safer, more efficient, more effective, and a greater variety of training made it the overwhelming choice of those who lifted heavy objects for the purpose of providing exercise that would make them stronger. From the late 1930s or at least by the end of the Second World War, until the mid-1990s, you would have to trip over an elderly mans stored possessions in a darkened, dusty basement to find a kettlebell in the United States. They were relics and rightly so. The limitations placed upon the trainee were too great to make them commercially viable in the gym business and most serious powerlifters and bodybuilders discovered that if they were going to do exercises where their choice fell between dumbbells and kettlebells, there was no choice, dumbbells would be used. When it became fashionable in the fitness industry and allow me please, to state that again and stress the term fitness industry, to lift and move heavy, awkward objects, someones light bulb went on and an entire new cottage industry was born. A series of articles in mid-1980s issues of Muscular Development Magazine will indicate that I was in the forefront of what has unfortunately come to be called functional training because many of my trainees were asked to traverse our lengthy driveway while pushing what appeared to be a friction controlled lawn mower, flipping heavy tires, carrying sections of I-beam that I had welded handles to, dragging sections of anchor or rigging chain, and finishing with car or truck pushing on our street. I have never been comfortable with the term functional training because all productive training is functional. These total body movements were just hard work exercises done at a high level of intensity that made me get to the brink of total annihilation, a way to push myself even harder than the high rep squats might have done, thus, I adapted the types of heaving and carrying I did on the job with my father. The comments and letters sent to Muscular Development in 1985 or so were often of the what the hell is this stuff and why are you publishing it? ilk as much as they were complimentary relative to coming up with something different.

The great Sig Klein presses old fashioned but very effective dumbbells, circa 1940's

As a high school and college student seeking to become bigger and stronger (without realizing I would also become significantly faster), I would walk or run up the steep, long stairway to the loft of my fathers iron shop holding a York 100 pound dumbbell in each hand; I would squat and then push my car up and down the street that we lived on (and to paraphrase from a decades old article, to the delight and consternation of my neighbors as I often vomited either immediately after or while performing this specific exercise); I would farmers walk (and I will reiterate and again negate the claim of another that I came to name that exercise, as the name existed long before I did) various sections of beam to which I had welded handles. All of the above movements and exercises like them can be done progressively, intensely, and in a way that stimulates changes in ones physiology, they are all useful. However, functional training has now come to be spoken of as if it is both a specialized and very special, exotic means to add to ones levels of strength and fitness. Kettlebells are right in the

middle of this mix and more than any other functional modality, kettlebells have become a be-all and end-all for many in the fitness field.

Sig Klein presses a kettlebell, circa 1940's

Kettlebells can certainly add variety to a session, as can any other unusual or infrequently used object. There are some effective exercises like swings, presses, cleans, and even curls that can be done but one could make the case that the same movements are as effective and in many if not most cases, more effective and safer if performed with dumbbells. There is no doubt that dumbbells are easier to handle and thus safer to handle. Kettlebell proponents will make their case that it is the relative inefficiency of handling the implement that makes kettlebell training effective. For any so-called advantage in performing a kettlebell movement in place of the same dumbbell movement in order to give work to the small supportive muscles, or to add to the balance factor one also suffers a decrease in training efficiency and intensity as well as focus upon the targeted musculature. Let me add here that in my opinion, one that obviously there will be disagreement with (especially from those who own or operate all kettlebell gyms), kettlebells can be an enjoyable way to add variety and a bit of fun to a workout. If a dumbbell press is a good exercise, a kettlebell press can be a good exercise. The dumbbell is an obviously more effective and safer tool where either implement can be used but I am not saying that all kettlebell training cannot be effective. There are some true physical specimens, strong, enduring, and flexible who have done the majority of their training with the ancient implements proving that but I would also quickly contend that they would have done as well if not better with a more efficient tool.

Monster kettlebell

While this brief piece will set the internet chat boards buzzing and the new wave of fitness entrepreneurs and strength gurus hollering, especially those tied to commercial interests that sell kettlebells, kettlebell training courses, kettlebell seminars, and perhaps newly minted kettlebell attire screaming in protest and pointing fingers in my direction while using phrases like know-nothing, without the commercial and finance generated push kettlebell training has received only since the mid-1990s, these objects would still be no more than a footnote to the history of the Iron Game. What some also dont know is that dumbbells, like barbells and plates, have varied in type, quality, construction, and ease of use since their introduction to the strength and powerlifting world. As a footnote to this specific column it should be noted that my lovely and insightful wife Kathy noted the same disadvantages of kettlebell training while predicting it would be the next big thing in the commercial arena, way back in a 1987 issue of our STEEL TIP NEWSLETTER thus the more things change, the more they remain the same!

More Dumbbells
I could make the obvious joke and point out the knee jerk reaction of many in the strength community who said, Yeah, Dr. Ken wrote about dumbbells from a lot of self knowledge, he

is a dumbbell because of his adversity to kettlebells! To me that would have been funny but allow me to be brief and clear. There is nothing wrong or incorrect about doing any training with kettlebells but it is not an efficient tool and for some applications not a safe tool relative to the use of a dumbbell. Again, I will relate to the fact, and it certainly is an undeniable fact, especially for those of us old enough to have lived through the so-called Golden Age Of Training of the mid-1950s to late 60s, that you just never saw a kettlebell unless it was stored in an elderly former lifters basement, or stuck in a corner at the local YMCA. I can recall reading some of the 1961 and 1962 Weider magazines when he was selling kettlebell handles that could be attached to ones adjustable dumbbell bar.

Vintage Weider bodybuilding ad

The science behind the handles, and thats a word not to be thrown around too seriously when it comes to the Weider pronouncements and so-called research circa 1960s, not when the Weider Research Clinic was little more than a sign on a broom closet, was based on a

change in leverage that the handles would allow. This in turn would make the exercise more effective. Well, if one makes a movement less efficient, yes, it can be construed as being more difficult, especially if it drifts into the descriptive arena of awkward but even then, the handles were a hard sell and had few takers. By the late 1960s, the only kettlebell handle offering made by Weider was as a pair of handles included as part of the Superior Big 16 barbell-dumbbell sets offered and the advertising line was Kettlebell Set for broad, he-man shoulders. The sell was the suggestion to use the handles for lateral raises or front raises, thus the reference to broad shoulders, as their use was otherwise limited. Eventually the handles fell both out of use and the Weider catalogue of products. Dumbbells however, could be found anywhere that weights were lifted, including the York Barbell Club where Olympic weightlifting ruled the day. Dumbbells, like barbells, have varied in materials, construction, quality, and shape throughout their history. My wife disappeared for an hour or two on a Saturday afternoon this past fall and excitingly returned to the house with the announcement that our neighborhood was having three simultaneous garage sales within a few blocks of our home. This was not thrilling news to me but I more or less humored her and asked what had been such an exciting find. For the grand total of fifty cents, she had purchased a pair of wooden dumbbells that she dug out of a pile of stuff and the owners were more than happy to see the dumbbells leave their premises for that princely sum. My very intelligent and industrious wife immediately fell into the research and her exciting find proved in fact to be just that: a pair of wooden one pound dumbbells manufactured approximately ninety years ago by Standard Narragansett Machine Company of Providence, Rhode Island. A great discovery and an indication that from the first use of hand held weights or dumbbells, the materials used were limited only by the availability of what was in the locale and the imagination of the user or maker.

Vintage wooden bumbells

Although a number of lengthy treatises have been written about dumbbells and their origins, I have no doubt that they have been manufactured or home made using wood, iron, stones,

cement, and possibly old cannon balls! If one looks at the mid to late 1940s editions of Strength And Health Magazine, large scale weight training was undertaken by the military to hasten the troops preparation for entry into combat. They utilized what we might presently term circuit training and had the troops in basic training doing barbell exercises with barbells made from concrete filled soup cans that were attached to the ends of a length of pipe. I am quite certain that photos could be found of hand-held weights/dumbbells made in the same manner. I know that many of my early dumbbells were made in my fathers iron shop from either scrap pieces of solid round stock or pipe to which I welded inside and outside collars and the appropriate number of plates so that I had a rather extensive set of permanent dumbbells.

Brian Saxton, former Atlanta Falcons, NY Giants, and Boston College tight end presses with Dr. Kens homemade pipe-and-plates dumbbells

For those who have in fact made their own dumbbells, it quickly becomes obvious that one cannot just make dumbbells if they want to do so safely. The first order of business would be to accumulate enough plates to make the neccessary number of dumbbells in the desired denominations. From seventh grade onward, I became very proficient and persistent at dogging the guys in school whom I knew lifted weights. The standard barbell and dumbbell sets that were sold at local sporting goods stores and the occasionally stocked department store consisted of a five foot bar, two short dumbbell bars, inside and outside screw-on collars for the three bars, and enough plates to construct what was advertised as a 110 Pound Set. It usually did not take more than a month or two before the erstwhile Man Mountain Deans would give up their quest for Herculean size and strength, and another few weeks past that until they were ready to recoup some of the monetary investment they had put into their barbell set. Usually these wound up under the bed, in the rear of a closet, or stuffed behind other little used items in the garage or basement. I would volunteer to pay next to nothing which was at least more than their perceived worth of the set at the moment, and most importantly, remove the weights myself. On more than one occasion, I made an indelible impression on the citizens of Point Lookout, Lido Beach, and Long Beach as I walked up to two to three miles from the pick up point to my house, with the loaded bar held across my back. With anywhere between 110 and 250 pounds I would traverse the distance to my home

gym, huffing and puffing the entire journey, but determined to get the deal done. There was no way my working and disinterested parents were going to invest any time into my lifting obsession, even when I toned down my involvement with the description of my twenty-four hour per day jones as a hobby. Thus, I was left to my own devices, which was limited to walking, to get to the site of purchase, and then get the merchandise back to the house. In retrospect, in addition to providing entertainment and a certain amount of reinforcement that this boy is probably crazy to the neighborhood, any lower body power later exhibited while playing football, running sprints on the track team, or involvement with other physical activity no doubt was positively influenced by what had to be dozens of trips of greater or lesser distance to buy, transport, and then stock my home gym with discarded weights. It wasnt until I read a copy of the September-October 1963 edition of the original Iron Man Magazine that I discovered the amazing story of Joe Reginer. Mr. Reginer had spent decades building his own equipment, much of it from junk yard refuse he reconstructed into very useable, functional equipment that was similar to many of the machines now seen in modern gyms. He had over fifteen thousand pounds of plates and literally thousands of pounds of stuff that resembled barbell plates or could be used for lifting purposes. When he moved from Chicago to San Diego, his 7500 pounds of barbell plates wound up in Los Angeles. The Iron Man article says it best so Since Joe did not own a car, he traveled to Los Angeles each Saturday on the train, carrying two suitcases. These two suitcases were carried back and forth to San Diego with a total of 250 lbs. of weights, 125 in each suitcase. Upon arriving in San Diego, he would take a bus to his home and still have to carry them several blocks up a hill to his house. The article noted that when much younger, he transported four 75 pound steel plates home on a bus and with no seats available, had to stand and hold them the entire trip as they were so cumbersome he did not believe he could pick them up once he placed them down again. This was the same guy who while stationed on Okinawa during World War II made a 250 pound barbell out of plywood. The only thing I could think of was Unreal but this kind of thing must have made him unbelievably strong and the article written by Leo Stern as per the observations made by him and Bill Pearl indicated that Mr. Reginer was indeed, strong! These types of feats also made my piddling walks with up to two hundred pounds or so rather punky by comparison.

Falling under the heading of Its tough work but someone has to do it a photo from approximately 2001, Dr. Ken spotting Summer Baskin. To Summers credit, those 20 pound York Hex Head Dumbbells rather quickly became a lot heavier as she trained for her first strongman competition. Summers brother Whit Baskin was a top ranked strongman competitor until injured and comatose in December of 2000. Summer decided to enter the Northeast Strongman Championships in Massachusetts where Whit would be honored and a fund raising donation would be made. She made amazing progress, became quite strong and muscular and entered a few contests over the next two years. Her training, like that of her world class brother, consisted of conventional barbell and dumbbell exercises and of course, specific strongman events.

Dumbbells for Everyone


For those who saw the 1986 film Back To School starring the late Rodney Dangerfield, there is a line that became a catch-all for many things in our house among the children, and something I heard repeated on the street for a very long time; Shakespere for everyone! I could entitle this Dumbbells for everyone! because many powerlifters miss the boat when it comes to fully utilizing dumbbells in their training. If I may be allowed to digress, I should note that Dangerfield was a Long Island guy, very much a local when he was starting his career or more accurately, that should be clarified to read when he was re-starting his career. Those who are long time readers of my articles in Powerlifting USA, MILO, Iron Man, Muscle And Fitness, Strength And Health, STRONG, and Muscular Development magazines, The Steel Tip Newsletter that Kathy and I published in the mid-1980's, as well as numerous internet articles, know that my father was an iron worker, a fact I have always been very proud of. That he taught me the basic skills of his trade so that I could cut and weld and eventually build my own training equipment was a huge bonus. Those who actually know me also are aware that my father worked seven days and four to five nights a week, every week until it killed him and his second job included doing every job possible in the night club business. Rodney Dangerfields comedy career had failed as a young man and he gave it up to do regular work and though I cant recall exactly what he was selling when he met my father, he was in no position to give up his day job as a full time salesman while trying to once again support his family as a comedian. While managing a popular club my father gave Dangerfield work, either when he truly needed it or when asked to. We all thought he was really funny and of more importance, he was a very nice man, unlike some of the performers that needed to be tended to. My work at the club, from the age of eight or nine years of age and up, was quite varied but included keeping the dressing room area stocked with food and spirits, placing bets with the local bookmaker as some of the stars might have desired, dishwasher, bus boy, working the stage lights, line cook, broiler man, and eventually growing into the physical stature and age to bounce and provide personal security to the celebrities. Some of the well known singers, musicians, comics, and dancers were absolutely abusive to those around them, some quite nice but Dangerfield stood out as perhaps the most appreciative, unobtrusive, complimentary, and polite. Everyone thought he was just the nicest man, thus the continuing popularity of his movies in our family. Dumbbells for everyone! would be appropriate as so many competitive lifters limit themselves to what is currently popular or that being done by the really big names in the sport. The efficacy of any training program is measured not by what the best men and women are doing, but what the average man or woman gets out of the routine. It also doesnt matter whats popular. One of my favorite quotes, from statesman William Penn, is Right is right, even if everyone is against it and wrong is wrong, even if everyone is for it. Applied to powerlifting, because everyone is doing it does not mean that any specific individual should be doing a particular routine or exercise. Some training related things are what could be termed obviously good and potentially effective. Others are just as obviously bad or questionable though the power of advertising and/or the praise of a superstar will give it a lot of traction in the lifting community.

Former Boston College and pro football tight end Brian Saxton does dumbbell deadlifts with heavy navy practice bombs outfitted with handles

The dumbbell deadlift is an example of this. Look through the last six issues of Powerlifting USA Magazine. See how many times the dumbbell deadlift is utilized as a substitute for the actual competitive deadlift during for instance, the off-season or as an assistance exercise. Without taking the time to look myself, I would predict that you will not locate this exercise within the magazines pages at all. Before one succumbs to the knee-jerk response that If it was any good, it would be used by good lifters I would defy any aspiring lifter to actually do the dumbbell deadlift hard, heavily, progressively, and consistently for six or eight weeks, and then state that they did not feel they were working incredibly hard, did not enhance the muscular size and/or strength of the involved musculature, or that it isnt an effective exercise just to get stronger. Remember the basis of strength or weight training for any athletic activity; you are training in order to improve or enhance the raw material of the body, in this case most obviously the muscular system. One then learns the skills of their athletic activity and applies their enhanced strength to their skill development. This is how ones performance is improved, this is why an athlete trains. Powerlifting is a sport and in the same manner as other sports, one trains to become muscularly larger, at least to the limits of their weight class, and of course stronger. Confusion occurs because the sport itself utilizes the barbell and consists of the performance of barbell movements in three specific planes of motion. However, the philosophy is the same and in our specific example, using dumbbells

for the deadlift exercise can be and should be an experience that brings one close to their physical and mental limits. Excluding technique or form as it applies to a competitive barbell deadlift, the dumbbell version of this gives very intense work through a very complete range of motion to the musculature involved with the competitive deadlift. Why then would this be a negative? Yet, again allow me to ask where within the pages of PLUSA or other media supplied training sources is this excellent exercise included?

A photo from the archives showing a very young Sol Leistner doing DB Deadlifts that provided a very full range of motion Dumbbell bench pressing and incline presses which again can utilize a very full range of motion while providing variety and the necessity to work very hard, are ignored movements. Utilizing 150 pound dumbbells and in some cases, heavier as our training group did at Zuvers Hall Of Fame Gym in Costa Mesa, California in the late 1960s does admittedly require competent and strong spotters but assuming that one usually trains with competent and strong spotters, many pressing movements with dumbbells in place of the usual barbell provides numerous advantages.

More Dumbbells for Everyone


I was contacted by a fellow I knew in high school whose son was a patient and trainee of mine and he mentioned that he had been reading the ongoing Titan/Eleiko series of articles and remembered how so many of my classmates and others around school thought that walking through town with a loaded barbell in order to accumulate free plates was just the strangest thing anyone could do. Of course, lifting weights in any manner in the late 1950s and early 60s was also considered to be the strangest thing anyone could do so one must maintain the perspective common from that time period. This individual did however follow up with a left-handed compliment when noting that everyone also thought you had to be pretty strong to do that stuff. Call it dedication, motivation, or simply an obsession to gather as much weight as I could if it was offered at no cost. As a youngster intent on becoming muscularly larger and stronger so that I could improve my football and street survival skills, I was convinced that the possibility of having too much weight or too many dumbbells and extra plates did not exist. I have frankly stated in this series and in articles dating back to the late 1960s, that the necessity of somehow getting oneself to the garage, basement, storefront gym, or one of the few health club type of facilities that might have offered information or individuals who lifted weights and could convey something, anything that would allow an interested party to improve, was the only real way to get that information and then improve. Training with weights, no matter the discipline, was very much a cult-like activity, freely and enthusiastically shared by its participants, shunned and made fun of by those outside of the family of trainees, and the only way to get into it was to literally step in personally. Reading the magazines helped to a small extent and of course, provided contest or other training information, months following the actual event. The limitations due to a lack of veracity presented by those articles made one leery, and again drove one back to the step one necessity of having to personally gather the desired information. With minimal information and directions, I recall going to a warehouse on Long Island where I was told a group of competitive and non-competitive powerlifters were training for what was then a nascent sport. On a Friday evening I drove alone into a rather isolated and desolate industrial area and more or less looked around for any building that had a light shining through a visible window. I was fortunate that it took no more than three or four tries until I located the correct door and was able to enter a stark room consisting of what was some sort of machine shop on one side and a very basic but complete gym on the other.

The late Ray Rigby squats 826 in one of Dr. Kens home gyms: a squat rack, bench, plywood for a platform, homemade dumbbells, and lots of plates My presence was immediately noticed but not acknowledged and not one word was said to me. I sat in a corner and spent perhaps two hours watching a dozen very strong and serious men throw an awful lot of weight around and it was impressive. African American and Caucasian, the mixed group was familiar and easy going with each other but I had no doubt they could clear any bar in short order had they been offended or otherwise angered. Only when they were done, was I approached and asked if I could be helped in any way. Obviously, having sat still in a corner for approximately two hours doing nothing else but observing and mentally taking notes on everything I saw, marked me as someone seeking information on what they were doing.

Home gym garage in Valley Stream, NY, a 25 year endeavor complete with Sutherland electric squat rack, power rack, dumbbells, and lots of plates and little more. This was typical, at least for me and it brought me to the known New York City area training sites like Mid City Gym when it was on Times Square, the rear of Leroy Colberts health food store on 84th Street and Broadway, the loft above Jack Menieros Mr. V Sport Shop in Brooklyn where I saw Larry Powers, Freddy Ortiz, and other monster bodybuilders lifting rather impressive amounts of weight, the Olympic Health Club in Hicksville that featured the training exploits of discus throwing champion Al Oerter, and any countless number of unmarked storefronts and industrial spaces used for lifting weights. The most impressive memory I have of the warehouse visit noted above was the fact that there were loaded barbells on numerous racks and lined up in a semblance of order all over the concrete floor. As the introduction of rubber bumper plates was still years away, there were some heavy duty welcome-type mats scattered around to offer minimal cushion to the impact of the forty-five pound Olympic barbell plates when the bars were brought to the floor but I did not believe they did much to protect the bar, plates, or concrete. That they had what must have been a dozen bars all loaded to a different base weight so that for example, deadlifts being done between 225 and 315 were completed on one bar, those between 315 and 405 on another bar, and any amount between 405 and 495 and up on yet another bar was, to me, just the coolest thing I had seen to that point in time in a gym setting. Two or three benches and an incline bench as well as three squat racks all had their own Olympic or standard bars and all had base weight that never went below a specified amount. This made group lifting as quick, efficient, and exciting as it could be and it became a goal of mine to have a private or public training facility that boasted a set-up where there was an abundance of bars and plates. Additionally, this particular warehouse gym also had many home made dumbbells lined up on the floor against one wall.

1996 Olympic gold medal winner Derrick Adkins squats in barest of home gym set-ups, just the squat/pull/press rack circa 1975 Dr. Ken welded for the Malverne High School weight room, rescued and resurrected at time of school renovation. Before hex-head, urethane covered, or any other type of commercial dumbbell, there were either the so-called gym dumbbells made from a specific companys plates that were welded onto short dumbbell bars or there were the large, round, globe-head dumbbells made by York and only a few other companies. Certainly there were other brands such as Jackson Barbell that made dumbbells but the two usual types encountered in the few commercial gyms or health spas of the day were constructed of standard plates or the casted, large globes. As was the standard of the day, all of the dumbbells I noted in the warehouse gym that impressed me so much, were constructed of small, one-inch holed plates that were attached to appropriately cut and measured short bars. This was the purpose in my own quest to gather and save as many of the unused 110 pound barbell sets that friends and schoolmates stashed beneath their beds or in the back of their closets after minimal use. Most of the fellows who made their own dumbbells obviously first used the dumbbell bars provided with any barbell-dumbbell set they had purchased. When it came time to get serious and make an entire set of dumbbells or at least enough so that any workout could flow without the interruption made necessary from stopping to change the weight on any dumbbell, one had to first get the bars to place the weights upon. Having access to my fathers iron shop made this easy for me. Typically, any inventory in the typical mom and pop iron shop will be hot rolled rather than cold rolled. For the sake of simplicity, at least for this specific point, hot rolled steel or iron is reshaped at a temperature above what is termed the re-crystallization temperature, which will cause the molecular structure to alter and align differently than the starting product. Cold rolled is done below this temperature and is much stronger when finished relative to hot rolled bars. Hot rolled is fine for dumbbell bars but anyone who has lifted more than 150 pounds on a length that is in excess of five or six foot, as per a standard Olympic barbell, has discovered the hard way that it doesnt take much force or loaded weight to bend these bars. All of the barbell stock used is cold rolled and further treated to make for example, any of the top name Olympic or power bars extremely strong and resistant to damage. Obviously, having gathered an inventory of short bars, one can then consider the

actual construction of their dumbbells but if they are to be strong and not break apart when dropped more than a few times, some special care needs to be taken when welding them and then there is the matter of the dreaded rotating sleeve. Making Dumbbells for Everyone Before getting into the construction of home made dumbbells and discussing the archaic revolving sleeves that were part and parcel of every 110 pound set of standard weights sold throughout the 1950s and 60s, I want to present an e mail from Jan Dellinger. For those who dont know, Jan was York Barbell Companys representative from approximately 1976 into the early 2000s. He probably held every job the company had to offer but after John Grimek retired, was best known for being the one guy in the office who could actually answer lifting related questions. He remains one of the true historians of all aspects of the Iron Sports and as the one person who worked side by side with the great Grimek, has all of the behindthe-scenes stories. From Jan with my comments, below: Email from Jan Dellinger 02-01-11 Loved your DUMBBELLS,MORE DUMBBELLS, DUMBBELLS FOR EVERYONE trilogy. The remembrances of Rodney Dangerfield were priceless. I only knew your dad as a hardcore iron worker...not that he was involved with the nightclub biz. [ From Dr. Ken: My father was the last guy anyone would have wanted to get involved with if his mood wasnt right and he used that to his advantage in the night club business. His fifth grade education did not in any way inhibit his street smarts and this served him well in his second job, four to five nights per week. Between what I interpreted as a chip on his shoulder related to his lack of formal education, lots of street cred as the young people refer to it, and no doubt being less than happy about working two full time jobs during his entire life, he was a good choice to cool people out in anyones night club. ] Beyond being a recycled sales gimmick, I never quite got the latter day fascination with kettlebells. Although I have to admit that once the weight room of the school where I work purchased a few moderate-weight pairs of K-bells, I had to do a bit of overhead pressing and curling with the nostalgic apparatus, mostly to say that I played with them a little. Oddly, I much prefer the swing movement with a dumbbell. Needless to say, I echo your "you-can-do-anything-with-a-dumbbell-that-you-can-with- a-kbell" sentiment. I might also add that not all of the kettlebell gurus who seem to be of the opinion that they invented them are just on the internet. I've encountered more than a few athletic coaches who attended a (as in "one") certification seminar with the device and now believe they have been to the mountaintop--Olympus, I presume--and found the Holy Grail. [ From Dr. Ken: One of the better known kettlebell instructors/leaders of the movement is no doubt a nice guy but early in his commercial venture to bring this new and advanced training method to the citizens of the United States, he bad mouthed me. Running me down verbally, in print, behind my back, or to my face comes with the territory of being a semipublic figure. Being known in lifting circles as I am throughout the many decades I have been training, competing, and writing and lecturing about training related matters obviously does not compare to being a true celebrity as per political figures and entertainers but in our small, insular world, it does make one known. This also leaves one open to criticism. Strength training is very much like religion to many individuals or at least to a

certain personality type that strength training seems to attract and any deviation from what they might believe is the best way to train, brings harsh reaction. It becomes personal with many, not just something to be discussed, examined, evaluated, and either agreed or disagreed upon. Thus, I never took any criticism I received seriously or personally, other than an opportunity to review my own thoughts and philosophy which would then lead to more study and an even better understanding of the material in question. However, this individual did publish work which criticized me and it was based upon false information. His comments, related to what is in fact a long list of injuries I have suffered, were made with the assumption that all or most were weight room related and of course, to discredit my approach to training. What he did not bother to research or even inquire about and thus did not realize, is that almost none of these injuries were weight room related. My body was torn up playing football, judo, and boxing more than anything else. Bouncing and providing security for rock and roll groups also caused some significant and permanent damage but I always attributed the work in the weight room as keeping me upright and functional. This bit of news eventually got back to him and I received a phone call wherein he apologized but believed we were on to something. To more or less quote the conversation, I was told that We have differing views on training and we can argue this in print. Then we can argue in public at a seminar and at a series of seminars. We can write articles countering each other. This will put (his product) before the public and we both can make money from this. Obviously, with a family, professional office, many athletes to attend to, and community service related work, I had no time for this nor interest but please have no doubt believing Jans comment that the public has been gurued on kettlebell training. Without sounding too cynical, the gurus have in fact made quite a bit of money off of what to me at least, is little more than a strictly commercial endeavor. To many, its the greatest thing since sliced bread (dating myself, there was a time if you bought bread from a store or bakery, it was not sliced, you did that yourself, at home. Being able to buy already-sliced bread was huge to the public, thus the greatest thing since sliced bread!) and in truth, kettlebells remain another tool, just another weapon in the arsenal to get one stronger.] Your mention of the cast iron kettlebell handles from Weider ads of long ago brought back a number of memories. One was that Joe's sales pitch for them was right out of George Jowett's mags, or more specifically his shoulder booklet course. This is not just Joe-bashing as York ads from the late '30s or so did the same, and seemingly copied the graphics from said Jowett booklet for inclusion in their ads. Thus making it clear of course, that nothing in weight training is new, nor was it even decades ago. Pipe and plate dumbbells, huh! Alan Calvert's Milo Barbell Company offered pipe and plate sets in the early 20th Century, which were billed as an "economy set" as compared to ones which featured a solid steel bar. Allow me to repeat the comment from above, Thus making it clear of course, that nothing in weight training is new, nor was it even decades ago. Of course, I learned along the way that kettlebell handles do not have to be cast iron. During my years at York Barbell, basement inventors--"reinventors" in most cases--would send us samples of things they hoped would strike our fancy sufficiently to want to market them. Sometime in the 1980s, someone sent us kettlebell handles made from PVC pipe and glued together. For their intended use they were just fine. In fact, I still have them in my basement, although I run an 18-inch long steel bar thru them and practice one-hand deadlifts, using them as the handle. I've been waiting for the glue to dry out and the thing to break or bend, but so

far they have stood up to 250 pounds. I wish I was younger and stronger as I would like to see at what poundage they start to give. Among the things the late (and very great) Vic Boff tried to impress on me about the training habits of his generation, or maybe it was the one before, was their ingenuity at improvisation. Basically, making what they had at their disposal work over the long haul. Found a great example of this 10 or 11 years ago in the Philly warehouse of handbalancing great Robert Jones, who was very identified with Milo Barbell and was a confidant of BoHo's (Bob Hoffman) for years after he bought out Milo. Sorry to drone on. Just wanted to offer some positive commentary about your dumbbell installments. Jan Jones had a 15 or 20-pound solid dumbbell which he made adjustable weight-wise by boring a hole in each end and threading the inside of the holes to accept a standard 5/8" bolt. Hence, one could bolt extra plates onto the ends of the solid dumbbell to increase the resistance in relative safety...at least by the legal standards of the day. At least, a home trainee did not have to invest in a slew of solid dumbbells.

Another photo of the wonderful old wooden dumbbells located at a garage sale by Kathy In addition to the many short pieces of one-inch hot rolled stock I would cut in my fathers shop for my various dumbbell construction projects, I would on occasion find myself with the numerous five-foot bars that the standard 110 pound sets came with. In time, as I collected the

unused, little used, or about-to-be-discarded sets of various friends, classmates, or less than committed trainees I would hear about, I would have a collection of potentially unused lengths of iron. Some were of better quality than others but all were 1/16th to 1/8th of an inch, thicker than the round stock in my fathers inventory. Over time, I found that the thicker diameter bars were much more suitable than the one-inch round stock for the larger dumbbells, arbitrarily anything over 100 pounds. The thicker bar was a bit easier to control and the increase in diameter, no matter how seemingly minor, better dissipated the force of that heavy dumbbell as it was held throughout the course of a set. If one examines the higher quality dumbbell and fixed barbell offerings from companies such as Ivanko Barbell in San Pedro, California, it can be quickly discerned that they offer a thicker handle for fixed barbells, EZ Curl type of bars, and dumbbell sets. This is done specifically to allow for this more efficient force distribution in ones hand and safer execution of the exercise. When Kathy and I opened our Iron Island Gym on February 3, 1992, we offered three full sets of dumbbells. Our primary set of dumbbells, from Ivanko, went from 5 pounds to 55 pounds in two-and-one-half-pound increments, then to 200 pounds in five pound increments. All of the dumbbells from 100 to 200 pounds had slightly thicker handles, not to offer more grip work for our trainees, but rather to offer better control and more comfort. Our fixed Ivanko barbells and fixed EZ Curl bars also followed suit with everything over 100 pounds set onto one-andone-quarter-inch diameter bars. This made a noticeable difference when handling heavy weights and my early dumbbell construction dictated these equipment decisions for the gym.

Wisconsin strongman and chef extraordinaire Tony Scrivens farmers walk, a great finisher or primary exercise that can also be done with heavy dumbbells

In last months column I noted that every barbell set manufacturer offered a rotating sleeve on either their barbell and/or dumbbells. As a reminder to the younger generation(s) of lifters reading this, powerlifting was not a formal, organized sport with any type of national championship until 1964. Olympic weightlifting was the only legitimate lifting sport with bodybuilding seen as a non-athletic event fraught with the myths of numerous social ills and evils. Thus, the inclusion of Olympic lifts and Olympic type of lifting or exercise movements was seen as necessary in any course of training instruction. Your standard basic program, beginners, intermediate, or advanced programs always displayed a clean, clean and press, push press, jerk, or snatch as part and parcel of the overall course of instruction. With the focus upon selling more inventory, both Hoffman and Weider, even for their strictly bodybuilding courses, included these basic, multi-joint, Olympic weightlifting or weightlifting themed movements within the body of the instructional materials. On a nonrotating 1-1/16 bar, many of the exercises could be painful or destructive to the wrists and/or elbows. Though I doubt that safety was an issue or within the consciousness of either Bob or Joe when it came to making money, a rotating sleeve placed over the shaft of the bar did in fact make the Olympic lifting type of movements safer. Thus, included in the standard barbell set, the rotating chrome sleeve, flimsy and absent of anything such as bearings that might have made rotation of the bar smoother, still improved the bar movement in the trainees hands. Without a sleeve and with heavy weight on the barbell, the trainee would have to literally open the hands a bit when cleaning the weight from the floor to the shoulders.

In 1963, the Iron Man rotating sleeve for the standard barbell set would cost an additional $.3.30! This action would allow the non-rotating bar to roll in the hands enough to catch it at the top of the movement and avoid the physics-determined tug and pull on the wrists once the barbell came to what amounted to a screeching halt at ones shoulders. The sleeve was a chromed tube that slipped over the five or six foot length of one-inch bar, and was secured by the inside collars that would be placed upon the bar after centering the rotating sleeve. The bar-within-a-tube had enough clearance to allow for the barbell to spin enough to make one

think they were almost lifting on a sort-of-real Olympic barbell. Of course, for any trainee that had actually lifted on a real Olympic barbell, the action wasnt close! However, whatever give was available due to the presence of the rotating sleeve gave a safer option than going with the bare bar. Of course the thin-walled tube often became distorted with even moderate use and the threat of a short stop as the bars rotation picked up momentum always existed.

Former Hofstra University football star Frank Savino demonstrates heavy one arm dumbbell row The short length dumbbell bars also were provided with a shorter, chromed tube that allowed the dumbbells to rotate, at least a bit. The unintended advantage of the tube or sleeve was the added thickness these provided to the dumbbell bar, placing more stress upon the grip. That was perhaps the only positive of its presence. Anyone who has used a solid dumbbell or gym dumbbell where barbell plates are placed upon the dumbbell bars shaft and secured with an end cap and a variety of bolt or screw devices knows that a rotating sleeve on a dumbbell bar is not really a necessity. One could argue the case for the longer barbell as the aforementioned paragraph notes but few dumbbell movements are done where a rotating

sleeve is necessary. Far more important for dumbbells, especially very heavy dumbbells, is a means of securing the plates to the bar.

Let's Make Dumbbells


Typical of the era and like almost all of the other teenaged boys I knew at that time, I had a job that kept me busy after school, in the evenings, and/or on the weekends. With time off to participate in high school sports, most of my employment related work was left for the weekends although a Saturday afternoon high school football game would often be approached after working with my father or uncle from 6 PM Friday evening, until perhaps 8 AM Saturday morning without a hint of sleep. My uncle was a respected chef who believed that the best way to keep me from falling prey to the clutches of the street was to insure that I had a viable trade. Thus, I had the advantage of learning the skills of an iron worker with that of a typical saucier and broiler man. I was never stupid or arrogant enough to ever use the word chef when describing my own culinary abilities. In the parlance of the day, circa 1950s through 60s, I was a decent cook, especially as a short order cook. One of the problems I faced in tenth grade, perhaps the nadir of my high school academic and social performance, was finding a way to balance a relatively well paying job (for a teenager) in a local luncheonette with my school related responsibilities. Though it was obviously against the rules, short-sighted, and needless to add, completely unacceptable, I would leave the house early, begin work on the breakfast shift at the luncheonette doing every task from assisting the primary cook to washing dishes and glasses, rush the few blocks to the high school, check into homeroom, and then rush back to finish the latter part of the breakfast crunch of customers as the primary grill man. Thus, while my contemporaries were learning the finer points of the hypotenuse, I was busy serving up Western omelets and hash browns. When the breakfast rush was done, I would dash back to the high school, justifying the mad sprint as a means of enhancing my cardiovascular condition and walk into whatever class was then in session on my schedule. Of course, this unorthodox approach to ones secondary education was not productive nor was it well tolerated by my teachers and coaches. It was rather common for teens to drop out of high school, at least among those I knew, in order to begin their lifes work at the age of sixteen or seventeen with a small minority moving on to college thus I did not view my behavior as being atypical nor unusual. Unfortunately, I did not understand that the hypotenuse of a right triangle was in fact, that triangles longest side, nor that it was even related to a right triangle and the resultant grade of 17 on my geometry mid-term revealed my lapse in school attendance. When my father commented, Are you kidding me? Thats 17 out of 100? I could not counter with a snappy answer and there was an immediate rearrangement of my typical week day schedule. However, I had skills in a commercial kitchen and of course, in the iron shop and with the welding background I developed by the age of twelve or thirteen, I could and did construct my own set of dumbbells. Performing what seems like a rather straight forward and mundane task correctly, like most tasks, involves more than a few simple steps if one wants and expects dumbbells to last for a lifetime of use. Welding cast iron plates to regular iron bars presents some unique problems or conditions and I would like to convey this to our Titan Support System readers. My comments, made after discussion with Tom Ryan, an architectural blacksmith that works in my brothers Koenig Iron Works shop in Long Island City, N.Y., are general in nature and as Tom pointed out The final options are based upon the exact conditions of what one is welding and how it will be used. Tom, like my grandfather who as a young boy began his lifes work as a blacksmith in Poland, does things the correct way.

Koenig Iron Works Architectural Blacksmith Tom Ryan

Let me first state that cast iron isnt used and should not be used to carry a load as one would in using a piece of beam. Cast iron can be used as a column as the stress/force is in compression, but its too brittle to load as per beam use and can fail. To emphasize its brittleness, I did my training at Malverne High School when I taught and coached there. We did not have a wrestling team when I arrived at the high school but there was what had been the former wrestling room, a space the size of three large closets jammed together with half of the floor covered by Resilite mats. The mats, a huge jump forward from the canvas covered horsehair mats that had been the standard previously, are still made by the Resilite company. These were manufactured specifically for wrestling and I can recall the advertising they used that showed an egg being dropped from a rather significant height onto the mat, without breaking or damaging the egg in any way. They were not too thick, yet they were force absorbent. I rearranged some of these so that the underlying wooden floor served as my lifting platform footing, while the mats were used to catch the barbell plates when the bar

was returned to the floor. During one workout I tossed a York two-and-one-half-pound plate to the cross countery coach who served as a training partner during that year. He fumbled the plate, it hit the mat, and cracked in half. We were amazed that a top of the line York Olympic plate would so easily split in two. I sent the pieces to John Terpak, the President of York Barbell Company and he indicated that if the plates hit just right they could, due to their brittleness, crack. It was a lifelong lesson in cast iron dynamics for me. Even those with some welding experience will have to practice and follow procedure to make safe dumbbells one can have confidence in using, or there is a probability that the welds could, or will crack or split. Many experienced welders will look at my recommendations and no doubt state, Geez, you dont have to do all of that, its easier and faster to but I want to give general recommendations that make for a safe finished product.

Dr. Ken flanked by George Kasimatis and Tom ORiordan a decade ago.

In the photo above, we have pictured one not-so-strong older guy standing with two very strong individuals. George Kasimatis is currently the head football coach at Long Islands Sewanhaka High School. For die hard football fans, Sewanhaka was the high school of former University Of Miami and long time professional quarterback Vinnie Testaverde and George has done a wonderful job of utilizing strength training as an integral part of their success the past few seasons. George as a younger man, was a terrific collegiate fullback and competitive powerlifter, certainly one of the strongest pound-for-pound lifters Long Island has ever seen. Tommy O was legendary for a number of things, including his skills as a bouncer and he parlayed his education, football ability, and physical strength into a position as a New York City Court Officer. Television addicts will recognize him as the court officer on the long running Judge Hatchett television show and frequent guest on Worlds Dumbest Criminals type of episodes. Like George, Tommy represents the adage I have frequently used in print and in lectures that The strongest man in the world probably isnt lifting at the Olympics or winning the Senior National Powerlifting Championships. Instead hes working a full time job, has family responsibilities, and training by himself in a garage somewhere in Cleveland, the point being that like these two men, there are an awful lot of unbelievably strong

individuals walking around that the general public doesnt know about. That said, note the Olympic barbell plates they are holding. I had a penchant for welding handles on a lot of different odd objects, including barbell plates so that they could be carried around for strength and cardiovascular type of work. This is another application of welding iron to cast iron as the handles would either be round stock that varied in diameter from one-inch to two-inches, or pipe with similar dimensions. The preparation and welding procedures as outlined within this article were the same for these iron handles. After being bent to shape they would then have to be welded to the cast iron barbell plates. These made excellent Husafelt Stone type of carrying objects that served as effective finishers to many workouts. Like any other welding job, insure that the rod and plates are clean and free of visible grime or grease. An oven cleaner or degreaser works and there are products sold in automotive stores that will take leaking oil and grease off of your concrete driveway. These will do the job for your dumbbell project. I once degreased one of the engine blocks I planned to use for some strongman and lifting activities with a can of Easy Off Oven Cleaner and my garden hose and it worked perfectly. It usually isnt necessary to bevel the metal with a grinder for this specific dumbbell application but pre-heating all of the round stock and cast iron plates is recommended. Using what is now referred to as old fashioned stick welding rods, and I returned to school and was no longer working as a full time iron worker when wire and gas welding was first being introduced, often does not call for pre-heating but I think it helps make a better weld. We always used a torch to about 500 degrees F if welding steel to cast iron. Weld, brush the slag from the hot weld bead, and using a light round- head hammer, peen with light and fast blows. This hot-peening reduces the weld stresses and adds strength to the weld, increasing resistance to cracking. Welding will involve the last plate that is placed on the round stock and if used, a large steel washer. That end-of-the-line plate should be welded to the round stock and the washer if used, should be welded to both the cast iron plate and the round stock handle. Once the welding is completed cool the cast iron at a slow, controlled rate, as slowly as possible. This usually isnt done, with the completed dumbbell most often left sitting on the welding table until its cool enough to handle. Take the time to cover the dumbbell(s) with a welding blanket. If welding a large number of dumbbells or an entire set, you can cover them with hot ash or sand, but use something to insulate the welded cast iron from the cooling air. As Tom said to me, the slower the better so as one might guess, if were attempting to slow down the cooling off process and cover properly, the metal will remain hot for a day or even longer. Again, I will repeat that this is almost never done and when younger, I certainly never approached the cooling off period with any sense of patience or seriousness. I believed that if I had welded properly, the specific weld would hold and there were times that I was attempting to use the dumbbell in training almost immediately afterwards while the cast iron was still hot. As a stick welder often at the short end of the humorous comments about being a really old guy or a very old school iron worker, I asked Tom about options beyond my knowledge or day to day experience. Brazing with a brass rod and oxy-acetylene provides a very strong weld if one does not have the appropriate/proper welding equipment. Pre-heating to 1100 degrees F (think red heat) should be done. Tom believes that stick welding is the most likely to crack if for example, 150 pound dumbbells are tossed to the ground as they usually are in most training facilities but its the easiest welding option if done correctly. He noted that if using Ni Rods, make short one-inch welds and of course, this would be my option as a pre-wire and gas guy. For those seeking to make their own dumbbells using what many consider to be archaic methodology, one recommendation is:

Crown Alloys Company, Madison Heights, Michigan (1-248-588-3790 or 1-800-521-7878). For those using TIG Welding, Tom recommended the following: TIG welding: Precision Alloys Company 13563 Route 217 Scottown, Ohio 45678 740-886-8900 FAX 740-886-8904 1-800-321-0759 For cast iron, cast iron to steel, high strength, machinable, noncracking deposits. (Red Iron Oxide) Build-up and joining, high strength with high wear resistance. Work hardens. For steels and cast irons.

PALCO 808 Bare

PALCO 870 Flux-Coated

MIG welding: Shielding gas is either pure Argon or Argon@75%/CO2 @25% Crown Alloys Company MADISON HEIGHTS, MI. 48071 (248) 588-3790 (800)521-7878 Typical Applications: Royal 44-30 is excellent for making repairs on all ductile and malleable irons. Royal 44-30 is also useful for the welding of other high-strength nodular and gray cast irons where maximum strength and ductility are required. (My comment: For a heavy dumbbell that will be dropped during heavy lifting sessions, strength of weld would be the key goal and application). The addition of manganese provides superior wetting and crack- resistant weldability on even the most difficult cast iron applications. The Royal 44-30 is also used for surfacing to improve wear resistance or for buildup. Also best for welding steel or stainless steel to cast iron. Precision Alloys Company 13563 Route 217 Scottown, Ohio 45678 740-886-8900 FAX 740-886-8904 1-800-321-0759 SPOOL WIRE: PALCO 808

For cast iron, cast iron steel, high strength, non-cracking

I am hopeful that this information will be useful to those who have an interest in putting together their own dumbbells. Remember, in my day you couldnt walk into a local fitness type of store, department or large sporting goods store and purchase a set of dumbbells. Now, there are choices of hex head, hex head covered with urethane, gym dumbbells made with standard plates with or without a urethane covering, with many other options. If you wanted pre-made dumbbells you had to locate York Barbell Company or Jackson casted dumbbells, referred to as solid dumbbells or construct your own. Homemade dumbbells have a great look and to me, a great feel. That each one may have a bit of a different feel because a different diameter handle might have been used and/or a different brand of plate just adds to the enjoyment of training. I know in my own case, it sets me back into my earliest training days, reminding me of the enjoyment I had then and still have when I train.