Making Dumbbells for Everyone
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 wasn’t “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 anyone’s 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-k-bell” 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 semi-public 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 Jan’s 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, it’s 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.
Another photo of the wonderful old wooden dumbbells located at a garage sale by Kathy
Wisconsin strongman and chef extraordinaire Tony Scrivens farmers walk, a great “finisher” or primary exercise that can also be done with heavy dumbbells
In 1963, the Iron Man rotating sleeve for the standard barbell set would cost an additional $.3.30!
Former Hofstra University football star Frank Savino demonstrates heavy one arm dumbbell row