Barbells and Bios: The Sandow Ringing Dumb-Bell

Barbells and Bios: The Sandow Ringing Dumb-Bell

Old physical culture dumbbells really are a strange phenomenon. From squeeze grip dumb-bells to old wooden objects, the devices people used to build their bodies in the early twentieth century sometimes defy belief. One of my favorite examples of this is undoubtedly the Sandow ‘ringing’ dumbbell.

Eugen Sandow, who was recently covered in a Rogue documentary, was one of the leading physical culture celebrities of his age. Possessing a body that few rivalled but many envied, his creativity and entrepreneurship knew no bounds. From the early 1890s to his death in 1925, Sandow put his name to early health supplements like cocoa powders, cigar boxes, alcohol, health magazines and a series of workout devices.

Much of the equipment Sandow endorsed would be familiar to us even today, albeit with one big distinction. The dumbbells Sandow sold were ‘spring grip’ dumbbells which, in effect, meant that each dumbbell contained two metal planks separated by a series of springs. Before beginning an exercise, Sandow’s trainees had to squeezes the dumbbell, thereby making the planks meet. This, it was assumed, would ensure total concentration.

Sandow’s spring grip dumbbells are found relatively easily online. This is not the case with his ‘ringing’ dumbbells. Still based on the spring grip model, the ringing ‘bells included a small bell on each dumbbell which, when squeezed with enough force, would ring. When exercisers heard the ring, they knew they were working hard at the task at hand.

Sadly, these dumbbells are few and far between, a point which makes the Stark’s pair even more special. For me personally, I long for the day when the sound of grunting and chatting on the gym floor is overpowered by dozens of dumbbells ringing in unison …

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