Did You Know Dumbbells Originated in the 1700’s?

dumbbells originated in the 1700’s

Did you know…dumbbells originated in the 1700’s when a rod was placed between two church bells. When a clapper was removed from the bells, they became silent, or dumb, hence the word dumbbell.

Many good reasons

Dumbbells and Barbells, why lift free weights? Well, for one thing, if you do not have the space for a large, comprehensive home gym then free weights are an excellent choice of fitness equipment to use in your home workouts. Another thing, free weights are an affordable way to grow your fitness equipment collection, and continue to challenge your workouts, as your fitness levels improve. Additionally, they are versatile, and require virtually little or no storage space. So, there’s many reasons to lift free weights.

I remember myself, back in the day starting off my fitness career with a 100lb set of plastic sand-filled weights, it’s amazing how creative you can be without access to a gym.

Strength training is not a modern invention

Egyptian tombs show pictures of lifting bags filled with sand and stone swinging and throwing exercises. These types of things were also popular in early Europe.

Weightlifting competitions originate back to the early Greek civilization. These events led to the origination of games that later became known as the modern Olympics. The pioneers of these events did not have the sophisticated equipment that we have today or the research on training and physiology to back up the exercises, but they did have the most important thing — the desire to lift something heavy for fun, sport, and physical health. Like I said previously, it’s amazing how creative you can be without access to a gym. In this case of course, gyms didn’t exist. Dumbbells and Barbells, why lift free weights? No other choice at this time.

The creative mind can overcome anything as they made equipment out of whatever they could. As time went on, they created more modern inventions for weightlifting. Indian clubs, which resemble a bowling pin and kettle balls (cast-iron balls with a handle), were popular in the early 1800’s. Weight-training equipment evolved in the form of pulleys, air pressure devices, and multi stations in the 19th century. At first, the people who used this type of equipment were strongmen performing at contests and exhibitions. Amateur weightlifting became a sanctioned event at the Olympics in 1896, although there were no female athletes. Women’s weightlifting didn’t become a sanctioned Olympic sport until much later.

Weight training progressed significantly in the 1900’s with the invention of the adjustable, plate-loaded barbell. Weight training became more popular at this time because it was much easier to change the weight on the barbells. Weight training really gained momentum when sports coaches began to see that it was an excellent addition to athletic and physical education programs.

Bodybuilding soon followed on the sandy shores of Muscle Beach in Venice, California. Bodybuilding was practiced by men and women who participated in physique shows, weightlifting competitions, and acrobatics demonstrations. This was when women’s progression into weightlifting really took hold.

Introducing the Nautilus Machine

This is primarily contributed to the Nautilus machines. These machines used variable resistance. The Nautilus variable resistance machines hit the market in the 1970’s. The machines were great because they were less intimidating than free weights. They allowed people to lift light weights easily, which was perfect for the woman who was just starting out. The creator of the Nautilus, Arthur Jones, preached a philosophy of training that gave people a road map and instructions for the use of his machines. He proposed a 20-minute workout three times a week that included one set of 8 to 12 repetitions for each Nautilus machine. Many people are still following his recommendations today.

The innovation of the Nautilus machines inspired a fitness revolution, and many different companies came on the market with their own resistance machines. In the 1970’s, the aerobics revolution began, and it flourished throughout the 1980’s. Women who had previously been training with weights were now jumping and stepping in aerobics rooms rather than going out to weight floors. A hybrid of selector zed equipment was the plate-loaded machine, which was introduced in the later 1980’s. Hammer Strength was the first of these machines. Entire body movement was the focus for these machines, rather than specific body parts.

The machines felt natural and smooth, and they actually led to a resurgence of lifting free weights. Women were coming back into the weight room. It was also becoming apparent, through research and anecdotal reports, that resistance training produced huge benefits for those who participated in sports. There probably isn’t any serious athlete or sports team today that doesn’t believe in training with free weights.

Strength training in the past was very plain; there was not a lot that could be changed about the way an exercise was done. Today, the world of weightlifting is changing all the time with new machines, workouts, equipment, and techniques. Fitness and everything associated with it has come far. Strength training is something that is only going to get better. The benefits that come from it are astronomical. We, as a society, have come to figure out that weight training is not only for a select few; it is for everyone. Every person needs strength training in some way or another, whether it be for fitness or medical reasons.

Strength training is evolving as we speak. From circuit training to multiple muscle workouts, functional core training is the cause of this evolution. Balance, stability, pure core strength, and functional training are vital to the new strength trainers. It’s only going to get better. Future strength training practices will allow us to function better and be able to produce a much faster, stronger, and more agile athlete.

What Are Free Weights, Exactly?

So, first thing’s first, free weights are any training load that isn’t connected to another apparatus or piece of gym equipment. It’s “free,” meaning you can pick it up, move it, and do whatever you want with it really. The only thing you’re fighting is the force of gravity on that object.

Your two main free weights in the gym are dumbbells and barbells, but kettlebells, medicine balls, sand bags, even tires are free weights. Pick them up and do what you will with them,

That’s in contrast to fixed weight machines, cable machines, and resistance bands, in which the load you’re working against can move in a limited number of directions. And sometimes, with non-free-weight apparatuses, gravity isn’t even the force you’re working against. When you’re working with cable machines and resistance bands, for instance, the source of resistance is the cable or band.

So, why lift free weights?

When the load you’re working with isn’t attached to anything, the possibilities of what you can do with it are pretty much endless. Free weights provide more freedom of movement across most exercises.

Take a squat, for instance. Perform it with a leg press machine or a Smith machine, and you bend at the knees and hips, and that’s it. Everything else is fixed, so you don’t have to worry about balancing, and your body isn’t able to move out of a straight-line path. Now, do the same squat with a free weight, and suddenly your muscles have to work to keep you from wobbling and your body doesn’t have to move any fixed path.

That’s good for a lot of reasons. First, it mimics how we move in regular life. Second, it activates and trains more muscle. And third, training more muscle means greater strength benefits and a lower risk of muscle imbalances and injury.

What’s your goal?

This could be anything from performing your first pull up to building muscle to increasing how much you can deadlift by X amount. The answer will influence not only the exercises you perform, but also how you perform them (reps, sets, weight used, rest periods, etc.), Also, keep in mind that your goals should include rehabbing or working around any prior injuries or aching joints; keeping injuries in mind will really matter when it comes to exercise selection.

How often will you workout?

It’s good to have goals here, but also be realistic. After all, if you create a free-weight routine that works different body parts each day, but you end up rarely hitting the weight room more than two days per week, half of your body is going to get left out of the equation. It’s always better to add a strength day than it is to miss muscle groups throughout the week.

How much time to devote to your workouts?

It’s hard to give a one-size-fits-all suggestion for how long a lifting session should be, because it really depends on the reps/sets you’re doing, how long you rest in between, how intense an exercise is, and how long each move takes to complete. Generally, most trainers say that 45 to 60 minutes is sufficient for a strength training session. But it’s important to be realistic about how much time you do have to devote to training. Pick a time limit that feels doable with your schedule and see how many exercises you can fit into that window allowing yourself time to perform all reps and sets with proper form and adding in time for rest, too.


The bottom line is this; choose a weight training system that you enjoy and that fits into your lifestyle. Aim to do weight training exercises of all the major muscle groups at least two days a week, keeping at least one day between strength training sessions.

And whatever type of resistance you choose, free weights or machines, remember that proper form and technique is more important than the specific type of equipment because should you injure yourself you might not be working out at all.

Author: Nigel Taylor

I`m Nigel Taylor – originally from England – owner of The Backyard Gym in Round Rock Texas. We specialize in personal training, kickboxing cardio and self-defense. With over 25 years experience as a personal trainer, I know what works! From weight loss to bulking up to toning up, I can help you get your desired look and achieve your fitness goals. I can also offer you the privacy of a 100% private personal training studio in which to enjoy and get the most out of your workouts.