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For other uses, see Dumbbell (disambiguation).
Not to be confused with barbells, a larger version of the same concept, held with both hands.
A pair of adjustable dumbbells with 2 kg plates.

The dumbbell, a type of free weight, is a piece of equipment used in weight training. It can be used individually or in pairs, with one in each hand.


Young boy holding a discus at the palaestra. Near him, a pick to prepare the landing ground for the long jump and a pair of dumbbells (halteres) used to maintain equilibrium during the jump. Interior of an Ancient Greek Attic red-figure kylix, 510–500 BC, Louvre Museum, Paris.
Dumbbells (halteres) used in athletic games in ancient Greece, National Archaeological Museum, Athens.

The forerunner of the dumbbell, halteres, were used in ancient Greece as lifting weights[1][2] and also as weights in the ancient Greek version of the long jump.[3] A kind of dumbbell was also used in India for more than a millennium, shaped like a club – so it was named Indian club. Despite their common English name implying an Indian origin, the so-called Indian clubs were in fact created in the Near East. Properly referred to as meels, they are first recorded as being used by wrestlers in ancient Persia, Egypt and the Middle East.[citation needed] The practice has continued to the present day, notably in the Varzesh-e Bastan tradition practiced in the zurkaneh of Iran. From Persia, the Mughals brought the meels to South Asia where are still used by pehlwan (wrestlers). British colonists first came across Persian meels in India, and erroneously referred to them as "Indian clubs" despite their Middle Eastern origin. The design of the "Nal", as the equipment was referred to, can be seen as a halfway point between a barbell and a dumbbell. It was generally used in pairs, in workouts by wrestlers, bodybuilders, sports players, and others wishing to increase strength and muscle size.


"Dumbbells" as a word originated in late Stuart England. It referred to equipment used to simulate the action of pulling a bell rope. Designed to develop technique, and especially strength, to practise English bellringing (see Change Ringing), dumbbells made no noise, and were hence "dumb". When strongmen started to make their own equipment, they kept the name, even though the shape and form changed. See Oxford dictionary definition.


By the early 17th century, the familiar shape of the dumbbell, with two equal weights attached to a handle, had appeared.[citation needed] There are currently three main types of dumbbell:

A spinlock adjustable dumbbell.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Norman Gardiner, Athletics in the Ancient World, Dover, 2002, on Google books
  2. ^ Bill Pearl, Getting Stronger: Weight Training for Sports, Shelter, 2005, on Google books
  3. ^ Stephen G. Miller, Ancient Greek Athletics, Yale University Press, 2006, on Google books

Jan Todd, From Milo to Milo, A History of Barbells, Dumbbells and Indian Clubs, Iron Game History, vol 3 No. 6, 1995, viewed at: [1]

External links[edit]