Why are dumbbells called dumbbells?

Why are Dumbbells called Dumbbells? Is it because they’re dumb?

I’ve been working with Dumbbells more lately, due to access, but I also want to switch it up a bit, I don’t believe in just one way of training. As with anything, I have the interest to dig deeper with a particular subject. In this case, I wanted to know why they’re called Dumbbells, I’ve always wondered, but just now took the time to research deeper.


I know you’ll probably want the quick answer, so, here goes, the quick explanation of why Dumbbells are called Dumbbells.

If you’re into kettlebells you’ll probably know the story of how kettlebells got popular, it was because farmers were using the weights to increase their strength and just play around with them to impress the pretty ladies. In Russia, this, of course, went paired with some good ol’ Vodka. Believe it or not, similar story for dumbbells, which by the way preceded the barbell. In the 1700s people started to lift church bells to increase their strength and of course have a bit of competition amongst the macho men. Let’s look at the anatomy of the bell.

Anatomy of the Bell:

  • Yoke
  • Crown
  • Head
  • Shoulder
  • Waist
  • Sound ring
  • Lip
  • Mouth
  • Clapper
  • Bead line


The clapper is the part in a bell that creates the sound.

So to remove the sound from these bells and make them safer to lift they got the idea to remove the clapper. When removing the clapper the bell no longer makes a sound.

Definition of dumb

make dumb or unheard; silence

The key to the name lies in the definition of dumb. So, yes, it was because they were dumb, but not meaning stupid.

The Oxford English Dictionary describes “apparatus similar to that used to ring a church bell, but without the bell, so noiseless or ‘dumb’”

My guess is that a form of smaller bells somehow made it on to a small bar/handle, one on each side, and from there the dumbbell grew into what we know today as dumbbells and barbells. Today we’re really dealing with bars/handles that can be weighted with plates, dumbbells that are of fixed weight now usually come in the shape of a hexagon, and all barbells are loaded with plates.


Is it true? It’s a story, a credible story nonetheless. If you search deep enough, the answer is, the form of the first dumbbells remains unclear.

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