I would never endorse plate-loaded versions of equipment because I have a few years of experience experimenting with not just plate-loading prototypes, but a few "adjustable" apparati which I have described in various articles. In my experience, I found plate-loading equipment to be HIGHLY dangerous for Circular Strength Training (CST) for obvious reasons. I could never in good conscience endorse such equipment for CST.
The differences between a "plate-loading" device and the Clubbell regard SAFETY, FUNCTIONALITY, DURABILITY and RESULTS PRODUCING.
1. Constant Center Of Mass (COM)
The first thing I discovered years ago regarded the distinction between plate-loading vs. the constant Center of Mass. Let me state this simply first constant Center of Mass (COM) does not mean fixed weight. Secondly, plate-loading does not mean adjustable.
Anyone that has done any type of grip/forearm exercise knows that plate increments (2.5 pounds) are too great of a leap for CST. There's just no way to feasibly get progress in CST using Olympic plates. Years of trial and error showed me this.
Obviously the person who would call the Clubbell "non-adjustable" has actually never practiced CST at all. If they knew anything about the original Clubbell, they would know that the grip length was specifically designed to make the implement micro-loading adjustable. The closer that the grip moves toward the knob, the more distant from the Center of Mass (COM), the greater the weight.
On the Clubbell, your grip can be moved even millimeters at a time to ensure the Incremental Progression that allows for constant development. This prevents the plateaus from the dramatic leap of adding another plate. It took me years of design tweaking to create the final evolution in Circular Strength Training the Clubbell. It's simply eons beyond any of the contraptions tried in the past: telescopic extension bells, plate stacked pins, sand-loaded balls, et cetera.
Bottom line is this: a strength training implement is only truly adjustable if you can increase the load incremental to your progress. If the addition of another plate is too great of a jump, then that implement is categorically not adjustable. In other words, plate-loadable does not mean adjustable.
I had to create a new design that could continue to be incrementally progressive. So, I threw all of my plate-loading designs into the junk pile incapable of accomplishing the task functionally and safely. My friends and clients saw some of my many various contraptions and can attest to the inherent dangers that plate stack pins cause in CST.
It was during one of my times consulting with an engineer that it dawned on me the benefits of sledgehammer training. With sledges as you continue to pound the tire, your hands slip farther and farther away from the hammer head. The farther from the COM, the greater the challenge. However, when I worked a new swing, or worked on new terrain, or different weather, or partially submerged in water, I would choke up on the handle to learn the new skill.
I realized this variable grip depth afforded me precisely the graduated development needed to make it consistently and safely to the next level. Over the years, this design nuance inspired the long handle (and as a result variable-distance COM) of the authentic Clubbell. This special handle neck allows anyone at anytime to increase the load by even the most miniscule increments. The long handle design of a secure COM in the Clubbell® is the only truly adjustable weight Circular Strength Training implement.
2. No Dangers Of Non-Secure COM
This brings me to the dangers of a non-secure COM caused by plate-loading devices. When I first started, Circular Strength Training, I created a few of these prototypes with which to experiment. There's a rule of thumb with firearms that crossed over: the more moving pieces in a piece of equipment, the greater the possibility for error and product failure (it's a rule of thumb in fighting as well with number of techniques from which to choose.)
Swinging weight in 3 dimensions like only Circular Strength Training can, creates unique problems. If the implement's COM shifts because of plate-loading nature, the trajectory of the motion changes. One of several things then happens: you must let go, duck and cover; your body stretch reflexes causing micro-tears trying to restabilize (which it cannot in the extreme ROM of CST); the weight carries outside of a joint's ROM creating injuries (plate-loading devices sidelined me for months with a shoulder injury); and/or you try to change the movement to somehow catch the implement as it follows its new trajectory (dangerous acrobatics). None of these options I found to be fun, obviously.
Anyone who's ever even bench pressed, the most one-dimensional exercise you can do involving only one half of one plane, knows that plates clang, move, push collars and change the COM of the press. No one enjoys it when it happens, and it happens with even the world's most secure collars. Now imagine swinging plates and collars over and around your head in circles and other shapes. Doesn't sound fun, does it? It's an exercise in stupidity (and yes, stupidity is how I learned not to do it.)
Lifting a water-filled keg over head to stabilize deviating weight is a great exercise. However, you do NOT want to be required to stabilize unpredictable Center of Mass when carrying weight in the extreme ranges of motion of your shoulder. It's just plain unsafe and why a plate-loading implement could never be used for CST.
3. Not Dangerous When Swinging Like Plate-Loading
Regarding the exterior contour of plate-loading for swinging: Anyone that's swung a stack of plates around their body knows that the diameter makes it impossible to maneuver safely through the exercise without dangerous impact with the body. Yes, I learned this the hard way.
Obviously if an exercise such as an Armpit Cast requires the implement to move from Back Position into Order Position, in the Back Position the implement must be perpendicular to the ground to keep the arm in its normal range of motion. Due to the diameter of plates, when you swing a stack of plates behind your head, your grip will carry beyond the normal ROM of the shoulder resulting in injury, not to mention the bruises (if not bone breaks) you'll receive when the stack hits your back. I don't think I really need to explain this obvious point. I feel fortunate that none of my injuries were permanent when I experimented with these design types.
This is why years of experimentation and research evolved the smooth profile of the polyurethane coated Clubbell - the only TRUE club for exercising (bell).
4. Protective Polyurethane Coating
This begs the point of the protective polyurethane coating Clubbell. I never intended for all of this I was just creating a piece of equipment for myself. I had no problem investing enormous funds in research and development. It was a fun labor of love creating the safest and most functional apparatus for Circular Strength Training possible.
Since I trained out of the sanctuary of my own mountain home, I required some protection for the surfaces of my house, even in my gym. The steel caused so many cosmetic and even structural damages to my home (and car) that I realized something needed to be changed or added.
When I reluctantly lent my equipment to friends, it reinforced this need. Most of my clients train out of their home and in professional studios. You need a special place for parking a stack of plates, iron cast or steel-lathed device. Obviously the Clubbell can be placed and taken anywhere and protect property due to its thick polyurethane coating.
5. Special Crinkle Coated Grip Design
Now we get to the most potentially hazardous design choices: grip texture. Who in the world would create a handle of that tiny diameter made of polished steel? Me.
My initial designs involved polished steel straight out of a junkyard. Yes, it would have been a shiny bauble to attract the Ken-and-Barbie types and sell volumes to the masses who love to buy sparklies. However, anyone who has ever done any strength training knows that hand oils and sweat reduce friction and diminish grip security. Swinging a polished steel stack of plates created homemade SCUD missiles. With a particular polished handled design, after a few reps I found we had inherited a new antenna lodged into the side of our home. Going to the other end of the spectrum then, I worked with designs which had the most amount of friction between hand and handle.
I tried knurling. I discovered that the friction was too much and with the outward pulling of the implement in the hand during CST shredded the hands. I tried rubberized and even tacky leather grips, and found that if the grip surface didn't move and slip, then my flesh did. Maneuvering these designs became impossible without danger and were frequently accompanied by injury and property damage.
This is why Torque Athletic (our manufacturer) worked with RMAX.tv Productions (my company and team) for many months creating the specific thick grip diameter and a specialized CRINKLE COATED texture of the Clubbell. This ingenious design ensured the most ergonomically sound grip fit in a way that provided me with the most amount of traction to hold the Clubbell securely: the perfect balance.
OK, I admit it. I tried initially to keep cost down and create just cast-iron and even lathe club replicas of the old-time bowling pin design. After several broke because of falling over on the knob, I consulted with an engineer who apprised me of the failings of single-piece units. In single-piece units, the structurally weakest point is where the handle meets the knob. After investing too much money in replacing these designs and trying to increase material density, we realized we needed to have the knob as a screw type attachment to the neck.
7. The Center Of Mass Is Distant
This leads me to choosing the ball size. I rapidly discovered that small balls have ZERO functional value.
The gum-drop handle of old-time bowling pin designs never went over 10-15 pounds without gaining ball size. Now, since I created a long neck for micro-loading adjustable nature of the Clubbell, the Center of Mass was distant. Small balls were insufficient to stop the implement from sliding out of even the smallest hands, not to mention larger hands which wouldn't even feel it disappearing under their grasp. Couple that with some of the polished-handle madness of early designs and I had a recipe for disaster. And that's just the outward projection of Circular Strength Training.
After years of research and study, we finalized on a specialized Phenolic Knob for the Clubbell - chosen by the engineers at Torque Athletic (the same knob used in professional race car shifting knobs). We chose this large knob because it was sufficiently large enough to create a grip purchase to prevent the implement from sliding out of the hand if gripped correctly. Furthermore, the Phenolic Knob was chosen because its special composition allowed a large purchase without adverse weight increase - in other words, without shifting the constant COM toward the grip.
8. Safe For Overhead Exercises
If you looked at some of the insanity of my earlier creations, you would be compelled to ask me what would stop a plate-stack from pushing down (obviously it's actually the Earth pulling down) the weight through the grip. Some miniscule ribbing? Iranian meels had dramatic changes in diameter, but that precluded the ability to make the implements adjustable through changes in grip depth.
Circular Strength Training can be traced to the to strongman competitions in Ancient Persia. Sim D. Kehoe brought "Indian Clubs" to USA from Britain in 1862.
Anyone who has used any of the overhead exercises of CST wants a safe and substantial device exterior profile to prevent injury. Polished handled implements slid right up to the plates when holding it in Torch Position overhead, or any type of Snatch shock absorption (that is, if I was able to keep it from flying upward in the sky when you snatch it because of tiny gumdrop knob designs.)
I finalized on the magnum-shaped design of the Clubbell, since the rapidly expanding diameter prevented the grip from moving higher. Couple that with the specialized CRINKLE COATING grip texture and you can see that the Clubbell is the best design imaginable.
9. Collars Are Safe
OK, the obvious insanity of collars. Folks, this should be right in front of everyone's eyes. Unfortunately, it was directly in front of mine because collars failed. Collars were designed for keeping plates from adjusting outward. Collars were not designed to keep plates from falling downward on your head. Like I said, unfortunately, I found out the hard way.
Imagine holding a stack of plates overhead. Now imagine the only thing between you and those plates is a collar. This sealed my fate. One cannot safely produce a collared device for moving weight in 3 dimensions, in other words for Circular Strength Training. Furthermore, since friends and clients had been beginning to ask to borrow my equipment, care and consideration for their safety was my highest priority, so I couldn't in good conscience offer them any sort of plate-loading collared device.
Together with Torque Athletic, we finalized on a constant Center of Mass (an internally weighted device) of the Clubbell to guarantee no product failure from collars ever happening.
10. The Design
Why did we choose metal over wood for the Clubbell? Grip security impacts the user in this type of training. Wood absorbs hand oils and the sanding makes the surface smooth. As such, wooden implements do not allow for alterations of grip depth. Wooden bowling pins are fine when doing ultra-light weight movements, but when moving real weight with torque, the poor design of wooden grips become an exercise in lethal projectiles.
Density: most obviously - as Doug states. Can you imagine how large a wooden 25-pound, not to mention a wooden 45-pound version of the Clubbell? My wooden variants I created early in the evolution of the Clubbell were impossibly oversized in order to meet the needs of functional strength training.
Consistent Center of Mass: Having a consistent Center of Mass (COM) relates to the density issue. Because of the nature of wood grain, it's impossible to keep consistent the constant center of mass from one implement to the next. This created dangerous results when having expectations of the COM from one user to the next and from one arm to the next.
Durability is the other obvious factor. The wooden prototypes I created over the years (as well as the old "Indian Club" antiques I procured from auctions) remained subject to material inconsistencies - in other words, wood has grain. Any drop, topple or clank caused the grain to create splits in the wood, especially at the neck where wooden variants were most fragile.
Cost: This doesn't even address the cost of producing such large wooden implements coupled with the rate of breakage due to the inherent flaws of wood grain, and you have an unacceptably high cost burden would have to be carried by the consumer.
These reasons obviously were additionally why metal lathing and casting were inferior prototypes as well.
People can create whatever Frankenstein invention they wish. Like I said, I didn't create my "Cadillac" for anyone else but myself initially, and later my close trainees. Only much later, after protracted, convincing argument did I consent to move to making my design commercially available for everyone to benefit from. For me the goal was always the MOST FUNCTIONAL, DURABLE, ADAPTABLE, SAFE and RESULTS PRODUCING device for Circular Strength Training possible.
We accomplished that in the Clubbell®, which is why RMAX.tv Productions will always be the original, the leader and the best source of Circular Strength Training.
Early on my evolution in creating the Clubbell, I experimented with many more designs than those mentioned above. Each of these resulted in product failure, personal injury and/or property injury, EXCEPT FOR THE FINAL EVOLUTION of the Clubbell.
I had no interest in making my Cadillac commercial. I wanted the safest, most durable, most functional and most results-producing implement I could create for Circular Strength Training, because that's how I trained. When people began to insist that I make it available to the public, my insistence for safety increased. I would NEVER take a risk on the public with a design I have not thoroughly evaluated and personally experimented with myself.
One company actually did try to "borrow" the Clubbell name to market their own version of our Clubbell equipment. Their response to our initial and polite cease and desist letter, regarding their infringing use of our Registered Trademark Clubbell (Reg. No. 2,727,333) was unapologetic and belligerent. They gave us no choice but to immediately engage our lawyers to prosecute the infringement of our trademark.
I would like to express my gratitude to Nikolay Travkin and our attorneys for their swift and effective work in resolving this matter. In particular and especially we at RMAX.tv Productions would like to express our deepest thanks to Jorge Colon, Esq., CST certified and legal advisor to myself, Nikolay Travkin and RMAX.tv Productions, as well as the Corporate and Trademark counsel to one of the largest publishing companies in the U.S., American Media Inc., and Weider Publications, LLC.
These minor diversions aside, I'm pleased to see that Circular Strength Training and the Clubbell have become so wide-spread and popular that other designs for Circular Strength Training are coming out of the woodwork. We can only hope that these people have actually invested the time to understand CST and experiment extensively with their design before actually mass producing it and shipping it out to market.
As you know that's not why I designed the Clubbell. The Clubbell is the natural evolution of my desire and effort to design the SAFEST, most FUNCTIONAL, most DURABLE, greatest RESULTS PRODUCING and most ADAPTABLE piece of equipment possible for CST. Together with Torque Athletic and RMAX.tv Productions, we did.
CLUBBELL® is a registered trademark of RMAX.tv Productions, and "Clubbells" word and "Circular Strength Training" phrase are trademarks of RMAX.tv Productions.