I was in Atlanta, Georgia for the National Strength and Conditioning Association's Annual Sport Specific Conference in January of 2001. The conference involves speakers, get-togethers, networking, a booth area with different companies showing their latest and greatest products, as well as all the fun one could have with close to 1000 football and baseball strength coaches. This was my first trip to this conference and I was very excited to do everything, meet everyone, and listen to every speaker. I met many neat people and learned volumes of information involving strength and conditioning of athletes from high school to professional and anyone in between. Speakers ranged from the New York Yankee's strength coach, the Iowa State strength coach, as well as speakers from high schools and training facilities across the nation. In another area there were all the booths representing nutritional supplements, athletic gear and apparel, fitness and weight equipment as well as many others. One of these booths was the Sorinex booth and it's at that booth that I was introduced to a great historic part of the iron game - The Thomas Inch Dumbbell.
The Inch Dumbbell has a rich, interesting history that goes back as far as weights themselves. Thomas Inch (1881-1963) of Great Britain, requested three dumbbells to be made by Appleby and Brogdens Iron Works for his traveling circus show. Mr. Inch himself was no slouch in the strength game. Once Britain's Strongest Man, he had a personal best overhead press of 356 lbs, could deadlift 560 lbs with one hand at the age of 69(!) and could easily lift the original Dumbbell at a bodyweight of only 168 lbs at the time. (Yup, he weighed less than the Dumbbell itself!)
So when Appleby and Brogdens Iron Works made his Dumbbells, because of the tremendous weight Inch wanted them to weigh, they figured the only way to keep them from bending was to make them with an extra thick handle. This is what would end up making them so popular and so difficult to lift. The three Dumbbells weighed 130, 153, and 172 pounds. The lighter two had 2" diameter handles while the heaviest (now replicated) had a handle "as thick as an old glass milk bottle". It's actual measurements were: 20" overall length, 8.5" diameter of the spheres at each end, and the handle was 7.75" in circumference, 2.47" in diameter and 4" long. (Distance between each sphere.)
Thomas once wrote an article entitled "Secret of the Unliftable Challenge Dumbbell". He discussed that over 20,000 strongmen, gymnasts, boxers, wrestlers, bodybuilders, and powerlifters had tried it for over 40 years, all without budging it off the Earth.
There was a break between speakers, and a friend and I thought we'd cruise through the booth area real quick before grabbing a bite to eat. As we passed the Met-Rx and EAS booths, we were passing the Sorinex booth when I looked down and saw a dumbbell on the ground with a sign on it proclaiming $50. "Wow! Hey what's the deal with this dumbbell?" I asked the man behind the booth. I would soon find out that this was Bert Sorin, son of Richard Sorin-founder of Sorinex Strength Equipment (www.sorinex.com). So Bert told me that if a person could get the Dumbbell over 6 inches off the ground they would get $50 cash; right then and there. He went on to explain that it was a replica of the famous Inch Dumbbell. Like the original, it weighed about 173 lbs. I put a little chalk on my hand, got a little psyched up, reached down, grasped it's giant handle and picked it up like I was doing a One-armed DB row in the gym. I set it down after lifting it just passed knee height. I looked up and Bert's eyes were big as he said "Holy Sh*t! That was easy for you."
Here I am lifting the Thomas Inch Dumbbell off the ground! The picture on the left is the first time, the other is the second time. Magnus is looking on in BOTH pictures. He is in the gray sweatpants. Click to enlarge.
He then got out the camera and said he had to take a picture of me doing it. By this time Richard Sorin had come back to the booth and wanted to see. There was a small crowd gathering and my chest expanded slightly with pride. So when the camera was ready, I hoisted the mammoth piece of iron again. This time a little quicker. I knew what it felt like and was more confident. The flash went off mid-lift, and as I set it down a mountain of man towered next to me. It was Magnus Samuelsson of Sweden. All 6'6" of him, standing there with blonde hair and massive shoulders. He had been one of my idols in strength athletics and was now standing next to me along side his brother and fellow WSM competitor Torbjorn. I was immediately one of them, a strongman and one of the few in history that could lift the Inch Dumbbell.
As Richard counted out two twenties and a ten for my prize, I told Magnus he should try. I said it weighed between 75-80 kilograms (he's European) and that he should easily be able to toss it around. So he gave it a go and succeeded in lifting it. Bert was nice enough to take my photo with Magnus at that point. I was in awe over how big his shoulders, upper back, and arms were. Not only was the guy thick, but tall too. I'm a hair over 6'4" and I had to look up a little to talk to him. One word: Impressive. Magnus is a very nice guy who is strong but doesn't come across as too good to talk to you. After all, we all were pretty close to the same size when we came into this planet.
World's Strongest Man Champ Magnus Samuelsson lifts it.
Magnus and Me. He's huge!
The friend of mine, Will, then tried to lift it with minimal success. He could get it just off the ground but his grip would slip and the dense iron would pound to the floor. I watched many others try with no success and knew that all those days in the gym had paid off. That night my forearm started to tighten up before bed and the next day it was actually a little sore. I guess that's what happens when you go a few reps with the Inch Dumbbell.
So, all of you out there in plate-head land, if you're ever at a bodybuilding show, powerlifting meet, strength or athletic conference, or anywhere else for that matter and see one of the Inch Dumbbell replicas, give it a whirl. Remember, it's you vs. the Dumbbell. Who will succeed?
BONUS - Pictures of Thomas Inch!
Please email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions related to strength, strongman, or the Thomas Inch Dumbbell.