by Al Myers
I have always been intrigued by shot loaded globe barbells and shot loaded dumbbells. These were very common training implements of the Old-Time Strongmen, and at one time every professional strongman or circus strongman had one they would use in their performances. Today shot loaded equipment is not very available commercially, so I decided I would just build my own shot loaded dumbbell. My design requirements were very simple: make a dumbbell that could be shot loaded to around 200 pounds full, very durable if dropped, and have a handle that would be optimum for lifting. I was very pleased how my project turned out, until I had to go buy lead shot and discovered how much it has increased in price since my days of reloading shotgun shells 20 years ago!
Years ago they even allowed shot loaded barbells to be used in the Olympic Games. The last Olympic Weightlifting Games that allowed this was in 1924, in Paris, France. Only one lifter took advantage of this, and that athlete was the famous Old-Time French weightlifter Charles Rigoulot. He ended up winning the Gold Medal in the Heavyweight class that year. In the early 1900’s Alan Calvert, owner of the Milo Barbell Company, marketed shot filled barbells and dumbbells. There was a good market for shot loaded equipment then because metal plates were not readily available and a lifter could get by with just one piece of lifting equipment that could be “filled” to the weight of a lifter’s choosing. One of the most popular shot loaded dumbbells is the one owned by Louis Cyr, which now resides at the York Barbell Museum. Cyr’s shot loaded dumbbell weighed 202# empty and 273# fully loaded.
I love training one arm dumbbell swings and snatches – and these were the first exercises I tried out my new dumbbell with. An obvious advantage with the shot loaded dumbbell is that the weight is more “compact” when it is loaded heavy compared to a traditional dumbbell loaded with 10# plates. However, I soon found out that unless the dumbbell is loaded full the lead shot will “shift” and create balance issues when put overhead. This is very noticeable when doing swings with it compared to a plate loaded dumbbell. Another problem is that you got to remember what you loaded it to last. I have changed the weight of mine, forgot I did, only to be “shocked” when lifting it the next time thinking it was loaded lighter. After all, it looks the same at 100 pounds as 200 pounds! I really can’t see shot loaded dumbbells making a comeback in today’s lifting world. They are a mess to fill and empty – even with a funnel you get shot everywhere. Most people nowadays have great fear of lead toxicity, with due cause, so precautions need to be taken in handling the lead shot. But all of this is worth it to an old weightlifter like myself – because when lifting a shot loaded dumbbell you feel like you are in the company of the great Old Time Strongmen like Louis Cyr, Charles Rigoulot and Eugen Sandow.