For those who saw the 1986 film “Back To School” starring the late Rodney Dangerfield, there is a line that became a catch-all for many things in our house among the children, and something I heard repeated on the street for a very long time; “Shakespere for everyone!” I could entitle this “Dumbbells for everyone!” because many powerlifters miss the boat when it comes to fully utilizing dumbbells in their training. If I may be allowed to digress, I should note that Dangerfield was a Long Island guy, very much a local when he was starting his career or more accurately, that should be clarified to read when he was re-starting his career. Those who are long time readers of my articles in Powerlifting USA, MILO, Iron Man, Muscle And Fitness, Strength And Health, STRONG, and Muscular Development magazines, The Steel Tip Newsletter that Kathy and I published in the mid-1980′s, as well as numerous internet articles, know that my father was an iron worker, a fact I have always been very proud of. That he taught me the basic skills of his trade so that I could cut and weld and eventually build my own training equipment was a huge bonus.
Those who actually know me also are aware that my father worked seven days and four to five nights a week, every week until it killed him and his second job included doing every job possible in the night club business. Rodney Dangerfield’s comedy career had failed as a young man and he gave it up to do “regular work” and though I can’t recall exactly what he was selling when he met my father, he was in no position to give up his “day job” as a full time salesman while trying to once again support his family as a comedian. While managing a popular club my father gave Dangerfield work, either when he truly needed it or when asked to. We all thought he was really funny and of more importance, he was a very nice man, unlike some of the performers that needed to be tended to. My work at the club, from the age of eight or nine years of age and up, was quite varied but included keeping the dressing room area stocked with food and spirits, placing bets with the local bookmaker as some of the stars might have desired, dishwasher, bus boy, working the stage lights, line cook, broiler man, and eventually growing into the physical stature and age to bounce and provide personal security to the celebrities. Some of the well known singers, musicians, comics, and dancers were absolutely abusive to those around them, some quite nice but Dangerfield stood out as perhaps the most appreciative, unobtrusive, complimentary, and polite. Everyone thought he was just the nicest man, thus the continuing popularity of his movies in our family. “Dumbbells for everyone!” would be appropriate as so many competitive lifters limit themselves to what is currently popular or that being done by “the really big names” in the sport.” The efficacy of any training program is measured not by what the best men and women are doing, but what the average man or woman gets out of the routine. It also doesn’t matter what’s popular. One of my favorite quotes, from statesman William Penn, is “Right is right, even if everyone is against it and wrong is wrong, even if everyone is for it.” Applied to powerlifting, because “everyone” is doing it does not mean that any specific individual should be doing a particular routine or exercise. Some training related “things” are what could be termed “obviously good” and potentially effective. Others are just as “obviously bad” or questionable though the power of advertising and/or the praise of a superstar will give it a lot of traction in the lifting community.
The dumbbell deadlift is an example of this. Look through the last six issues of Powerlifting USA Magazine. See how many times the dumbbell deadlift is utilized as a substitute for the actual competitive deadlift during for instance, the off-season or as an assistance exercise. Without taking the time to look myself, I would predict that you will not locate this exercise within the magazine’s pages at all. Before one succumbs to the knee-jerk response that “If it was any good, it would be used by good lifters” I would defy any aspiring lifter to actually do the dumbbell deadlift hard, heavily, progressively, and consistently for six or eight weeks, and then state that they did not feel they were working incredibly hard, did not enhance the muscular size and/or strength of the involved musculature, or that it isn’t an effective exercise “just to get stronger.” Remember the basis of strength or weight training for any athletic activity; you are training in order to improve or enhance “the raw material” of the body, in this case most obviously the muscular system. One then learns the skills of their athletic activity and applies their enhanced strength to their skill development. This is how one’s performance is improved, this is why an athlete trains. Powerlifting is a sport and in the same manner as other sports, one trains to become muscularly larger, at least to the limits of their weight class, and of course stronger. Confusion occurs because the sport itself utilizes the barbell and consists of the performance of barbell movements in three specific planes of motion. However, the philosophy is the same and in our specific example, using dumbbells for the deadlift exercise can be and should be an experience that brings one close to their physical and mental limits. Excluding technique or form as it applies to a competitive barbell deadlift, the dumbbell version of this gives very intense work through a very complete range of motion to the musculature involved with the competitive deadlift. Why then would this be a negative? Yet, again allow me to ask where within the pages of PLUSA or other media supplied training sources is this excellent exercise included?
Dumbbell bench pressing and incline presses which again can utilize a very full range of motion while providing variety and the necessity to work very hard, are ignored movements. Utilizing 150 pound dumbbells and in some cases, heavier as our training group did at Zuver’s Hall Of Fame Gym in Costa Mesa, California in the late 1960’s does admittedly require competent and strong spotters but assuming that one usually trains with competent and strong spotters, many pressing movements with dumbbells in place of the usual barbell provides numerous advantages.