Put a Little Old in the New School: Forgotten Dumbbell Exercises

By: Josh Bryant

Legendary strength coach Al Vermeil says, “You show me the exercise, I will show you what we used to call it.”

The two exercises I am going to share have recently made a small resurgence.  

I am not suggesting you execute these movements; I am not suggesting you avoid them. I am simply sharing history.

Make no bones about it, each of these movements require tremendous stabilizer strength and control to execute, a feature missing in the spandex, oil-clad, machine-infested gyms. 

Want to test your testicular fortitude or get the co-ed at the front desk to finally swipe right on your Tinder profile?

Don’t load up the leg press!

Train like a Vaudevillian Circus Strongman and give one of these exercises a shot.

The Exercises

One-arm Dumbbell Bent Press
(great for shoulders, triceps, and serratus anterior)

This was a staple of the old-time strongmen such as Eugene Sandow, Arthur Saxon, and Louis Cyr, but lost popularity because of potential risks posed by the contortion of the body and stresses placed on the shoulder, joint and spine.

Like most difficult exercises, the bent press has long been branded “unsafe.” Practitioners of the exercise are quick to point out that since it uses the leverage of the body to lift the weight, it can be safe.

Bent Press in Action

Exercise Description

  • Lift the dumbbell to either shoulder by a one- or two-handed clean, or by lifting one end and “rocking” it onto the shoulder. If using the right hand, which we are for this example, the right leg will be straight and directly underneath the weight, with the left leg bent at a slight angle. (Left hand is opposite.)
  • Now, bend to the left, holding the weight in the same position. The bent position, hence the name “bent press,” allows the arm to hold the weight in position without dropping down because of the body’s leverage, creating an imaginary line between the bell and the floor that travels through the right arm and right leg.
  • Next, continue to bend to the left until the arm is fully extended. The weight is not pressed, but held aloft while the body bends underneath it. 
  • To complete the lift, after the arm is fully extended, do a slight corkscrew to get underneath the weight in a half or full squat position, without pressing the weight. Once underneath the weight, with the arm locked out overhead holding the weight, stand up straight, still holding the weight overhead. 

Legendary strongman pioneer Arthur Saxon holds the world record in the bent press with 371 pounds. Unofficially, reports surfaced of Saxon bent pressing 410 pounds.

Lying one-arm dumbbell support and then stand up 

This is an unbelievable exercise in stability and control, let alone strength! Remember, show an old-timer an exercise and he will tell you what they used to call it. Yes, we are familiar with Turkish Get-Up but feel it’s very important to pay homage to the pioneers.

Exercise Description

  • Lie on the back with dumbbell in right hand held in extension
  • Roll on to left side while the arm is held in extension
  • Extend the left arm on the floor while resting on the hip, as seen in the photo
  • Get on the left knee, like in photo, arm remains in extension
  • Stand up to a fully erect position with arm held in extension
  • Do opposite for left side

The Complete Guide to Dumbbell Training – get it HERE