Thomas Inch Dumbbell Links

Thomas Inch was a strongman/circus performer in the early 1900’s.

He is best remembered for creating a series of dumbbells with almost 2.5″ thick handles, the largest weighing 172 pounds (the “Inch”.)

He would demonstrate an Inch lift, then offer a reward to the audience to repeat his lift. Nobody was ever successful, and rarely did the dumbbell even leave the floor.

Although Thomas Inch was very strong, he probably switched weights while on-stage.

Also, the handle had a hole which could be used for cheating by jamming a nail in there to stop rotation, making the lift much easier.

The Inch lift is considered to be a part of strongman, circus or odd lifting.

Another related circus lift was the bent lift, where the body was bent diagonally and one arm was used to press a barbell or dumbbell vertically.

Although a specialist of any size could eventually lift the Inch, successful lifters are most likely grip specialists (COC #3) over 250 pounds with focused training. Non-grip-specialists report that the Inch rolls out of their hands and feels twice as heavy as the actual weight.

Inch Lifts Throughout History

  • press above head/one hand – only a few people (see chart below.) This is the classic lift.
  • deadlift/one hand – Only a few dozen people
  • deadlift/one hand with cans – only a few people
  • carry 2 – only a few people have done a farmers’ walk. Featured at Arnold Classic.
  • press 2 at same time – Mike Burke has bravely lifted 2 above his waist, but failed to press.
Name Year Video Notes
Thomas Inch 1900s   Probably stopped rotation with nail or even switched dumbbells
Bill Kazmaier (WSM), USA 1990 Video Believed to be first to lift 172. “Felt like hitting a golf ball a thousand yards!”
Mark Henry, USA 2002 Video Olympic and Powerlifter
Rich Williams, USA 2011 Video Powerlifter. Thighed and jerked.
Mike Burke, USA 2014 Video Powerlifter

An honorary mention goes to Paul Anderson, the strongest man in recorded history. If he had one, then he would have been able to throw it over his head!

Arthur Saxon was able to do a 300 pound bent lift, so could probably do the Inch also.

Brian Shaw (WSM) works out with the Inch, doing deadlifts and carries.

USAWA: Inch Dumbbell

Joe Roark wrote in 2006:


The hole in the original Inch dumbell (the 172, I mean, Inch had at least four of differing weights, one about 75 lbs) is not all the way through the handle, although the current owner, Kim Wood declined my request to clean out the hole to see how deep it was.

The hole was filled in one night when word got out that Inch's trick was indeed a nail stuck into the hole to prevent rotation- Inch denied this, but rather than prove his point (men were intending to bring nails that night) he had the hole filled in. He had claimed the hole was for escaping gases during the casting- that question put by me to a foundry man elicited a huge laugh. Had he not filled in the hole, he would have been exposed, in my opinion.

These days very strong gripped men by placing a free hand ON TOP of one of the spheres and thus stopping rotation toward the thumb, can get the bell off the floor. Willoughby thought that the narrow handle width -four inches- prevented large handed men from having a chance, but the opposite is true, we now know, because a very wide hand 'wedges' between the spheres and acts as did the nail- to help prevent rotation.

Also, many men can hold the 172 in one hand in the finished deadlift position because the bells rest against the thighs (preventing rotation) so to see a photo of a man holding the bell in this position does not prove to deadlifted it- only that he held it.

I am convinced Inch never cleaned and pressed- or jerked- the Inch 172; indeed he never really claimed he could until others began deadlifting it- then the overhead aspect was mentioned.

It is my view that the 172 was cast probably in 1905 or 1906 - not in the 1800s as is generally thought. On cyberpump's paysite I presented a 22 installment history of the Inch bell and Inch- it is one of two subjects I feel confident enough to call myself an expert.

stack.com: The Inch
W: CoC
yt: Magnus Samuelsson closing Coc #4
Grip Training – Lifting the Inch Replica Dumbbell

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