Me and my dumbbell set | Sunday Observer

Me and my dumbbell set

I was with a 12-year old grandson the other day relaxing in the garden. He was browsing through a sports magazine and suddenly looked up and asked, “If the word dumbbell means a stupid person, why is a dumbbell called a dumbbell?”

While explaining to him that it has more to do with church bells, my mind ran a couple of decades backwards when I had a brief but humorous encounter with a dumbbell set.


I was in my early fifties and didn’t like my physical body. I wasn’t alone. Even at that time there were thousands of others who wanted to build up their bodies.

The phenomenon was called “physical fitness,” and I fell for it. At office, I went through a few catalogues and ordered a dumbbell set and a bench. And then, I began to visualize the image of myself in six-months’ time: a 32-inch waist, a high, thick, rippling chest, mountainous biceps, thighs of a stallion and my stomach flat-hard and deeply defined.

My Secretary protested. She said, “Good pair of running shoes would do, for the start.” I ignored her point of view.

Day 4
On Saturday morning I ate four slices of whole wheat bread with cottage cheese and honey. I added two slices of bacon, a big bowl of salad and a glass of milk. I did not neglect a single nutrient just like the handbook said.

I felt so full I decided it would be best to lie down for half an hour and let all those vitamins, minerals, proteins and carbohydrates spread around my body. I slept for five hours.

When I woke up it was time for lunch and thereafter one-hour Saturday nap and visit to the club to meet friends.

Day 2

Sunday afternoon, oozing energy, I started with bench presses. But how much weight should I use? I’d read about a junior wrestler who could bench-press 340 pounds. I knew I was as strong as a junior. I placed a barbell on the bench supports and, playing it safe, loaded 250 pounds. I lay down on the padded bench, reached up to take the ‘begin building my chest’.

Grunting, surprised at the stubbornness of the bar, I slid the weight free of its supports. In sheer panic, fighting frantically, I tried to stop that lumbering poundage from crushing my body. My straining arms were the only resistance keeping me from serious injury.

I was pinned!

I could shift the weight to one side and squeeze out the other, but that would involve a great crashing of iron to the floor, a sound sure to bring the whole neighbourhood to the garage.

There were only two other possibilities, one unlikely and the other painful.

The unlikely one was “sucking up my gut,’ as my school vice-principal used to describe determination, and pressing the weight back up and onto the supports. I tried mightily, but barely budged the bar, which immediately settled back on my chest.

I was left with no other alternative. Feeling like a lump of dough about to become a pizza crust, I began inching the 250-pound rolling pin down my soft, pliable body until it was on my legs and I could sit up. Then I could slide the menace to the floor with minimal clang.

My rib cage felt like a severe toothache. My breastbone throbbed. And I knew from the signals they were sending, that my stomach, hips and thighs would all be in agony the next day.

When I breathed in, I squeaked. When I breathed out, I rattled. I waited for an hour without doing anything and then headed for the shower.

By the time I was showered and dressed, my breathing no longer sounded like defective bagpipes. And by the next morning, even though I was hurting, I was ready to build my legs.

“If you can do only one exercise,’ some body-builders used to say, ‘ ‘do squats.” Squats are deep-knee bends done with a weighted barbell on one’s shoulders. They improve circulation, respiration and skin tone, and they build those stallion thighs I coveted.

Day 3

Even though it still hurt to breathe, I couldn’t wait to start.

I loaded the bar with 150 pounds. Feeling almost cocky, I took a deep breath and stood up with the weight on my shoulders. It didn’t feel too bad, just standing there. I attempted a squat.

I went down, but never came up. My legs would not straighten. I leaned forward to try to “cheat” my way up. I got halfway up and was feeling hopeful when a white- hot pain cut across my lower back, forcing me down again into the full squat position.

I knew I could not live long in my present state—calves forced into thighs, knees rammed into armpits, all internal organs compacted into an area the size of a doggie bag.


Letting gravity take over, I fell back with the barbell crashing, legs springing out from under me and neck smiting the bar.

In the shower, under streams of hot water, I inventoried my physique. I had limited movement of my neck and knew I would be turning my whole body sideways just to look at people for the next few days.

My chest still hurt from the day before, as did my pulsating elbow joints and strained arm muscles. My back was severely wrenched, there were sharp pains in my thighs, my knees ached. I walked in a stoop. After I towelled and dressed, I looked at the bathroom mirror and was wondering whether to cry or laugh.

Day 1

Next morning, my Secretary greeted me. ‘ ‘In three days you’ve gone from a somewhat healthy man with a minor weight problem to a candidate for the main role for the film Hunchback of Notre Dame!”

I grimaced and shuffled off to my room. Three months later, I sold the weight bell set for half the price I bought. Another two months’ later I started yogi and that’s another story.