Forgotten Devices: Edward Aston’s ‘Anti-Barbell’

Much to my surprise, and great shame, Edward Aston is not someone mentioned a lot on this website. This, I hasten to add, has everything to do with my own deficiencies. Born in England in the late nineteenth-century, Aston was known to contemporaries as one of the strongest men around. In 1910, he won the title of ‘World’s Middleweight Weightlifting Champion‘ after defeating Maxick in a series of lifts.

Renowned for his grip strength in particular, a topic he published extensively on, Aston also tried his hand at barbell designs. Well barbell designs of sorts. In late 2018, I had the opportunity to spend several weeks at the Stark Center at the University of Texas where, aside from other things, I stumbled across Aston’s ‘Anti-Barbell’, an unevenly loaded barbell Aston claimed would revolutionise the weightlifting community. Shown below, Aston’s ‘anti-barbell’ was marketed during the mid to late 1910s, primarily in British physical culture magazines such as Health and Strength.

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In effect, yes… this is a barbell loaded on one end and not the other. This simplicity did not stop Aston’s entrepreneurial zeal. In a promotional pamphlet published around this time, Aston claimed that this wonderful device, which he invented, was a terrific ‘muscle builder’ owing to the variety provided by this sort of training. Even something as simple as the bicep curl would, according to Aston, be revolutionised through the anti-barbell.

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In this exercise, Aston claimed that both the biceps and the triceps would be called into play, thereby turning the exercise into a true arm builder. For those skeptical of Aston’s methods, the inventor and weight lifter pointed to his own enviable physique, said to have been enhanced through the use of this anti-barbell

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While Aston’s device may seem comical to us nowadays, it needs to be understood in the context of its time. As detailed previously on this website, the use of barbells, although prevalent amongst dedicated physical culturists, had not yet become commonplace in gymnasiums. Where barbells existed, they varied between globe barbells of fixed weight and those with adjustable discs (similar to our modern iterations). In this market, Aston’s anti-barbell had the potential to become popular.

So with this in mind, I spent the better part of last week trying to play around with my own ‘anti-barbell’ of sorts. By that I mean I loaded up one side of the barbell and tried not to kill myself during exercises. Determined to give the ‘anti-barbell’ a fair try, I did bicep curls, bench presses, shoulder presses, walking leg lunges and a variety of other odd looking moves. Now thankfully my gym is empty when I train but even still, I felt like a bigger idiot. On my quest for knowledge, I decided to plough on and came to the conclusion that while the ‘anti-barbell’ proved challenging, indeed very challenging at times, it felt more gimmicky than anything else. While bicep curls with my make shift ‘anti-barbell’ were difficult, I couldn’t decipher why I would chose this method over your conventional barbell.

So my verdict is not a positive one, but I do think that Aston’s ingenuity should be commended. Am I being too harsh on the ‘anti-barbell’? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

As always…Happy Lifting!

P.S.

As a bonus, you can check out a short clip of Aston in the 1920s. Sadly no anti-barbells are in the video!

References

All the images shown here were taken from the Stark Center’s wonderful digital archive.

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