Named after French Canadian strongman Louis Cyr, the Cyr dumbbell is one of the most recognisable lifts in modern strongman competitions. Who can forget last year’s Arnold Strength Classic which saw competitors run through a gauntlet of Cyr Dumbbells? Cyr’s dumbbell is so popular in modern strength contests that it is sometimes difficult to remember its long past.
So what is the Cyr Dumbbell? And, more importantly, what is its history?
We cannot understand the history of the Cyr dumbbell without discussing it’s owner, Louis Cyr. Born in the late nineteenth-century, Cyr is arguably one of the strongest men who ever lived. During his short life, Cyr boasted a several thousand pound back lift, could easily press hundreds of kilos overhead and was equally proficient in one handed lifts.
Unlike modern strength athletes, Cyr was a circus performer. This meant he was forced to use a variety of common and uncommon objects in his shows. For Cyr, it was important to both prove his strength and entertain the audience.
The Cyr dumbbell, fit neatly into this category. During the peak of his strength, the 1880s, Cyr began touring with the dumbbell. Larger than the average dumbbell, with an incredibly thick handle, the Cyr dumbbell weighed 202 lbs. when empty but could reach over 270 lbs. when loaded with shot. Cyr retired from strength contests in the early 1900s and died in 1912.
What happened the dumbbell?
Initially the dumbbell went to Joseph Moquin of Quebec, a local police officer. Moquin eventually traded the dumbbell to York Barbell’s Bob Hoffman, who kept it in his company’s building as an open challenge to all who passed.
Amazingly, we have Olympic weightlifter and Mr. America winner John Grimek’s reminisces on the Cyr dumbbell in
The Cyr dumbell we had was always a bone of contention. Men from all parts of the country came to see if they might get it overhead. It weighed “only” 202 pounds empty but it could be loaded with lead shot to over 270. We never loaded it over 269 ½ pounds, and even then it defied most men who tried it.
I have not visited the York Barbell museum but the original Cyr dumbbell is still there. The dumbbell that modern fans know is a replica.
The Cyr dumbbell was introduced to the Arnold in the last decade and has, in fact, surpassed the weight used by Cyr!