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.
Cyr’s dumbbells fit neatly into this category. During the peak of his strength, the 1880s, Cyr began touring with a series of heavy dumbbells. Larger than the average dumbbell, with an incredibly thick handle, Cyr’s dumbbells weighed anywhere in the high 100s to the high 200s. Depending on the dumbbell filling they could reach over 270 lbs. Cyr retired from strength contests in the early 1900s and died in 1912.
What happened the dumbbell?
Much to my initial ignorance, Cyr owned several dumbbells. Many of these can still be viewed at the Cyr Museum in St. Jean de Matha, Quebec. Some of his dumbbells remained at the museum while others went to private collectors be they Ben Weider or Bob Hoffman of York Barbell.
Amazingly, we have Olympic weightlifter and Mr. America winner John Grimek’s reminisces on the Cyr dumbbell in Bob Hoffman’s collection.
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 a Cyr dumbbell is still there.
The Cyr dumbbell was introduced to the Arnold in the last decade and has, in fact, surpassed the weight used by Cyr! The Cyr dumbbell Arnold Strongman fans are familiar with is based on one found at the H.J. Lutcher Stark Center of Physical Culture and Sports.
The Stark, which is the finest archive on all things strength, sent its Cyr Dumbbell (given to them by Ben Weider) to Columbus in 2014. In Columbus, the dumbbell was copied by Rogue Fitness and brought to the contest. Although Cyr is passed, his legacy lives on.