The Lost Art of Swingbell Training


Looking for something to break the monotony of dumbbell and barbell training? Admit it, every once and a while you like to try something new. Exercises or machines that truly test you. Well today, we’re going to look at the Swingbell, an old school piece of bodybuilding equipment promoted by York during the heyday of the 1950s.

In today’s post we’ll discuss some of the exercises you can do with this retro piece of equipment along with some tips to make your own.

Given that York Barbell were the main manufacturers of the Swingbell, it seems only right to look at what Bob Hoffman, York’s owner, had to say about the ‘Bells. In 1951, Hoffman penned Advanced Methods of Weight Training, a comprehensive lifting book that included a detailed set of Swing Bell exercises, which are given below verbatim.

Course #13: Swing Bell Course

#1 Rotating Swing Bell – Held Overhead.

With this movement you should make your start with a light weight. With the swing bar overhead, the feet a comfortable distance apart, swing or rotate the body around in a circle. Bend far to the front, then to the side, then far back, then to the other side, continuing the movement by circling the swing bell and the upper body.

#2 High Pull Up to Overhead

Starting with the bell across front of thighs, knuckles front, with arm and shoulder strength alone, pull the swing bell up past the top of head to arms length overhead. The hands are bent and the backs of them are up the entire way.

*Think of this like a High Pull and Jerk Movement

#3 Forward Raise Without Body Movement

Start in the same position as #2. The bell is raised in an arc overhead, arms straight throughout, lower slowly in similar manner and continue the exercise for the desired number of movements

* Similar to a Front Dumbbell Raise but you go all the way up!

#4 Swing from Side to Side in an Arc Overhead

Hold the swing bell with the knuckles front. Turn to the side and bend and twist so that the bell touches or comes near to the floor to the right of the body with the bell perpendicular to the front. Hold the arms as straight as possible as you lift or swing the bell up and over in a huge circle until it touches the floor in a position similar to the starting position but on the other side of the body. Back to starting position and repeat.


Hold the swingbell in the usual starting position, in front of thighs, knuckles front. With little or no body movement start the bell in a circle toward the left, up and around to the right describing a circular or wheel like movement. Perform a series of exercises to the left and another to the right.


If there were only one movement with a swing bell and it was this exercise, the swing bar would play an important part in building strength, health and muscles with weights. Stand with the feet a comfortable distance apart, the knees are kept straight throughout the movement until the bar approximately touches the floor behind the legs.

Swing the bar up in a half circle, keeping the arms straight throughout. The movement should be performed comparatively slowly to obtain the maximum of muscle building benefit.


Similar to exercise #3 of course #3, except that Swing Bell is employed instead of barbell.


The popular gun swinging exercise used to develop the men of our armed forced. A gun weighs a little more than 9 pounds and can not be increased in weight as can the swing bell, so far less benefit is obtained. Start in the usual position of bell, hands and feet, but with the body leaning slightly forward. Swing from this position to the side and overhead, turning the body and rotating on the balls of the feet as the weight goes overhead and to the side, then back to the starting position and movement to a similar position on the other side of the body. When this movement is performed with a regular cadence, a big half circle will be traced from a position overhead on the right to a similar position on the left. With practice and the use of heavier weights you will put your entire body into action with some movement of the legs and considerable raising and lowering of the body.


Similar to other triceps exercises in this course, those performed with barbell, dumbbells, both standing and lying, with a single dumbbell and with expanders standing. Start this movement in the palms up, curl position, swing the bell up and back of head, holding the elbows high and stationary, pull, or press the bell to arms length.


This movement is somewhat similar to exercise #6 of this course. It differs in the fact that instead of merely extending the swing bell overhead, it is lifted or swung up to a position at the right, body twisted so that the bar is perpendicular to the front, then back to the low position at center, and swung with stiff arms and turning body far up to the left. This form of swinging is somewhat similar to the gun swinging type except that it is done with the arms and shoulders and without the movement of the legs and back which are a part of #8.


Start with the usual position. With the legs as straight as possible, bend and twist to the side so that the bar touches the floor or ground at the side of the right foot, back to center and then down to a similar position at the left, back to center and continue the movement.


To practice a compound exercise you select any three good movements from this course, and without stopping at the end of the first or second continue until all three are practiced.

If you’re a little confused by the descriptions, OldTimeStrongman previously posted a series of Swingbell exercises which I found helpful in comprehending Hoffman’s instructions


Other Exercises

Interestingly, Hoffman neglected to mention the Swingbell Curl which was a favoured exercise of Reg Park, the man who inspired Arnie to start pumping iron! Here’s a picture of Park in action with the Swingbell


Additionally I’ve found Swingbell Pullovers and Ab Rollouts to be particularly effective. Really the only thing limiting you with a Swing Bell is your imagination!

Buy or Make your Own?

As this piece of workout nostalgia is unfortunately no longer in use, the enthusiastic lifter is left with two options. You can either hope that someone will sell a Swingbell on Ebay, as has been known to happen. Or you can make your own with relatively little effort. All you need is a pipe of roughly 1.5 inches in diameter length, which you can pick up online or in a hardware store. Following this you can load up the pipe and secure the weights using spring clips or collars at your gym.I recently bough a pipe that’s 2 inches in diameter  and a 500 cm in length which works perfectly.

Here’s some photos I found online for inspiration using both PVC and Metal pipes

You now have the exercises and knowledge. Get down to your local gym and try it out. You won’t be disappointed!

2 thoughts on “The Lost Art of Swingbell Training

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  1. Hello, Conor,

    Hope I’m not making a pest of myself, but isn’t the “swingbell” simply an old fashioned (pre-spinlock) dumbbell bar center loaded? I should think that the resurgent popularity of kettlebells in the present century would largely fill the same niche as the swingbell.

    I am curious why you would recommend a 1.5-inch diameter pipe, which is too large to accommodate exercise plates with their 1.1-inch holes, yet really too small for Olympic plates.

    I read “Man’s World” regularly during my second year at Oxford after I took up weight training. That image brings back memories.

    Please keep the good stuff coming!

    1. Hey Jan,

      You are indeed correct! It’s a very rudimentary piece of training. The only adv, for me, over the kettlebell is on arm exercises. Oddly I use my old school swingbell for upperbody work and the KB for lower body.

      At that time I oddly (and still now – the swingbell is in the shed!), I had homemade plates which suited the 1.5 inch pipe. If I was redoing it now it would be 1.1! I have some copies in storage, it was a rather wonderful magazine!

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