What Is the Circus Bell?

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  • Written By: Rebecca Harkin
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 14 December 2019
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The circus bell is an oversized barbell that weighs 202 pounds (about 92 kg). Made of two 12 inch (30.5 cm) balls connected by a 5 inch (12.7 cm) long and 3 inch (7.6 cm) thick handle, this barbell is lifted overhead during competitions with one arm in a clean and jerk exercise. The circus bell is used primarily in strongman competitions because its size makes for a great event. This giant dumbbell is named for the image it evokes of the old fashion strongman displays in the circus.

Strongman competitions are one part strength and one part show. The circus bell is a perfect example of this aspect of weightlifting competitions. Not only is this particular dumbbell heavy, it looks intimidating and hoisting it in its intended exercise, the clean and jerk, is a feat to be seen. The maneuver taxes the muscles of the shoulders, lower back, trapezius, forearms, triceps, gluteus maximus, and hamstrings. It also requires not only strength, but also coordination and balance under the stress of the weight.


The circus bell clean and jerk event is an expert-level strongman maneuver. The clean portion of the exercise begins with the dumbbell placed between the feet with the back ball of the dumbbell aligned with the arch of the foot. Next, the handle is tightly and securely gripped with both hands while the dumbbell is still on the floor. With the knees slightly bent, the circus bell is raised to one shoulder and held in place with the hand of the lifting arm while the other hand is released and held out from the side of the body to maintain balance.

For the jerk portion the lift, the circus bell is positioned so that the back ball of the dumbbell is slightly behind the shoulder and the weight of the barbell is evenly distributed over the body from front to back. This position will prevent the lifter from being thrown off balance during the weight jerk. To gain some upward momentum, the knees are slightly bent and then, while simultaneously pushing through with the legs and forcing the arm upward, the dumbbell is raised overhead. The weight of the body is pushed slightly forward to offset the weight of the dumbbell. The circus bell is held in place for a few seconds and then guided to the floor.

A weightlifting apparatus similar to the circus bell is the circus kettlebell. This is a single dumbbell with a looping handle, manufactured in varying weights. The circus kettlebell is typically swung between the legs while bent slightly forward.


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