Twenty years ago I was awarded my first full-time job as the university's first fulltime strength and conditioning coach. Fresh out of graduate school and having served as an assistant conditioning coach in a Big 8 (now Big 12) athletic program I was ready to whip the world. There was only one problem. The school had a designated area for their new weight room but not enough equipment. The school was inadequately equipped with the classic barbell and the accompanying weights. I had conditioned using barbells and I had learned to write programs involving barbells. With only enough equipment to service half the team, it was determined that the underclassmen would use the dumbbells for their training. Since they were the lowest members of the food chain, they would have to wait to graduate to the next class. What happened next was a tremendous learning experience for this young coach.
What we discovered during the post-assessment phase of the program that included agility testing, speed and power was that the kids using dumbbells improved as much, if not more than the older kids using the barbells. Now I understand that it was not a controlled study and that the majority of the underclassmen had never experienced any structured conditioning before college. The impression it left on me was so powerful I began a quest to try new exercises and ways in which to incorporate dumbbells.