By Strength Oldschool
The problem with regular "macho man" Dumbbell Shoulder Pressing or Dumbbell Chest Pressing is, you need to first clean the dumbbells from the floor to your thighs (which can be painful depending on which type of dumbbell you use), then shift the dumbbells from your thighs to over your chest (if chest pressing that is) before beginning your "real" reps. This can take a lot of effort when using heavy weights and drain your energy before you even start pressing the dumbbells! (see video below).
This is why you see a lot of lifters in the gym ask their training partners to directly lift and hand them the dumbbells for pressing.
Granted it does feel great to personally lift heavy dumbbells from the floor, get into position and heave those weights overhead, but lets face facts, sooner or later, as a lifter focusing on getting stronger, you may get injured and therefore cleaning heavy weights from the floor may end up becoming challenging or damn near impossible to do, depending on the injury. So the smart thing to do is to try and avoid such injuries to the lower back, biceps, shoulders etc, especially for the older lifter.
Sometimes it's best to focus strictly on the actual movement of an exercise i.e. leave out the "lifting" part of the dumbbells and just focus on the "pressing" movement. This allows you to give 100% commitment to the target muscle area.
To do this, you can ask training partners or anyone at the gym to spot you and lift the dumbbells into place for you to start your pressing (shoulder or chest dumbbell exercises). However, you might train by yourself all the time and you may also be introverted and not wish to ask others for help. You may also just train by yourself at home in your own personal "Home Gym" (Respect!). So what's the solution?
Whether you train at a commercial or home gym, if you train by yourself and wish to strictly focus on the "pressing" part of lifts without using up your energy to lift heavy weights from the floor, then my suggestion is to first try out Dumbbell Hooks as they are simple to use and relatively very cheap to buy (depending on the brand of course). This solution will work great for people of all age groups.
I previously mentioned that it can be painful and uncomfortable resting heavy dumbbells on your thighs. This is definitely the case if you use "loadable" dumbbell handles due to the "stick out", steel, Olympic bar ends where the collars attach (see photo below).
If you compare the shape of a weighted 'loadable dumbbell' handle (above) to either a PRO style dumbbell or HEX rubber dumbbell (see below), you'll hopefully understand what I mean.
The ends of Hex dumbbells have a larger and flatter surface area making them much more comfortable to rest on your thighs. This pain issue (although not a major problem I think) was one of the reasons for me several years back to use "Dumbbell Spotter Hooks".
I believe today there may be a device that attaches to the ends of "loadable" dumbbell handles, making them much more comfortable to use when resting heavy loads on the thigh muscles. But a number of years ago, I would never have thought such a device existed.
So in 2016, I tried dumbbell hooks for the first time. I purchased a brand called "Bodymax". To be honest, even though the product was cheap to buy and the design was extremely simple and easy to use, I was never completely satisfied with the product (watch my video review below).
I purchased the "Bodymax" hooks from Amazon, but unfortunately, for some reason Amazon don't sell the dumbbell hooks anymore.
Good news is, you can still buy Bodymax Dumbbell Hooks from PowerHouse Fitness (may be low in stock?). Other places online to buy similar type dumbbell hooks include...
It's important to note that depending on which company you purchase the dumbbell hooks from, even though they may look the exact same or similar to the "Bodymax" dumbbell hooks I purchased, the maximum amount of weight that the hooks can support will be different. So always check and be aware of this.
I believe the "Bodymax" dumbbell hooks can support weights up to 50 kg (110 lbs), whereas "Mad Spotter" claim their dumbbell hooks can support up to 80 kg (176 lbs) dumbbells, a significant difference.
Mad Spotter even claim that their hooks are "robust, strong, and made to last a lifetime." This is definitely not the case for "Bodymax" hooks (see photo below).
As you can see the rubber part which goes over a barbell to hang from, has split! I purchased them in 2016, but if I'm honest, I haven't used them enough to justify them breaking. So I definitely won't be using them now, far too risky.
Another tip is, don't always assume that these dumbbell hooks fit "ALL" dumbbell handles. That may not be the case, especially if you like using fat grip handles so always contact the company first to ask these types of important questions before buying.
Fast forward to 2021... my home gym equipment was up-scaled, more heavy duty and the general advancement in home gym equipment design had greatly improved, compared to years earlier. Gym manufacturing companies were now designing incredible equipment catered for the "Home Gym User" by providing gym equipment attachments for Power Racks. One such attachment that I was interested in obtaining was the "Rack Dumbbell Holder".
I contacted a company called Rebel Strength (UK company) to inquire about getting a pair of "custom made" Dumbbell Holders which would attach to my Power Rack. Within a few weeks, my order was processed and manufactured. Cost wise, I do not fully recall, but somewhere around £250 (UK British Pounds).
Compared to the Bodymax Dumbbell Hooks, this was a very costly and a much more bulkier product which obviously needed storage space. Not brilliant if you have a very small home gym like I. But the thing that appealed to me about Rebel Strength's product design, was that it allowed me to press dumbbells without having the hook part attached, as is with the Bodymax hooks. I always found pressing dumbbells with the Bodymax hook attachment awkward.
After a year of owning the Rebel Strength Rack Dumbbell Holders, I have finally got round to reviewing them. Watch the video below and then please continue to finish reading the article/review.
My custom 'Rebel Strength' Dumbbell Holders support dumbbells up to 80 kg (176 lbs) so that's plenty of weight for the average gym user. Maybe not for top elite strongmen but for the regular, active gym user, that's more than enough weight in my opinion. If you already own a Rebel Strength Power Rack, then their own specific Dumbbell Holders can each hold a dumbbell up to 150 kg (330 lbs). My Power Rack however was made by Iron King (excellent, heavy duty rack - recommended).
One of the interesting comparisons I would like to point out is the maximum weight supported by my "custom made" rack dumbbell holders compared to "Mad Spotter" hooks. Both products support the same weight yet the price difference is insane! Also the hooks take up far less storage space than my rack dumbbell holders, and can be thrown in a gym bag too so there mobile!
One thing I wish to state is that I have never used the "Mad Spotter" hooks so I don't know how reliable they are but they do get positive reviews online.
* UPDATE [8 Feb. 2023]: After recently purchasing "Mad Spotter" Dumbbell Hooks, I have now briefly tested them out - My REVIEW can be read here!
The Rebel Strength Dumbbell Holders are heavy duty and enable me to press dumbbells in a comfortable manner but unfortunately not in a safe manner, which is extremely important. Let me explain...
No.1: No Back Frame Support
When re-racking the dumbbell, safety is extremely important so there should be a back frame to the dumbbell holder so that the user can feel secure and confident in re-racking heavy dumbbells (i.e. a back frame to hit against as you re-rack the dumbbell).
We have this support when using barbells and bench pressing in a rack so it's important to have it when using dumbbells as well.
No. 2: Length of Dumbbell Holders Designed Too Short
For example, when I go to un-rack or / and re-rack dumbbells from the holders, my arms are positioned at a wide angle which doesn't feel stable, especially when trying to support heavy weights - This angle cries out for an injury i.e. ripped pec!
If the length of the dumbbell holders were designed to be slightly longer, this would mean my hand spacing would be much closer creating a stronger field of support for handling heavier loads. This may be different for other lifters of various sizes but for my body frame, the dumbbell holders definitely need to be made longer.
In comparison, the simplicity of the "Bodymax" or other similar designed dumbbell hooks, are definitely more appealing, especially on the price front. These types of hooks can be positioned at any distance apart (close together or wide) as they simply attach to a barbell making them easily setup within seconds and fully adjustable to suit any body frame/type. Whereas, I have no control over this important feature with my rack dumbbell holders.
No. 3: Doesn't Suit All Types of Dumbbells/Weight Plates
Watch the video above. Normally when I have used the Rebel Strength Rack Dumbbell Holders, I have used Hex Rubber Fixed Dumbbells which are bulky and thicker compared to using the loadable dumbbell handles and thin weight plates you see in my video.
From looking at the video thumbnail alone, you can see the problem. There's not a lot of weight on the dumbbell yet it's unsafe to use. If I un-rack that light weight, perform reps and then try to rack the weight again but miss position the dumbbell on the holders wrongly, then there's potential for a serious injury. The bottom support which the dumbbell rests on, is too narrow in length and needs to be designed longer. There would still be enough room for the hand to pass through to grab the dumbbell.
These flaws are my own personal opinions which other people may disagree with. If the product was re-designed with the flaws in mind and to better suit my body frame, then the dumbbell holders would be a fantastic addition to my home gym. However, I'm not prepared to pay more money for the necessary changes to be made so at this point in time, dumbbell Hooks would be my personal recommendation over Rebel Strength's dumbbell holders.
I can't speak for other companies "custom made" rack dumbbell holders as I haven't used anyone else. With these custom made gym equipment devices, costs aren't cheap. Another reason to stick with the dumbbell hooks!
Other Dumbbell Safety Devices to Consider
Another type of safety device to consider when using heavy dumbbells is "Spot Grips" sold by Watson. Priced at £445 (ex.VAT), they are very expensive. Too rich for me to consider trying at this point in time.
The important difference to note between Spot Grips, Dumbbell Hooks (also known as Power Hooks) and Rack Dumbbell Holders is that the Spot Grips can be safely stopped at any point during the lift as you will see within the video above.
Here's a review on Spot Grips and Power Hooks by "klingonqvist". This man has personally used them. Definitely check out his Instagram and the outdoor gym he built!
"I love them but mostly only use them if doing muscle rounds (mostly because it usually involves setting up the chin bar so don't bother for straight sets).
I have used power hooks much longer and have a pair permanently banged onto a pair of Watson handles (won't ever come off). The main difference is that power hooks are cheap but don't allow you to pause a rep in mid air. Spot grips thus provide a stronger safety aspect and also work for barbells (you can even squat with them); with power hooks it is not impossible to not get them hooked back in place when fatigued theoretically leading to an accident and they won't save you from dumping the weight if you can't finish the rep.
Spot grips adds weight to the DBs or barbell (4.5 kg / 10 lbs per DB), power hooks weigh very little. Power hooks are simple and hard to break; Spot grips have some springs which could break, though unlikely, the actual safety mechanism would break (though not impossible).
Spot Grips are to some extent tied to how wide they are mounted - you can deviate in any direction the DB/barbell is not straight under the attachment point but if you deviate too much they might start leaning too much and you can feel the weight loading change (never a problem in practice for me) whereas Power hooked DBs can move more freely (you can feel the weight of the hook too if you point them out sideways but that doesn't happen by itself).
Both allow loading the DBs while hanging (still can't load one side a lot more than the other with either). So Spot Grips provide some advantages overall but cost A LOT more - they are also at home in a commercial gym setting in a way power hooks never will be. I still use my power hooks too, even for muscle rounds at times but would definitely prefer the Spot grips could I choose one or the other.
Hope this helps a little, happy to try to help further if you have any questions. I should also add that there are other spotter systems too, most notably the climbing gear based stuff from Shermworks.com (which costs about 1/4th of Spot Grips and has been around for much longer)." ~ klingonqvist
I've never personally used 'Spot Grips' so cannot comment on how good they are. At this point in time, given the problems associated with my "custom" rack dumbbell holders, I would definitely recommend 'Dumbbell Hooks' even though I still don't find them 100% comfortable to use. Not just any hooks though, I'd perhaps go with the 'Mad Spotter' hooks.
I'd be interested to hear what other lifters think of the various products mentioned within this article. If you wish to make any comments or ask a question please visit the links below:
Check out Strength Oldschool's Home Gym Equipment Recommendations (Affiliate links and Discount Codes) such as Ironmaster, BRAINGAIN, Mad Spotter, Gym-Pin, Fat Gripz, Iron Bull Strength and more!
Keep training hard folks!