“Hot Bod” is a weekly exploration of fitness culture and its adjacent oddities.
My early exposure to unusual weights started during a period of fitness quarantine known as the great kettlebell shortage. Necessity bred imaginative alternatives. I learned four bananas weigh about a pound, a bottle of wine is about 2.5 pounds, a gallon of water weighs just over 8 pounds, and a 12-pack of seltzer weighs about 10 pounds. I once heard an instructor specifically recommend holding cans of White Claw because the circumference is smaller and better suited to people with smaller grips. Many of these substitute dumbbells contain a liquid (coconut milk), which sloshes evidently as it’s hoisted around. Other items contain tinier pieces (orzo pellets), which shift in a satisfying cavalcade: small, individual adherences to gravity rather than one thump. The heft of these items is often asymmetric, which requires particular attention. There’s a different physics to lifting them as I elegantly curtsy-lunge. In sum: These items don’t feel static and I prize them for that.
Then I started noticing a new class of heavy things emerge onto the marketplace. In the corners of discreet, architecturally gleaming home gyms, I’ve spotted the Ubarre, a gorgeously curved horseshoe shape that weighs anywhere from 4 to 16 pounds. Last year, Bala, makers of coveted alpha-girl wrist weights, introduced the Power Ring, a plucky donut that weighs ten pounds and could fit over my head like a necklace — and a couple weeks ago, it introduced the Beam, a wiggly, 15-pound yardstick with a circumference that someone (not me) could describe as girthy. Among these, I’ve also tried FitFighter’s macho Steelhose — a recycled fire hose filled with steel that changes in weight the longer it gets, in five-pound increments. While the kettlebells have returned to the marketplace in abundance, in the time they were gone, quirkier bedfellows joined the mix.
Strangely shaped or unevenly balanced weights are a natural draw for anyone interested in what the professionals call functional fitness. I truly wish this had a more sparkling name, because it’s an approach to fitness I actually like: It’s about strength and endurance that’s applicable to the real world. It’s power that will help you lift a heavy cast-iron pan from a high shelf onto the burner or carry your suitcase up the stairs or hoist your toddler. To pursue strength that will work in the actual world, it’s only logical to work out with items from the natural world, not the gym world — or to lift weights with cool shapes and shifting loads that mimic the eccentricities of actual stuff you’d be carrying. Holding the Steelhose ascendant while doing my favorite tree-chopper exercise, I noticed how it stretched out my opposite arm way farther as I lifted it to the side. This motion holds true for lifting almost anything that’s not a compact weight over your head.
But I’m most drawn to peculiar weights because their oddities require more conscientious engagement. Carefully lifting and lowering your gallon jug of water so it doesn’t explode liquid from the plastic cap is much more high-stakes and interesting than using an endlessly self-contained kettlebell. And the stranger the weights are, the more they seem to ask me to think about my form. Especially out of the eyeline of an instructor, I want to be constantly reminded to maintain a balanced, supported posture. If the weight is trickier to balance, I’m way more likely to focus on making sure that at least I am balanced. Recently working out with the three-foot-long Beam, in particular, I’ve noticed how much more carefully I lean into my oblique twists.
And then, of course, there’s the look of it all — and I’m but as shallow as my vanity muscles. Many of these new weights are more rounded, femme, fabulous. They’re not so rectilineal and matter-of-fact and, most of all, they’re not so embarrassingly obvious. The Ubarre appears to be a statement piece in a business feminist’s apartment. I’ve also seen these weirdos magnetize unsuspecting passersby, I think because they don’t seem like a tedious dumbbell. I’ve witnessed my partner and sister both float over to the Power Ring — asking “What is that?” just as they’re lifting it. It’s like a Venus flytrap, but one that gets you to do an unplanned bicep curl. Just as in life, weirdos are so fun because you never know how you’re going to interact with them.