Physics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for active researchers, academics and students of physics. It's 100% free.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

My working knowledge of physics is the level of a 7th grader (if I'm lucky) so please excuse this probably totally stupid question, but my curiosity is greater than my shame:

Would it be possible to create a barbell that works without weight plates?
What I have in mind is something the shape of a barbell with some motor or whatever at the two ends that would be adjustable in weight without loading additional steelplates onto it. (If the answer is "no": why?)

It would be awesome if anyone had thoughts on this.

share|cite|improve this question
ARED – Deer Hunter Aug 20 '13 at 7:50
up vote 2 down vote accepted

All ideas are worth exploring :-) This question is mosly light engineering, but there is also some elementary physics regarding forces.

Actually, an answer to your question depends very much on what you want to do with the barbell, on how much you want to move it around.

If it is simply for weight lifting, this requires only vertical motion, an a bit of lateral (horizontal) motion to get some freedom of mouvement for the weight lifter.

Then the plates can be replaced by a rope pulling the ends of the bar towards the ground. The ropes can go through pulleys, so that the force pulling on them can come from any direction.

Now, all you need is a controlled device that will adjust the force pulling the rope independently of the motion of the bar.

One simple way is to to attach the other ends of the two ropes to a lever, far enough from the axis so that it can be moved for about 2.5 meters, which is a bit more than what is needed for the weight lifter lifting the barbell from ground to vertical position with arms extended (but you do not wnat him blocked as he is lifting. Then, you can use a motor to move a weight along the arm of the lever so that the pull on the rope can be adjusted to whatever force is required.

This of course takes much room. You can reduce the size of the lever by using blocks and tackles, so that the motion of the ropes can be increased, But this requires moving larger weights on the lever.

There are probably other devices that can provide an adjustable constant force on one end of a rope which allowing some motion on the free end of the rope.

I leave it to you to study the physics of the system.

If you were thinking of changing the lifting force required by moving things around on an independent barbell device, the answer is no. You are simply lifting the weight of whatever constitute the device you lift, and that does not change, assuming you do not change its mass (by adding or removing parts) and you do not change your location (the same mass can produce a different weight when gravity changes, for example on the moon).

Even relativity, very popular on this site, will not help you. Though special relativity has the reputation of causing mass to increase with speed, it will not do that for you, because lifting the mass implies that you travel with it, and that the planet creating the gravity for the weights also travel with it. So that, as far as you (or the weight lifter) are concerned, there is no speed, no motion.

Thinking twice about it, relativity can help you, if you are willing to take the risk and can afford the energy and much else (but check first with a relativity engineer). The trick would be to rotate the plates at relativistic speed. All you need is quasi infinitely strong material (else the plates will explode under centrigugal forces) and perfect frictionless bearings that will not transfer torque to the holding bar. Also you have to use an external energy source to rotate the plate, else the total lifted would not change (mass-energy equivalence). I probably forgot a few thousand things, but solving the above should already keep you busy for some time. One last piece of advice: avoid dropping this barbell on the ground, as I am not sure how much of the planet would survive.

Also, do not try to turn around while lifting to show how strong you are: it will simply not work (and if anything did happen, you might not like it).

Real relativity specialists (which I am not in the least) may be able to say more on this :)

share|cite|improve this answer
You will have to consider wear and tear of the pulley over time, which might be preventing its current widespread use. Anyway, I love the fact that you can think of relativity in such a scenario! maybe its just too popular. – udiboy1209 Aug 20 '13 at 11:35
@udiboy I tried to do better. Never take no for an answer. – babou Aug 20 '13 at 12:34
Awesome, thank you! – LukasKawerau Aug 20 '13 at 14:27
@LukasKawerau My stuff on relativity is not completely fictitious. But do not take it too seriously. The only things known to reach relativistic speeds artificially are elementary particles. An it takes the LHC to make them go in circles, a pretty big device. I very strongly doubt your dream barbells will ever be built, and it is probably safer that way :) – babou Aug 20 '13 at 22:34

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.