Health & Fitness | August 25, 2020 2:04 pm

Why It’s Become Impossible to Buy a Set of Dumbbells in America

It's the latest unlikely shortage to befall the nation

man lifting dumbbells off a weight rack in a gym
It's hard to buy a set of dumbbells these days. What gives?
Anastase Maragos/Unsplash

According to a recent report from Vox, the U.S. has another “national shortage” to add to its bizarre, running list in 2020.

Dumbbells, of all things, have officially joined the low-stocked ranks of coins, laptops and Dr Pepper. Similar to the country’s bike shortage — which we reported on earlier in the summer — the scarcity of strength-training weights has coincided with a simultaneous commitment to at-home exercise, and a broken supply chain in China.

According to data from some of America’s top personal fitness suppliers, including Gaiam, Nautilus, NordicTrack and Rogue, 2020 has been one of the most lucrative years in their history. NordicTrack did 600 percent more business this May compared to the same month in 2019. Nautilus set company sales records in the second quarter of 2020, which is really saying something; it’s famous for manufacturing the Bowflex system.

The level of demand, while absolutely unprecedented — people don’t even buy this many dumbbells in the middle of winter when they’re cooped up and drafting fitness resolutions — was also understandable. Gyms were headed for lengthy closures, and there were fews guarantees about when they’d open up again, or what they’d look like when they did. Not to mention, the nature of strength training necessitates options, and heavier ones at that. To break down and build back muscle, you can’t rely on bodyweight training or resistance bands forever. You ideally need a set of heavier weights.

Unfortunately for American consumers, 95 percent of those weights are made in China. When Chinese factories and highways were shut down from January through April, the entire supply chain fell apart. Any dumbbell that had made it to American ports before the world screeched to a halt was sold in the spring of this year. The ones that have been sold since then are legitimate post-lockdown weights, made after Chinese employees were told they could go back to work.

Still, it will take some time for the supply chain to rumble back to life, and it will take some serious time for the supply to meet a demand that seemingly won’t go away. (Recent reports have indicated that Americans plan to continue their at-home workout routines, even once gyms are fully open again.) Dumbbells take a month to make, and then are shipped across the Pacific where they’re either dropped off in California or brought through the Panama Canal to the East Coast. COVID-era safety measures will slow down that entire process.

But don’t worry, you’ll get your weights eventually. We recommend keeping tabs open at sites like Rogue, SPRI, Dick’s Sporting Goods, NordicTrack, Nautilus and even Amazon. Don’t settle for a knock-off set, or a marked-up set from a distributor you’ve never heard of. If we’ve learned anything from this year, these weights will come in handy for a long time.