You may have heard the name ‘free weights’ being thrown around before but, if you are new to weight training, you may not be sure what they actually are. Put simply, free weights are weights you typically pick up, free of any fixings. The most common of these is dumbbells.
The reason free weights are often recommended, is that using them helps work all the stabilising muscles that would otherwise not be worked using a fixed machine. Working these muscles helps in gaining overall strength and muscle definition. For example, if you did a bicep curl on a static machine you would only ue your biceps in the exercise. If you did a bicep curl with a free weight you would also be using your abdominals for stability. You also have the option to ‘pimp up’ exercises when you use free weights. So you could maybe do your bicep curls while stood on a stabillity board to work your abs even more. Or you could do a combination of a bicep curl and an overhead press, something which you could not do if you were using a machine.
Which brings us onto the main advantage of free weights: they are very flexible. They allow you to perform hundreds of exercises that you simply can’t do with a fixed machine, from chest and shoulder presses, to bicep curls, hammer curls, skull crushers, raises, flys and many more. It is essential to keep good posture, and if you don’t know how, consult a professional or gym instructor. Given the range of possible exercises using dumbbells they are one of the most cost effective and best investments for improving your fitness and strength.
You don’t have to spend a lot of money on them, especially if you are just starting out and having some dumbbells or kettlebells at home can help motivate you to do a quick workout, when you might not feel like going to the gym for a full workout. They are also a great way to get into weight training without having to go to a gym, where you might feel self conscious. We would say though that any gym worth its salt would never make anyone feel uncomfortable – everyone has to start somewhere, and, as we have said above the best way to learn how to weight train properly is to consult a gym instructor.
So why weight train?
People take up a weight training programme for a variety of reasons. Many want to improve their health and fitness levels, some may want to improve muscle tone and performance for specific sporting needs and others may want to define their physique for body building competitions or simply for weight loss. Weights can also be used for rehabilitation or physiotherapy after injury.
There are a number of ways to employ weights. It is very clear that using weights in a structured fitness programme will definitely result in positive changes in muscle definition and strength as well as fat burning so it is well worth taking time to work out how they could assist in such a regime. The next thing to consider once you have decided to integrate weights into a daily workout is what sort of you want to use. There are a number of options available when training such as whether to use a machine system or stand-alone, or ‘free’, weights. Both have their advantages and disadvantages and various factors will influence what would be the best system to use.
Another advantage to weight training, as opposed to cardio training such as running or rowing is the ease in which you can increase the difficulty. If you do primarily cardio training, you may start off running a mile but as you improve you will find you are having to run many more miles to feel you have pushed yourself. Before you know it you will need to be on a 2 hour run just to break a sweat! With weight training, once an exercise starts to feel easy you simply increase your weight. This makes keeping a manageable training schedule much more achievable and you can push yourself just as much in 20 minutes whether you’ve been training for 5 days or 5 years, the only difference will be the amount of weight on your bar.
Hand held or free weights?
We have already touched on this subject earlier on. Free weights can come as sets that can be used as dumbbells, barbells or as discs that fit onto a weightlifting lifting bar. Each weight or disc will have a different weight and various combinations can be made to ensure that an appropriate mass is added to the equipment for training purposes. Free weights are a very good choice for those who want to train at home as they take up far less bulk than a machine or other apparatus would. The use of free weights is also a good choice for targeting specific muscles or muscle groups and, because you are not confined to a machine you can move more freely and with more natural actions, e.g. squats and rotating the body. Using free weights also means that you are likely to use your time more efficiently as you won’t be wasting time moving from machine to machine or having to wait for one to become available if you are in a commercial gym.
Possible disadvantages of using free weights are that it can often be quite difficult to know where to start with choosing the correct exercises for the outcome you hope to achieve. A machine takes all the guess work away as it is set up and ready to go. Sometimes, it can be hard to get the exercises right as they require good co-ordination and an understanding of precise movements in order to gain the maximum benefits – again, a machine does this for you. Because a machine is built to support the body, there is much less risk of injury compared to using barbells and dumbbells, and it takes time to learn how to use them safely.
As with all weight training methods, it is always wise to take basic precautions to protect from injury and follow all safety instructions given on the equipment. Weight training videos can help in this respect, showing how exercises should be performed to prevent injury and maximise muscle gain.
How do i know which weights to choose?
The first thing you need to decide is what your aims are. If you are looking at buying free weights then you have already decided you want to weight train. If your aim is to really bulk up and have big muscles you will be looking at doing fewer reps with heavy weights whereas if you are wanting to tone up you will be looking at doing more reps with lighter weights. In reality there is no right or wrong way to do things, nor should there be an assumption that men will need heavy weights and women light ones. The reality however is that if you have never weight trained before you will be looking to start off with relatively light weights – do not set yourself up to fail with weights you simply cannot pick up.
Another factor is, of course, cost. You will see from our site that the cost of free weights differs massively. If you are just starting out you will be fine with a reasonably priced set which you can always add to as you improve. The great thing about free weights is that you can put them on any bar. So if after a while you decide to get different bars, it is more than likely your weights will fit on them.
How do I know what exercises to do?
As we have already said, the best thing to do if you are just starting out is to take guidance from a gym instructor. There are however books and DVDs that will guide you through different workouts, depending on your goals. We have also put together some of our own workout suggestions which you may want to refer to.
Now that you hopefully have a better idea of what you’re looking for, we have put together a list of some of the best start up free weights to help you on your way – just head over to the page now.