Free Weights – Frequently Asked Questions

Free weights are any type of weight training equipment that give you a complete range of motion during exercise and require you to develop your stabilizer muscles, as well as the primary muscles targeted by the exercise, in order to maintain good form. Are you thinking of getting started working out with dumbbells, barbells, or kettlebells? Read on for answers to beginners’ frequently asked questions about free weights.

What types of free weight equipment are best for a home gym?

Adjustable-weight dumbbells are a good option for starting a home gym, because you’ll be able to get a full range of weight options at a lower price than a similar collection of fixed-weight dumbbells, and the adjustable-weight dumbbells will take up less space.

If you can’t afford even a set of adjustable-weight dumbbells to begin with, an even lower-price option is resistance bands, which can be used to perform basically all of the same exercises as dumbbells, as well as some other exercises that normally require a cable pulley system.

What are some example free weight exercises?

If you’re working out with a barbell, some of the basic exercises are bench presses, standing bicep curls, overhead presses, shrugs, bent over or upright rows, deadlifts, and squats. Variations of these exercises can also be performed with dumbbells, kettlebells, and resistance bands.

What are the best exercises to perform?

Choosing compound exercises, which work multiple muscle groups at the same time, rather than isolation exercises, which target a specific muscle or muscle group, is a good way to maximize your exertion during each workout and quickly build muscle mass or muscle strength. Isolation exercises are typically better to use for physical therapy, rehabilitation, or to correct an imbalance developed due to incorrect form. Basic compound exercises, by major muscle group worked, include:

  • Military press for shoulders
  • Close-grip chin-up (palms toward your face), dips, and twisting dumbbell curl for arms
  • Squat, deadlift, and lunges for legs
  • Chin-ups, rows, and deadlifts for back
  • Push-ups, dips, and bench Press for chest

What are the benefits of using free weights versus weight training machines?

Because you have to develop your stabilizer muscles to perform free weight exercises with good form, you’ll develop more functional strength working out with free weights than you will with machines, which often limit your motion to a single plane or single fixed motion. Muscle strength and coordination developed during machine workouts doesn’t translate well to sports or other functional motion.

However, when you’re first learning an exercise or are new to weight training, working out on a machine can help you learn the exercise motion safely, as the machine will help you lift the weight in a controlled manner while minimizing the risk of injuring your joints or dropping a weight. There’s no harm in starting out on machines, but keep in mind that most personal trainers would recommend progressing to free weights exercise once you have mastered an exercise.

How many reps and sets of exercises should I perform during a workout?

The commonly-suggested rule of thumb for choosing the number of reps in a set is as follows: six to eight reps for building muscle mass, ten to twelve reps for building muscle strength. Many personal trainers also suggest trying five sets of five reps for faster results when your goal is to build muscle mass.

Typically, you should perform at least three sets but no more than five sets of the same exercise during each workout. Also remember the importance of rest and recovery. You should rest one to two minutes between sets in your workout, and after your workout you should give your muscles a 48 hour recovery period before working out the same muscle group again.

How do I choose the right weight for my exercise?

Choose a weight for each exercise that you are able to lift steadily and with good form until you complete all the reps in the set. Your muscles should feel tired at the end of the set, but not so tired that you are unable to complete another set after a two-minute rest. If you find yourself straining or in pain during an exercise, stop and consult a fitness expert or physician about how to choose a more appropriate weight and to make sure you’re using proper form.