In our discussion of free weight strength training, we’ve looked at the pros and the cons. Let’s look at some basic equipment to get you going, now. The two most common types of free weights are barbells with weight plates and dumbbells. Other examples of free weights include kettlebells and medicine balls. Your own body can also be considered a free weight in the context of body weight exercises such as push-ups and sit-ups.
Dumbbells – Dumbbells are among the most versatile and useful pieces of strength training equipment you can have in your home gym. Dumbbells typically have weight plates, or solid cast iron, permanently attached to them and can be can be lifted with a single hand. However there are several strength training exercises that require you to lift a single dumbbell with both hands – and in other exercises, such as the incline bench dumbbell press, you’ll lift dumbbells in each hand simultaneously.
You get dumbbells in sets (pairs). Depending on your current level of physical strength and variety of exercises that you intend to perform, your initial purchase may include three to five sets in a range of weights. Aside from their weights, you might consider the following features: hexagonal weights (which prevent the dumbbells from rolling when placed on the floor) and rubberized coating (which will improve your grip and minimize the amount of damage that the weights can cause when placed or dropped on your floor).
Barbells – A barbell is simply a straight bar onto which you can load weight plates in order to adjust the level of resistance involved in the exercise. Unlike dumbbells, barbells can only be used with two hands. The barbell you purchase should be sturdy and solid, with a diameter appropriate to the size of your hands.
Weight Plates – Your barbell won’t be of much use unless you also purchase some weight plates to hang on it. Weight plates come in a variety of weight values, including 2.5 pounds, 5 pounds, 10 pounds, 25 pounds and 45 pounds. The wider variety of weight plates you have, the more you can customize the exact amount of weight you use with different barbell exercises.
Collars – Collars are used to keep the weight plates from sliding off the barbell. Collars are absolutely necessary for safety in your strength training. Be sure to purchase collars that fit your barbell’s diameter.
Weight Bench – When you do strength training exercises where you to sit with your feet flat on the floor or lie on either your stomach or your back, you need a weight bench. Look for a padded weight bench with an adjustable incline/decline section. And a leg attachment is an inexpensive piece of equipment that you can add to your weight bench to do a wide range of leg exercises.
When you’re ready to expand the number of free weight exercises you’re doing, the following pieces of equipment are strongly recommended.
Medicine Ball – A medicine ball is a heavy, padded ball that’s typically used for core exercises and explosive exercises known as plyometrics. Medicine balls are ideal for use with an exercise partner. Look for a ball with a soft outside to minimize the impact it creates when it falls into your hands (or your feet, in the case of an accident).
Kettlebell – A kettlebell is a round iron weight with a single handle at the top. Kettlebells come in a wide variety of sizes, and range in weight from roughly 5 to 200 pounds. Many kettlebell exercises can be performed with a simple dumbbell but some actually require kettlebells. Kettlebells with an unpainted surface and smooth, ergonomic-grip handles are best.
Pull-up Bar – A pull-up bar is obviously not a free weight in and of itself. But it is a tool you can use to turn your own body into a free weight of your own. Pull-up bars are easily installed in doorways or archways. There are a number of different gymnastic exercises you can do in addition to traditional pull-ups. But doing pull-ups regularly is an excellent way to increase your overall strength, particularly the muscles in your back.
Gym Space – Let’s not forget to set aside a place to do your strength training. Choose a space at least a few feet wider on either side than your barbell is long and where you can stand next to your weight bench without bumping into it. If you’re constantly worried about bumping into something as you strength train, you’ll create extra stress for yourself and minimize the effectiveness of your workout. Of course you’ll also need enough space to store the equipment itself!
So there you are!
A few good routines and some pointers on form and you’re into Strength Training with Free Weights!