Incorporating free weights into your workout routine offers several impressive benefits. Even over gym machines and other types of exercise equipment, free weights -- namely barbells and dumbbells -- offer advantages, including working more muscles at one time, allowing for more variety, and increased range of motion. You can create a full-body free weights routine to target all of the major muscle groups.
Extend Those Arms
The dumbbell one-arm triceps extension not only works the triceps, but also the wrist flexor muscles. Start in a seated position, with your back flat against a back pad, feet flat on the foot pad. With one arm bent so your forearm is across your abdomen, raise the other up straight, hand aligned with shoulder, palm facing up with your hand grasped around a dumbbell. Slowly flex your arm at the elbow, lowering your forearm so the weight moves toward the back of your shoulder. Return to your starting position, repeat, then do the same on your other arm.
Bicep Curls for the Win
Also commonly referred to as dumbbell curls, bicep curls target the bicep muscles, which sit at front on your upper arms. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart or a slightly wider stance, arms straight at your sides, a dumbbell in each hand with your palms in. Flex your right arm up and bring the weight up to your shoulder, rotating your arm during the movement so your palm is facing you. You should feel a slight tightness in your biceps muscle as you do this. Lower your arm back down, then repeat with your opposite arm.
Push Crunch it Out
To build the rectus abdominis and oblique muscles, include the dumbbell push crunch in your workout routine. Lie face-up, flat on an incline bench, your arms straight above you with a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing away from you. Your hands should be aligned over your shoulders. Engage your core, keep your lower body still, and raise your torso, about a foot off the bench so you're not lifting your lower back. Return to your starting position for one rep.
Squat to the Front
The dumbbell front squat is one of the most effective exercises using free weights. It works nearly all of the muscles in your lower body including your quads, hamstrings and calves, but also strengthens your core and back. Start in a standing position, with your feet about hip-width apart, toes pointed out slowly. The wider your stance, the more the exercise targets the hamstrings and glutes; with a narrow stance you're working the quadriceps more. Keep your arms close to your sides, holding a dumbbell in each hand. Slowly squat down, putting your weight on your heels, never letting your knees extend past your toes to ensure you have proper form. Lower yourself down until your thighs are just past parallel to the floor, then push yourself back up.
Lunge Forward for Big Results
The forward lunge is a more basic exercise, but gets results and you maximize the benefits of this exercise when you increase the resistance by using free weights. Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart, arms down at your sides, a dumbbell in each hand so your palms are facing in. Lunge forward with your right leg, lowering yourself down until your forward thigh is parallel to the floor. Aim to make each leg bent into a right angle for proper form, lowering your hips down toward the floor. Push up off your forward foot, returning to a standing position, then repeat with your other leg.
Creating Your Routine
Even with all the right exercises, you won't get results with your routine unless you're doing it often enough. Aim to do your workout at least three to four times a week. It's more about the quality of each exercise over the amount of time you spend doing it -- although you shouldn't be working out for over an hour total, including your warm-up and cool-down periods. Start off with a single set of 12 reps, then work your way up to three sets of 12 to 15 reps as you gain strength and find you aren't being challenged anymore.
Don't Forget to Stay Safe
Whenever you're using weights in a workout, your risk of injury is higher. Always maintain proper form and when you start using heavier weights, it's a good idea to have a spotter, someone there to help you avoid dropping any weights on yourself. Start off with lighter weights, and gradually increase the amount of weight you're using. Only do so by 5 to 10 percent increments at a time, to avoid potential injury, notes the American Council on Exercise.
- Nerd Fitness: What's Better - Free Weights or Machines?
- ExRx.net: Dumbbell One-Arm Triceps Extension
- ExRx.net: Dumbbell Push Crunch
- American Council on Exercise: Dumbbell Front Squat
- Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise: "U.S. Injuries and Deaths Associated with Weight Training"; V. Lombardi and R. Troxel; 2003
- American Council on Exercise: Strength Training 101