Do you want to lose weight? You’re not alone. In fact, losing weight is one of the most common New Year’s resolutions and yet it’s one of the most difficult to keep.
The good news is that there are ways you can lose weight while also strengthening your body and keeping yourself healthy. One of the best workouts is free weight training.
Free weights are a great way to build muscle because they require more effort from your muscles than machines do. This means that when you use them, your body will burn more calories than if you were using machines.
Another benefit of free weights is that they can be used in so many different ways—you can lift them from different angles, change up how much weight you’re lifting, or even hold onto them differently—which allows for variety in your workout and helps prevent boredom from setting in too soon.
Right here on Buy and Slay, you are privy to a litany of relevant information on free weight workout routines, and so much more. Take out time to visit our catalog for more information on similar topics.
Free Weight Workout For Weight Loss
Free weights – no, not a bunch of barbells going spare, but the correct term for any weight you have complete control over the movement, pace, and purpose of whilst using it.
In a nutshell, free weights are basically anything you use to do weights exercises with that isn’t a machine or a cable – dumbbells, adjustable dumbbells, kettlebells, medicine balls, barbells or sandbells.
With us? Even if you already knew what free weights are and have access to some, chances are you’re unsure how to use them. Almost 2,000 of you search for free weight exercises every month (and 2.4k for weights exercises), and there’s a lot to wrap your head around. How many reps or sets are best? How heavy should the weight be? What are the best weight lifting exercises? What exactly is a tricep kickback and how can it fit into a broader workout?
But fret not future free weight aficionados, WH has spoken to the experts, compiled the best free weight exercises and answered all your FAQs about weight lifting for women. Take note.
9 benefits of using free weights
- Builds lean muscle
- Boosts bone density
- Improves hormone health
- Adaptable (can be used for strength-focused resistance training, cardio workouts and circuit training)
- Lowers blood pressure and cholesterol levels
- Stabilises blood sugars (3 o’clock slump, anyone?)
- Easy to scale up or down (heavier or lighter, fewer reps or more)
- Improves your metabolic rate
- Helps address muscular imbalances throughout your whole body
Are free weights better than machines?
- Free weights aren’t subject to single fixed movements
- Machine weights can be fixed to a single movement e.g. a leg press
- Free weights (e.g. dumbbells) can be used in a number of movements and planes of motion
In spite of these fundamental differences between free weights and weight machines, the choice to use either or both really comes down to what’s available to you.
One benefit of a free weights session though, is that they’re fairly compact – be they dumbbells, kettlebells or barbells – so you’ll probably be able to store them fairly easily at home. If you’re into gym workouts, the world really is your oyster.
Is there anyone who shouldn’t do free weights exercises?
Resistance training is a brilliant form of exercise because it’s accessible for most people. You don’t need to use equipment – your own body weight is enough – but you can choose to add free weights if you wish. However, like everything, exercising like this is not suitable for all of us, all of the time. Here’s when you might want to give free weight exercises a miss, or will need to adapt them accordingly.
1. If you have any back, neck, joint or musculature issues
These will restrict your movement, so it’s best to seek out the advice of a movement specialist (a qualified personal trainer or physiotherapist) who’ll be able to help determine the right way to move for your body and what’s appropriate.
2. If you’re pregnant or postnatal
In this case, the types of free weights exercises you do will be very different to someone who isn’t either of those things. It’s essential that you speak with your doctor and a pregnancy-certified personal trainer or fitness instructor to determine the weights exercises that are safe for you to perform.
3. If you’re recovering from an injury, operation or illness
Here, using free weights might be a big no for a little while at least. Weights, like any form of exercise, are a form of stress on the body. If your body is already under stress trying to recover, adding more might not be the best thing to do. Again, reach out to your doctor to find out what you are and are not able to do during this time.
You’re always better of doing what is safe for your body in the long term, not just what your ego craves in the short.
How should I warm up for a free weights session?
Avoiding injury is key when using free weights and you can reduce your risk with a dynamic warm-up – which, for the record, is absolutely not five minutes to scroll your Insta feed. Instead, your warm-up should mimic the movements to come in your workout is a good approach to take.
For example, say you’re working up to a heavy squat in today’s lower body session, spend a portion of your workout pumping out some bodyweight squats and lunges, first.
How heavy should my free weights be?
How heavy your free weights are is totally specific to you. It’ll be dependent on your fitness levels, training history and the purpose of your workout. To help pick the right weight for your workout ask yourself these five questions:
- Can I feel the weight?
- Can I move through this entire exercise with the correct form?
- Will I be able to keep the correct form throughout every rep with this weight?
- Will I be able to complete all sets with this weight?
- Do I feel like I’m being challenged with this weight? (Essential if you’re doing home workouts to build muscle.)
Levelling up as and when you’re able is the key to seeing progress. Not going too heavy, too fast and injuring yourself.
‘Once the exercise gets easier, modify it,’ says PT Dalton Wong. ‘You can increase the weight, add more reps, up the tempo or tweak the exercise. Your body likes the path of least resistance so once it’s used to a plan, it’s time to adapt it.’
9 best free weights exercises
Sarah Lindsay, PT and founder of Roar Fitness, has rounded up her pick of the best free weight exercises – all chosen to help you shape, define and sculpt a strong body.
1. Single arm row
Targets: Back, biceps
Do: 2 sets of 8-10 reps on the left side with a 90-sec rest. Change sides
a) Begin with your right hand and right knee on a bench or knee height flat surface, your left foot stepped out wide and a dumbbell in your left hand, hanging down.
b) With your back in a neutral position and left knee soft, drive your left elbow up, lifting the dumbbell to your torso. Lower back to start.
2. Dumbbell chest press
Targets: Chest, triceps
Do: 3 sets of 13-15 reps
a) Lie on your back on a bench holding dumbbells with arms straight up over your chest. Bend the elbows slowly, bringing the dumbbells in a straight line down to either side of your chest.
b) Without pausing, drive your arms back up. Repeat.
3. Split squat
Targets: Quads, glutes, adductors
Do: 3 sets of 10-12 reps on each leg. Start with your weaker leg
a) With feet and hips facing forwards, start with one foot raised on a step and your other leg a stride behind you.
b) Holding dumbbells, slowly lunge forwards, keeping the knee in line with the toe. Without stopping at the bottom, push back up to the start position. Now swap legs.
4. Seated shoulder press
Do: 3 sets of 13-15 reps. If you only make it to 11, use a lighter weight. If you smash 15, use a heavier weight
a) Sitting upright on a bench, start with dumbbells held straight above your head. Slowly bend your elbows and lower dumbbells until they are in line with your shoulders.
b) Without stopping, drive straight back up to the start position.
5. Hip thrust
Do: 3 sets of 15-20 reps. Use a 20kg barbell and 5kg weights on each side
a) Sit on the floor, back against a bench or step. Roll a dumbbell (or barbell) onto the front of your hips. With knees bent, shoulders on the bench, drive hips off the floor until your back is parallel.
b) Slowly lower your hips downwards, then drive back up again. And repeat.
6. Dumbbell deadlift
Targets: Back, hamstrings, glutes
Do: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
a) Stand with both feet flat on the floor and a dumbbell in each hand.
b) Keeping your legs straight, bend at the hips to lower your weighted hands towards the floor. Go to just below knee height and then stand straight again. Clench your glutes and core muscles as you do so, Repeat.
Targets: Legs, glutes
Do: 3 sets of 10-12 reps on each leg
a) Start with your weaker leg on a step or box and, with or without dumbbells in your hands, step onto it.
b) Without pausing at the top, lower back to the start position, leaving your start foot on the box and then stepping straight back up on the same leg.
8. Seated bicep curls
Do: 3 sets of 10 reps
a) Sit upright holding dumbbells, arms down by your sides, palms facing forwards. Bend arms at the elbow, keeping shoulders still until the dumbbells almost reach them.
b) Slowly lower (3-4 seconds) the dumbbell back down to the start position. Avoid ‘locking’ the elbow at the bottom.
9. Weighted sit-up
Do: 3 sets of 15-20 reps
a) Lying on a yoga mat, hold a dumbbell against your chest. Slowly lean back until your back is parallel to the floor.
b) Curl all the way up to a seated position, exhaling and squeezing your abs as you reach the top.
Free Weight Workout Routines
If you don’t step into the gym with a plan, it can be easy to end up wasting your time, drifting from free weights workouts to cardio machines at random. That’s even more likely if you’re a relative beginner.
The three weights workouts below can help ensure every minute you spend in the gym is used wisely. You can combine the workouts into a training plan where you do each of them once a week as detailed below, or pick and choose the workouts as you like.
A bit like this push/pull workout plan, the sessions are based around movements. One workout focuses on pushing exercises that hit the chest, quads, shoulders and triceps. The second workout involves pulling moves that work your back, hamstrings and biceps. Finally, in a departure from a typical push/pull split, the third workout includes rotational exercises that strengthen the core.
The balanced approach of this weights workout will build all-over functional strength, and you’ll see benefits that translate to day-to-day life as well as when playing sport, while also improving your performance in the gym as you get stronger and leaner.
You’ll need a variety of free weights for the workouts, with a barbell, dumbbells and kettlebells all involved, and you’ll need a weights bench for the push session as well, so it’s best to do these workouts in a gym, especially so you can adjust the weight you lift for each exercise. Choose a weight which will make the last few reps of each set challenging. You’ll have to discover how heavy that is with trial and error, but if ever in doubt err on the lighter side, make a note and progressively increase the weight with each session until you find that sweet spot.
How to do these free-weights workouts
Follow the sets, reps and rest instructions for each move to get the maximum benefit. Do each workout once a week for four weeks, aiming to increase the amount you lift each week – and make sure you note how much you lift in each session to track your progress and keep yourself motivated.
HOW TO WARM UP FOR THESE WEIGHTS WORKOUTS
When you’re working with heavy free weights it’s vital to warm up before you start your session. Not only will you reduce your risk of injury, but you’ll also ensure you’re ready to excel from your first rep onwards, rather than struggling with your first few sets while your body gets accustomed to the idea you’re working out.
A warm-up doesn’t have to take more than five to ten minutes, but it does have to be linked to the workout you’re about to do, so don’t just jump on the treadmill and then assume you’re ready to lift heavy weights.
Start with this dynamic stretching routine to get your muscles moving, and then move on to some workout-specific exercises. With the workouts below, the simplest way to do this is to run through a round of the exercises you’re going to do, using very light weights or no weights at all. That way you’ll know for sure you’re working the exact muscles you’re about to test.
When it comes to preparing for bodyweight exercises like diamond press-ups, you can do a shortened set during your warm-up round or opt for an easier variation like press-ups with your knees grounded. Remember you’re just aiming to get the muscles firing, not exhaust yourself before the workout proper begins.
WORKOUT 1: PUSH
1. Dumbbell bench press
Sets 3 Reps 10 Rest 60sec
Why The week kicks off with a double header of everyone’s favourite move – the bench press. You start with the dumbbell version because you’ll go a bit lighter than with a barbell, and it’s better for warming up your shoulders because you have to work harder to stabilise the joint.
How Lie on a bench with your feet on the floor directly underneath your knees, holding the dumbbells above your chest. Lower them to your chest, then drive your feet hard into the floor and push the dumbbells back strongly to the start position.
2. Incline bench press
Sets 4 Reps 6 Rest 60-90sec
Why The incline version of the move puts a slightly different emphasis on your muscles, working the front shoulders a bit more than the flat version does. You’ll probably find you can’t lift quite as much weight because of this.
How Lie on a bench set at a 45˚ incline, holding a bar over your chest with your hands just wider than shoulder-width apart. Lower the bar until it’s touching your chest, then press it back up.
3. Back squat
Sets 5 Time 5 Rest 90sec
Why The king of the legs moves works your entire lower body and, when you go really heavy, turns into a whole-body move as your entire upper body is recruited to control your torso and prevent your body from slumping. It’s a really useful, functional exercise so, if your mobility permits it, you’d be wise to make it a cornerstone of your training programme.
How Rest the bar on your back with your feet roughly shoulder-width apart, toes pointing out slightly. Keep your spine in alignment by looking at a spot on the floor about two metres in front of you, then sit back and down as if you were aiming for a chair. Lower until your hip crease is below your knee. As you drive back up, keep your weight on your heels.
4. Overhead press
Sets 4 Reps 6-8 Rest 60sec
Why Lifting a heavy weight overhead will work your entire shoulder joint and will also improve your core and abdominal strength because those muscles need to be switched on to stabilise your spine.
How With your feet shoulder-width apart, hold a bar on your upper chest, hands just wider than shoulder-width apart. Brace your abs, glutes and quads as you press the bar straight upwards. Pause at the top, then lower. You may find wrapping your thumbs around the same side as your fingers allows you to lift more weight.
5. Diamond press-up
Sets 4 Reps 6 Rest 60-90sec
Why This is a deceptively tough exercise. Moving your hands close together to form a diamond shape will put a lot more emphasis on your triceps. Don’t be surprised if you struggle to hit the rep count if you’re new to this exercise – just focus on maintaining good form.
How Get into a press-up position, placing your hands close together so your thumbs and index fingers touch. Keeping your body in a straight line with your abs braced, lower your torso until your chest is just above the floor, then press back up.
WORKOUT 2: PULL
1. Snatch-grip deadlift
Sets 3 Reps 10 Rest 60sec
Why Any form of deadlift is an excellent full-body exercise that focuses on the posterior chain (the muscles on the back of your body). We’ve gone for the snatch-grip version because the wider grip forces you to reduce the weight and you therefore won’t use up too much energy early in the workout. The next two moves are quite taxing so you want to keep a bit of energy in the tank.
How Hold a barbell with your hands roughly double shoulder-width apart. Push through your heels and keep your chest up as you drive forwards with your hips to lift the bar.
2. Romanian deadlift
Why Like the previous move, this develops your glutes and hamstrings, areas that most men would benefit from strengthening. The movement is essentially a hip hinge and has a huge positive carry-over to everyday activity.
How Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a barbell with an overhand grip just outside your thighs. With a slight bend in your knees, bend forwards from the hips and lower the bar down the front of your shins until you feel a good stretch in your hamstrings. Push your hips forwards to reverse the move to the start.
3. Bent-over row
Sets 5 Reps 5 Rest 60-90sec
Why By now your grip should be getting a bit fried but hang on in there for this first-class back-builder. Having a strong back will improve your posture, which will allow you to lift heavy weights safely and also reduce your chances of injury.
How Hold the bar with a shoulder-width grip, bending your knees slightly. Bend at the hips until your torso is at roughly a 45˚ angle to the floor. Pull the bar up to touch your sternum and then lower under control. If you’re moving your upper body to shift the bar, the weight’s too heavy.
4. Biceps curl
Why You’ve done all of the worthy work. Now it’s time for a bit of guns glory. Don’t be tempted to go too heavy – pick a weight that allows you to complete the reps with a slow eccentric (lowering) phase. And hey presto, you’ll be bursting out of your T-shirt in no time.
How Stand tall with your shoulders back and feet close together, holding a pair of dumbbells with palms facing forwards and hands just outside your hips. Keeping your elbows tucked in to your sides, curl the dumbbells up towards your chest, stopping just before your forearms reach vertical. Lower under control to return to the start position.
WORKOUT 3: ROTATION
1. Kettlebell walking lunge
Sets 3 Reps 10 each side Rest 60sec
Why The lunge is an excellent exercise and this version is useful because it increases the co-ordination and stability challenge. You spend a significant amount of time on one leg so your body has to fight the force that are pulling it off balance and out of alignment.
How Start by standing upright with a dumbbell in each hand with plenty of space in front of you. Take a big stride forwards and simultaneously bend both knees until your rear knee is just above the floor. Ensure that your front knee is in line with your front foot and that your knee doesn’t travel in front of your mid-foot. Push through your front foot to stand upright then bring your back leg through to lunge forwards with that leg. Continue that pattern for the duration of the set.
2. Kettlebell windmill
Why This impressive-looking move is one of the most effective abs exercises you can do. It’ll also test your hamstring flexibility and shoulder stability, and it’s vital to concentrate during the entire rep. It’s a tough and technical move but if you persevere and put in the work you’ll be well rewarded.
How Press the kettlebell overhead, then lean your torso forwards and to one side so that your free hand travels down your leg. Keep your arm and back straight throughout. Turn your head at the bottom of the move so you can check that the kettlebell’s directly overhead. Reverse the movement to return to the top position.
3. Russian twist
Sets 3 Reps 10 each side Rest 60sec
Why This is a much simpler side abs move than the windmill so we’re introducing it into the workout once you have already been fatigued. The key to getting this part of the weights workout right is slowing it down, really controlling the movement and focusing the tension on your abdominals.
How Sit on the floor with your torso at a 45° angle to the floor and your knees bent. Hold a kettlebell by the handle with both hands then rotate to one side. Return to the middle and rotate to the other side, then return to the middle again to complete one rep. Once you can complete the reps with relative ease, raise your heels a few centimetres off the floor to increase the abs challenge.
4. Kettlebell Turkish get-up
Why This isn’t something you see the average person doing in a high-street gym, but it has wide-ranging benefits. Each rep involves about 20 seconds of continuous work so it’ll get your heart rate up. It’ll also build full-body strength and enhance your co-ordination and proprioception (your body’s ability to sense and react to its own position).
How Lie on your back with a kettlebell in one hand. Roll slightly away from it as you press it upwards, coming up to support yourself on your opposite forearm. From here, plant the foot on the same side as the kettlebell on the floor, and use it to take your weight as you sweep your other leg underneath you into a half-kneeling position. Stand up with the kettlebell overhead. Reverse the whole movement to go back to the floor.
HOW TO FUEL YOUR WEIGHTS WORKOUTS
Whether you’re using free weights, machines or no weights at all, if you want to get the best results from your training you have to match your efforts in the gym in the kitchen. That’s especially the case if you’re looking to get leaner, because stripping away body fat to better reveal the muscles beneath requires some dietary discipline.
Mostly, you need to do what everyone should already be doing to stay healthy. Get at least five portions of fruit and veg a day – that’s a bare minimum, and the benefits keep increasing the more portions you eat – and aim for 30g of fibre daily too. Opting for wholegrain varieties of carb-rich foods will help you on that front.
Protein is also important, because it’s the fuel your muscles need to repair and rebuild after hard workouts. How much protein should you eat to build muscle? When you’re working out regularly you should aim to eat 1.4-2g of protein per kilo of bodyweight per day, and consuming around 20g of protein shortly after a training session is a good habit to get into.
You can get all the protein you need from your meals, and you should aim to do so since food contains many other vital nutrients alongside protein, but you can also use supplements to make things easier. Our tried-and-tested selections of the best protein powders and best protein bars will help you find a supplement that suits.
If all the above sounds too much like hard work and you just want to focus fully on your training, then you can outsource everything to healthy meal delivery services, some of which will deliver all your meals and snacks daily with a menu built around your training goals. While they’re expensive, using one is undoubtedly a convenient way to support your training.