When you think about what it takes to get in a great workout, does your mind automatically venture to strength training at the gym? You may even think of military boot camp-type workouts, running marathons, hiring a personal trainer, or spending hours sweating it out on large commercial machines.
Since the 1960s and 70s, when fitness clubs started to take off, traditional gyms have been the go-to place for those dedicated to achieving optimal health and wellness. However, the pandemic has created a momentous (seemingly permanent) shift in how gym enthusiasts and those new to fitness training achieve their daily burn.
Like many people trying to navigate the world’s “new normal,” you may be overwhelmed by the thought of working out at home. A big box gym setting offers a large variety of heavy weights, machines, treadmills, stationary bikes, and other items that may be inaccessible to most people who work out at home.
With free weights being the foundation of any gym and workout, you can definitely get a productive and invigorating workout at home or virtually anywhere. All it takes is dedication, consistency, and a quality set of free weights (like dumbbells) to achieve or maintain the physique of your dreams and produce those endorphins everyone is chasing! Getting started with free weight exercises is simple.
We’ll break down the basics for you and have you on the road to perfecting your free weight workouts in no time.
What are Free Weight Exercises?
In its simplest form, free weight exercises consist of any exercise that involves picking weights up and putting them back down again, and these exercises are typically incorporated into a fitness program or strength training with free weights routine.
It’s easy to get started, and you’ll be doing this confidently on your own in no time. Free weight workouts can be timed or done for a target number of sets and repetitions. You may also hear free weight exercises referred to as strength or resistance training activities. These terms are relatively interchangeable and refer to more than just traditional dumbbell exercises. The benefit of free weight workouts is that they can be done in the privacy of your own home, office, or favorite vacation spot.
Free weight exercises require very little space and can be achieved with as little or as much equipment as you want to purchase. You can accomplish this type of lifting can be with dumbbells, of course, but kettlebells, medicine balls, sandbags, and resistance bands or loops are also great options to build strength.
Free weights can come in various weights; free weights work wonders for multiple workouts utilizing any muscle group and all fitness levels. For example, suppose you’re ready to build out your home gym or want to work out while traveling. Travel with a smaller set of dumbbells and get in a substantial workout on the go. No matter which items you choose to pick up and put back down again, consistently lifting for repetitions and proper nutrition will help you master your fitness goals in no time.
Free Weights vs. Machines
Machines are great for those beginning their day-to-day strength training journey. They teach proper form, reduce the chance of injury in beginners, build strength, and require little thought other than appropriate weight selection and proper usage to ensure safety. Weight machines can work for the same muscle groups as free weights, but free weights activate more muscles and offer a more functional workout. Machines are less accessible, costly for home users to acquire, and not ideal for someone working out at home or while traveling. They take up a lot of space and are by and large less versatile than simply using a collection of dumbbell-based exercises to get a fantastic workout.
Free weights help improve balanced movements because your arms and legs are working independently instead of being guided by a machine. Free weights also allow for a broader range of motion, promoting more dynamic muscular development.
Do You Gain More Muscle Lifting With Dumbbells?
If you’re used to machine-based strength workouts or commercial gym equipment, you may wonder if a free weight workout is just as good. Both free weight exercises and machine-driven programs will help burn fat and build muscle to increase strength. However, there are some differences that you may not have considered. Free weights typically offer a better burn than machines. Free weight exercises require more stabilization and support from other muscle groups than machine-based weight training.
Free Weight Workouts
Beginner Free Weight Routine
If you’re just getting started with free weight workouts, just remember that they are progressive! Your body will thank you for moving forward at a controlled and steady pace. As your strength increases, so will the size of your weights and the number of repetitions for each exercise. Before you embark on any new fitness program, it’s always important to check with your doctor to make sure you’re healthy enough for this type of exercise.
As you begin a new routine, it’s good to have a variety of weights, but that doesn’t mean you need to purchase a full rack of weights immediately. Your body will tell you when you’re ready to move up in weight. If you’re a beginner, you’ll want to start with a range of light weights. We suggest 3lbs, 5lbs, and 8lbs. These might sound like low numbers, but once you meet the targeted number of reps for each exercise – you’ll be thanking us! Don’t take on too much too soon, as weights that are too heavy can result in injury. Never compromise form just to lift heavier. Again, your body will thank you!
Each group of six exercises below is considered a set. Do 10-12 repetitions for each activity within the set for beginners and intermediate levels. Repeat each set two to three times for a complete workout. Intermediate and advanced participants should aim for three rounds of each set.
- Lateral Raise – From a standing position, with a weight in each hand, slowly lift your arms until they are parallel with the floor. Engage your core and keep your back straight. Use your lightest weight to start this exercise and build up from there.
- Front Raise – Front raises are very similar to lateral raises, except (just as the exercise’s name suggests) you’ll lift the dumbbells straight ahead. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Your arms should rest on your thighs to start and then slowly lift upward while focusing on your breathing. Be sure to engage your core and lift with a straight back. Just like the lateral raises above, use your lightest weight to start until you build ample shoulder strength to move up in weight comfortably.
- Tricep Kickback – Tricep kickbacks may feel somewhat awkward at your first attempt, but you will learn to love them! Tighten your core and tricep. Bend at your elbow, lifting the dumbbell up and backward as you try and straighten your arm.
- Deadlifts – Deadlifts are a simple and effective leg exercise that will have you feeling strong and powerful! When you think about deadlift exercises, you may picture a heavy-loaded barbell at the gym. You can effectively do deadlifts with a set of dumbbells as well. Stand with your legs about shoulder-width apart and place dumbbells between your feet. Align your shoulders over your hips and maintain a neutral spine. Let your arms hang down as you hinge at the hips. Firmly grab the dumbbells and lift them to a standing position. Hinge at your hips again and carefully place the dumbbells on the floor. Repeat for repetitions.
- Goblet Squats – Goblet squats are simple, and you will love them! Stand with your feet approximately shoulder-width apart. Hold one weight in front of your chest perpendicular to the floor and perform the squat for repetitions.
- Weighted Bridge – Now we get to go to the floor. This exercise works your lower back, abs, and glutes. Press your back into the ground, place weights right over your pelvis, and lift your hips into a bridge position. Do this exercise for repetitions.
- Chest Press – From a laying position with your feet flat on the ground, extend both arms overhead holding dumbbells, then bend your elbows at 90-degree angles, lowering to each side. Make sure to squeeze your shoulder blades together to maximize that burn. Drive your dumbbells back up over your shoulders and repeat for repetitions.
- Chest Fly – Place your feet shoulder-width apart from a standing position. Have one dumbbell in each hand. Bring your arms up to chest level with your palms facing one another. Extend your arms to each side and stay at chest level. Bring your arms back to the starting position and repeat for repetitions.
- Weighted Sit-up – This exercise is exactly like it sounds. Hold a weight against your chest from a laying position, and then do a traditional sit-up while the weight is in place.
Intermediate Free Weight Routine
- Overhead Tricep Extension – With your chest facing the ground at approximately 45 degrees, align your core and bend your arms to a right angle (weights by your sides). Extend your arms back as far as you feel comfortable, keeping them sealed to your sides. Repeat for repetitions.
- Skull Crusher – Skull crushers can be intimidating at first, but once you get the hang of the movement, you will soon learn to love them! Lay on your back (we suggest using a mat or towel). Raise your arms to a vertical position with the weights overhead (make sure you choose a weight that you can steadily and securely lift overhead). Bend your arms at the elbows to lower the weight behind your head. Repeat for repetitions.
- Chest Press – Position your arms at your sides, chest level. Slowly lift your arms above your chest, then lower your arms back to the starting position.
- Weighted Lunges – With dumbbells at your sides, step forward and bend your knee while keeping your upper body step.
- Weighted Calf Raises – This activity works just like it sounds. With dumbbells being held at your sides, lift your heels, putting the
- Lateral Lunges – Think of these as side-steps. Start from a standing position and extend one leg to the right side while holding your dumbbells. Frame your right leg with the dumbbells, then return to a standing position. Repeat on the left side. Do this activity for repetitions – six on each side.
- Renegade Row – Place two medium weights at the front of your mat. Get into a plank position. While stabilizing your body with one arm, lift one weight straight back until your arm is slightly higher than your torso. (bending your arm to
- Sumo Squat – With your legs shoulder width apart, keep your back straight and bend your knees into a wide squat. It’s that simple!
- Kettlebell Romanian Deadlift – Hold the kettlebell in an overhand grip (palms are facing you) in front of your legs. Make sure your feet are planted firmly in the ground and shoulder width apart. Hinge from the hips and lower the kettlebell to the ground. Pay attention to your form; do not curve your spine and lower and stand back up. Repeat for repetitions.
Advanced Free Weight Routine
Dumbbell Pullovers – Lay down on your mat and plant your feet firmly on the floor. Be sure to engage your core. Lift both dumbbells (or one heavy one) over your chest and extend your arms backward overhead and to the floor. Reverse the movement and then start again. Try this one 12-15 times.
Arm Curls (single-single-double-double) – Start with dumbbells in-hand and at your sides. Curl up to a right angle one arm at a time, then both at the same time (hence the name). You’ll do a single curl on each side, then a double. Repeat all three movements 12-15 times.
Alternating Forward to Lateral Raise – For this exercise, we combine two of the activities featured in the beginner workout above. Hold one dumbbell in each hand (try your medium or heavy weights for this one). Lift your arms straight ahead of you to chest level, then return to your sides. Immediately transition into a lateral raise with arms out to each side. Repeat for repetitions. Try to do 12-15 of each.
- Single Leg Deadlift – SLDs are exactly how they sound. With a medium or heavy dumbbell in each hand, lift one leg behind you and hinge at the hip. Be sure to keep your spine straight and move slowly through this exercise. Repeat 12-15 times.
- Reverse Dumbbell Lunges – While holding one dumbbell in each hand, step back on your mat and get your back knee as close to the ground as possible. Your front leg will make a right angle. Return to a standing position and repeat for repetitions.
- Sumo Squat – With your legs shoulder width apart, keep your back straight and bend your knees into a wide squat. It’s that simple! If you tried this in the intermediate workout above, increase your weight and number of reps to make this a more challenging activity for your fitness level.
- Overhead Squat – Overhead squats work your upper and lower body at the same time. You’ll love the burn provided by this exercise. Holding a dumbbell in each hand over your head (with locked arms), squat down and then return to a standing position. Repeat for repetitions.
- Windmill Plank – From a plank position, rotate from the trunk and extend one arm into the air. Do this for repetitions (six on each side per set).
- Arnold Press – With your feet hip-distance apart, hold your dumbbells at shoulder height (palms facing you). Rotate your arms out laterally (to each side) and press straight up to the ceiling. Take a breath and reverse the movement. Once you’re back in the starting position, repeat 12-15 times or to failure.
As we mentioned above, the idea and trajectory of what it takes to get in a productive workout have changed in recent years. A gym membership is no longer mandatory. With the right tools and direction, building muscle or losing weight is totally possible at home with the use of free weights. Workouts using free weights don’t have to be difficult, but just remember that consistency is critical! Aim for 150 minutes of focused strength training per week, and you’ll be well on your way to achieving your strength and training goals.
Now that we’ve covered the basics of using free weights and creating a plan to try it yourself, you should feel confident and well-equipped to start using strength training with free weights at home or anywhere you’re working out. If you’re ready to start building out your home gym, check out our great selection of high-quality dumbbells and other free weights.