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Free Weights Exercises for a Full Body Workout

Whether you’re a well-seasoned gym pro or fitness novice, the free weights area in the gym can be an intimidating and daunting place for many of us to begin with. Some are concerned with not being able to perform the exercises correctly, using the equipment properly or finding the right free weight to help train a particular parts of our bodies.

Having a better understanding of everything you need to know before entering the free weights area will help to make your fitness regime more enjoyable, keep your anxiety at bay and make sure you’re getting the most out of your regime.

What Are Free Weights?

Free weights are a form of strength training that can be defined as resistance exercises provided by ‘free’ objects that aren’t attached to anything and that you can quite literally pick up and move. These include items such as medicine balls, barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, sandbags, resistance bands and sandbells. They are used to tone and build muscle, which in turn helps to lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure, stabilise blood sugars and encourage hormone health and bone density.

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They also offer a more flexible approach to working out, as they can be used both inside the gym and in the comfort of your own home. Whereas when using fixed weights such as cable machines, weight or exercise machines and resistance bands, your body can often be placed in unnatural or uncomfortable positions. Your training is also often focused on a targeted or isolated area such your legs or arms, while free weights can provide more of an inclusive workout.

Using Free Weights Safely

Ensuring you use free weights safely is an absolute must. If you use them incorrectly, they can cause you significant injuries. Not only will this put the brakes on your exercise regime, making it more difficult to reach your fitness goals. As well as this, using free weights incorrectly can cause you long-term damage, requiring treatment from doctors and physiotherapists.

The Importance of the Correct Free Weights Form

Your ‘form’ is, essentially, your body shape when you’re exercising. Ensuring you hold the correct body shape – or ‘form’ – while exercising is a key part of ensuring that you both get the most out of each exercise you perform, as well as helping ensure you don’t hurt yourself while exercising.

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Proper form is always important, but especially so when using free weights, or doing any other type of weight training. This is because your joints and muscles are under significant extra loads, forcing them to work harder.

The two places you should concentrate on initially when looking at your form are your core (abs, glutes and lower back) and your scapula (shoulders). By making sure these are properly engaged when using free weights, you’ll stabilise your body, protect your spine, shoulders and neck.

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London

To help you ensure you use the correct form when using free weights, here are three great hacks to use:

  • Practice – Before you start exercising with the weights, first try completing the movement without using any weights. This will help your body get used to the movement before you put it under any extra strain.
  • Posture – Between each rep, do a very quick mental scan of your posture, making sure your core is engaged and your shoulders are back. This will help support the movement, making the rep more effective and reducing your risk of injury.
  • Control – It’s vital to make sure you maintain control of the movement in each rep. Once you notice that your form is beginning to slip, or that you’re relying on momentum to perform the lift, you’ve reached your limit and you need to stop.

Free Weights vs. Weight Machines

Free weights have plenty of advantages over weight machines. For starters, they are much more flexible. Each weight machine in your local gym usually only works one or two muscle groups, so there are a finite number of exercises you can perform. With free weights, however, there are an almost endless number of exercises you can add to your regime, giving you a true whole-body workout.

Secondly, you can also have free weights at home and they don’t take up much space, so if you don’t fancy going to the gym that day, but still want to work out, you can do so in the comfort of your own home. They’re also fairly inexpensive – you can pick up resistance bands for just a few pounds – and don’t take up much room, so even in the most space-limited of homes you can still enjoy a fulsome exercise regimen.

Free Weights Exercises for Different Parts of Your Body

Arms and Shoulders

Shoulder Press

Designed for beginners, this move can be mastered by anyone. Begin by using a small to medium sized medicine ball and once you’re comfortable you can increase the intensity of your free weights workout by moving onto a heavier medicine ball.

  • First, place the ball around an inch away from the central part of your chest.
  • Lift your arms to the ceiling, extend the ball overhead and then lower gently back to the starting position.
  • Repeat 10-15 reps of three sets.

One Arm Swing

  • Using dumbbells this move works on your shoulders, lower back muscles and quadriceps and develops co-ordination and grip strength.
  • In the squat position, swing the weight between your legs and quickly drive yourself forward, then move the dumbbell upwards towards your head and straighten up.
  • Repeat and then alternate arms between your 10-15 reps of three sets.

Legs

Single-Leg Hip Bridge

With a medicine ball, we move our focus onto working the legs, glutes and core with the single-leg hip bridge.

  • Lie on your back and lengthen your arms out frontwards. Hold the medicine ball with both arms, ensuring your elbows are slightly bent.
  • Bend the knees and bring heels to the floor. Engage your core by bringing your right leg to the ceiling and flex your right foot, remembering to keep your knee a little bent.
  • Shift your attention to your core and glutes muscles by thrusting your hips into the air. Your weight can be supported by your shoulders and left leg.
  • Hold for a single count and then slowly begin returning your body back to the mat.
  • Repeat and then alternate arms between your 10-15 reps of three sets.

Core

Barbell Lunge

To assist you in achieving those perfect six-pack abs and developing vital core strength, try out the barbell lunge. Your core will be working twice as hard to keep the spine neutral, due to the position you are holding the bar and weights in.

  • Select your desired weight, if you’re unsure start with 5kg on each side until you feel comfortable enough to increase it.
  • Place the barbell with the weights across your back. Move forwards with your left foot and step into a lunge. Both legs need to be bent and the back of your knee as close to the floor as possible.
  • Lift yourself back up and then repeat 10-15 reps of three sets.

Back

Deadlift

Using a weightless Olympic bar, the deadlift not only concentrates on targeting the back, but also the glutes and hamstrings.

  • Stand with feet hip-width apart and place the Olympic bar on the floor.
  • Whilst ensuring you are keeping your back flat, chest up and bottom low, firmily grip the bar with the hands, a little wider than the position of the feet.
  • Driving with legs, maintain arms straight down, shoulders back and stand up straight. The back needs to remain flat and the bar close to your body.
  • Repeat 10-15 reps of three sets.

Glutes

Goblet Squat

This exercise is brilliant for any fitness level and uses dumbbells to focus on targeting your glutes and promoting both thoracic and hip mobility.

  • Position yourself with feet set more than shoulder-width apart.
  • With both hands, hold the dumbbell in front of your chest. Then sit back into a squat and drive back up and repeat.
  • Repeat 10-15 reps of three sets.

Importance of Rest Days

While some of us can be defined as dedicated gym bunnies, others may struggle to find the motivation they need to take regular trips to the gym. Although it’s vital for our overall health and mental wellbeing to remain active and take part in physical activity, it’s equally beneficial to give our bodies the adequate time needed to rest, repair and recover a couple of days a week.

Over-exercising, whether that’s cardio exercise, or using the free weights can put added strain and stress on our bodies and lead to a number of harmful side effects. These include fatigue, loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping, changes in your mood, lowered immunity, decreased performance and altered hormonal states, as well as putting us more at risk of injury.

A number of factors can contribute to the amount of rest time needed such as age, the number of weekly workouts you take part in, the intensity level of these workouts and your fitness experience levels. Getting at least eight hours of sleep a night and eating the right foods will also aid in fuelling both your workout and recovery.