Free weights are weights used for strength training that are not attached to a machine or other apparatus. Dumbbells and barbells that come in varying fixed weights or sets with interchangeable or adjustable parts.
Fixed weights are more convenient but will take up more room and be a little more expensive in the long run. Some adjustable sets can fit neatly into a small space but you have to adjust the weight with each new exercise in your routine.
1. Look for hexagonal shaped plates or dumbbells so they don't roll across the floor or off the bench and break your foot.
2. Look for sets with a wide range of weights or get several sets of fixed-weight dumbbells to get started and you can buy more as needed.
3. Look for comfortable no-slip grips. Many sets come with rubber or neoprene coating.
4. If buying an adjustable set, make sure they are easy to adjust (try them in the store)
5. Safety. Make sure adjustable sets have locking mechanisms so plates don't wobble or fall off.
1. They take up less space compared to machines (Who really has room for a full set of machines in their house?)
2. Exercises can be adjusted for individual needs like height, range of motion or unequal strength on opposing sides.
3. Assisting or stabilizer muscles are also used (and therefore get a workout) when using free weights.
The main disadvantage is safety.
If you are using heavy weight, you should always have a spotter (a partner that can help if you become too tired during a set). This can be an issue if you are working out at home. Schedule your workout when you can have a partner with you or adjust your workout plan.
There are dozens of exercises you can do with a pair of dumbbells that work all the major muscles. Here is a quick full-body workout.
1. Chest Press - Lay back on a bench or exercise ball (even laying flat on the floor, while not as effective, will get the job done in a pinch). Hold dumbbells at chest level with elbows dropped slightly below your chest and palms facing out. Press dumbbells straight up and slightly towards each other in the middle. Pause and return to starting position.
2. Bent-Over Row - Stand with feet hip-width apart and knees slightly bent for stability. Hold dumbbells at your sides. Bend forward from your hips so your back is flat and your arms and dumbbells hang straight towards the floor. Pull dumbbells up while squeezing shoulder blades together. Dumbbells should stop about chest level. Pause and return to start.
3. Shoulder Press - Sit tall on a bench, exercise ball or chair with feet flat on the floor. Hold dumbbells over your shoulders with palms facing away from you. Press dumbbells overhead and slightly toward each other at the top of the move (don't bang the weights together). Pause and return to start.
4. Biceps Curl - Stand with feet hip-width apart and knees slightly bent. (This can also be done seated on a bench or exercise ball for more stability.) Hold dumbbells at your sides with palms facing away from you. Keeping elbows at your sides, curl dumbbells up towards shoulders. Pause and return to start.
5. Triceps Kickback - This can be done one aren at a time or both arms together. Stand with feet hip-width apart and knees slightly bent for stability. Bend forward at your hips so your back is flat and almost parallel to the floor. Hold dumbbells with palms facing the sides of your body and elbows tucked tight against your sides and bent at 90 degrees. Keeping upper arm still, extend your lower arm at the elbow so you are lifting the weight behind you. Only your lower arm should move.
6. Walking Lunges - Stand with feet about hip-width apart. Hold dumbbells at your sides and begin lunge by stepping forward with right foot. Lower into lunge by lowering left knee towards ground and keeping right knee over right foot and ankle. Pause at the bottom of the lunge. Stand and immediately step forward with left foot and repeat lunging motion. Continue "walking" until all reps are completed.
7. Stiff-leg Deadlift - Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Hold dumbbells close to your body in front with palms facing you. Keeping back and legs straight, bend at your hips, lowering weights as you go. When you reach the floor (or as far as you can go without bending your knees) contract your glutes, hamstrings and lower back to stand back up straight. Don't use your arms to lift the weight.
8. Calf Raise - Stand on the edge of a step, bench or low chair with heels extended off the edge. Hold the stair rail or another sturdy object lightly for support with one hand and a dumbbell with the other. Keeping knees straight, lower heels slightly below the top edge of the step. Push yo on your toes by contracting your calves to lift yourself. Lower back down and repeat.