For a newbie, the weights section of the gym can seem pretty cliquey and more than a little intimidating! In reality, there’s no excuse not to get stuck in. Far from being a private club for the super-buff, the weights area is for anyone - and everyone can benefit.
Fear of free weight lifting usually boils down to two things: You don’t really know what you’re doing - and you don’t want to get it wrong. To help you overcome this, here’s what you need to know to work out with confidence…
Free Weights: Are They for Me?
With a weight machine, you are basically pushing or pulling a lever to move a load in a very specific way. Free weights, by contrast, refer to any load that you can pick up and hold directly. Examples include dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells and medicine balls.
Free weights can deliver extra versatility to your routine. Here’s why this is a very good thing…
They help you target overlooked areas. Compared to machines, with many free weight exercises (e.g. deadlifts, squats, and lunge lifts), you have to work that extra bit harder to support the weight and control the movement. This means that as well as your main muscles, you are also working those often-overlooked stabilizer muscles.
They can give you better balance. The fact that you are working target muscles, stabilizer muscles and core muscles all at the same time means that free weights can help you improve your balance and coordination. If you’re a yoga or Pilates fan, this is especially good news.
They are awesome for burning calories. It’s a myth that weight lifting is all about bulking up (unless that’s your aim). Remember: the more muscle you work, the more calories you burn.
Getting Started with Free Weights
To use free weights in a way that’s going to work for you, bear in mind the following…
Be clear on your goals
Body toning, building definition, general fitness, weight loss, sculpting key areas (e.g. booty building): different people use free weight training for a whole bunch of reasons. It’s important to be clear on what you want to achieve as this will determine the type of routine to follow - including how much to lift and how often.
Check out some videos
There are lots of videos out there featuring free weight workouts for different sets of muscle groups and focusing on different goals. To quickly get your eyes on the best ones, be sure to check out our guide: Our Favourite YouTube Fitness Channels for 2019.
Use a personal trainer
With weights, it’s so easy to find yourself cranking out set after set of curls and presses without seeing much benefit.
To help keep your training sessions as efficient and effective as possible, some one-on-one expert help can definitely be worth it. This is especially true when you are finding your way around the weight room for the first time.
A trainer will advise you on what size weights to start off with (based on your baseline strength) and supply you with an initial routine. They will also tell you what you’re doing wrong - and stop you falling into bad habits from the get-go.
Focus on technique first, intensity later
For body shaping, the level of weight you use should be heavy enough so you feel muscle tension with each rep. The idea is to start by lifting light and increase the load by small margins as you get stronger. How much you should be lifting will also depend on the exercise (e.g. most people find that the weight starting point for a shoulder press is higher than for a bicep curl).
It’s tempting to try and move up to the next weight level as quickly as you can. But rather than rushing things, you need to make sure you really nail the movement at each level. If the only way you can get through your allotted sets on a particular move is by skipping a couple of reps or only partially completing the move, you’re not ready to move on just yet. Remember, instead of fast-tracking you towards your goal, piling on the weight too soon only increases the risk of injury.
Weight Training at Home: The Two Best Options
For a home gym, dumbbell plate sets are a popular option. This consists of a pair of bars with a series of weighted plates that you attach to each end. Starter packs usually consist of plates that vary in weight from 0.5kg to 2.5kg, allowing you to scale up the weight by adding different combinations of plates to the bars.
Resistance bands are a smart option, too. Just like dumbbells, resistance bands are perfect for strength training - but obviously, are much more portable (and a lot cheaper!).
Want to get your hands on a complete set of resistance bands? The Proworks resistance bands offers you the choice of five different bands featuring resistance levels that range from light through to extra heavy. This allows you to gradually dial up the intensity of your routine as you get stronger!