Why You Need To Add These 5 Free Weight Exercises To Your Workout

young woman weigh training at the gym

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Strength training an important part of your fitness programming and touts benefits such as improved functional ability and well-being, and decreased risk of heart disease. Both free weights and machine weights can help you build strength.

However, trying to figure out what to do can be a challenge. Not only can gyms be intimidating but between the free weights and the machine weights it's hard to know where to start.

While machine weights may be enticing because they can be more straightforward to use them, checking out free weights is something you should try. When you add them to your fitness routine they can amp up your workout to help you see the results you desire. Here is what you need to know about free weights including which exercises to add to your workout.

What Are Free Weights

Using free weights is a form of strength training sometimes called resistance training. The term "free" implies that the objects or weights are not attached to anything, so you can pick them up and move around with them.

Overall, free weights are any type of weighted object that is mobile. Some examples of free weights are dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, sandbells, medicine balls and sandbags. Some gyms have free weights available to members, but many people prefer to purchase free weights for their home gyms.

Difference Between Free Weights and Machine Weights

While both free weights and machine weights produce positive training effects regardless of which you use, there are some differences, and reasons you way want to choose one over the other at certain times.

For instance, machine weights are for fixed single movements, where as free weights are more versatile, and allow you to work many movements, through multiple planes of motion. Free weights also are compact, so you there is no need to go to a gym to get in a good workout.

You also can take free weights with you, and they are easy to store. Free weights activate more of your stabilizer muscles, because you do not have support from the weight machine.

Benefits of Using Free Weights

Free weights are an excellent choice for strength training because they able to be used almost anywhere. They also are versatile and allow you to work multiple ranges of motion within one exercise. You can go up or down in weight choices with ease, increase your metabolic rate and bone density, and build your cardio vascular endurance.

What's more, using free weights also require balance because they tend to promote more activity in your joint stabilizer muscles. They also allow you to recruit more muscle groups and more muscle fibers than variable resistance machines, which tend to isolate only specific muscles.

You also can perform a complete strength training routine tailored to your physical abilities using free weights. Plus, studies show that free weight exercises elicit a greater hormonal response to resistance training than weight machine exercises.

How To Get Started

When you are starting a new free weight program, you should start with a simple plan. There are five movement patterns you want to add to your programming. These include push, pull, hinge, squat, and plank. These movements all require different joint activations (often at the same time), and are used in every day movements.

As time goes on and you get stronger, you can increase the intensity, which can accelerate muscle growth and strength gain. Pick one exercise from each of these movement patterns with a rep scheme of eight for anywhere from 3 to 5 reps, and you have a beginners strength training program.

How Heavy Should My Weights Be?

When choosing a weight to use, you should first make sure that you are able to do the move safely, and with correct form. Think about the number of reps you are performing. You want to be able to complete every rep of that exercise with good form. If you are not able to do that, the weight may be too heavy.

Another thing to pay attention to, is if you feel challenged by weights. If when your complete your reps you still feel like you could do another 5 reps, you may want to increase your weight. The goal is to build muscle mass. Remember, having adequate muscle mass is important because when levels are low, there is an increased risks of several diseases such as cardiovascular disease.

Safety Tips

Before lifting, it's a good idea to do a dynamic warm-up. Dynamic warm-ups increase blood flow to the muscles pre workout, and are proven to optimize performance. You also want to make sure when lifting free weights you are picking the appropriate weight choices, and focusing on good form to prevent injury.

This approach is especially important when lifting heavier weights. Also, if you are performing a swinging movement, such as kettlebell work, make sure the area is clear and you are the appropriate space to execute the movement.

5 Free-Weight Exercises

When putting together a resistance training program with free weights, choose movements that require different joint activations that are used in every day movements. Here are some free-weight exercises you may want to consider.

Chest Press

The chest press is your pushing pattern movement. A chest press is a strength training exercises that works your pectoral muscles. Here is how to do a chest press.

  1. Start on your back on a bench with a barbell (or dumbbell in each hand).

  2. Keep your feet firmly planted on the ground. Your palms should be facing your feet.

  3. Hold your weights at your chest with your elbows turned out about 45 degrees.

  4. Press your weights above your body until your arms are straight. Use the support of the bench against your back to help you drive your arms up.

  5. Return to the starting position.

Dumbbell Bent Over Row

The dumbbell bent over row, contains both the pulling and hinge movement patterns, for a double whammy. Your focus is on your back muscles for this exercise, specifically your lats and posterior deltoids. Here is how to do a dumbbell bent over row.

  1. Start with you feet hip width apart, and a dumbbell in each hand. Keep your shoulder blades slightly squeezed together.

  2. Bend your knees lightly, and hinge your chest forward while pushing your hips back, until your chest is almost parallel to the floor.

  3. Pull the weights up by driving your elbows back, and engaging the muscles in your shoulder blades.

  4. Return to the starting position.


Deadlifts are your hinge pattern movement. They work the hamstrings along the back of the legs. The focus of the deadlift can differ slightly, depending on the bend of the knees, or the placement of the feet. You can use either dumbbells or a barbell for this exercise. Here is what you need to know to get started.

  1. Start with you feet hip width apart, and a dumbbell in each hand (or one barbell). Your palms should be facing your legs. Keep your shoulder blades slightly squeezed together.

  2. Bend your knees lightly, and hinge your chest forward while pushing your hips back and tracing your legs down until you feel a slight tension in the back of your legs.

  3. Drive through the heels to stand, slowly returning to a standing position.

Goblet Squat

The squat pattern movement will be found in your goblet squat. It can be performed with either a dumbbell or a kettlebell, and you should focus on using a heavier weight. Here is how to do a goblet squat.

  1. Start with your feet hip width apart, holding one heavy dumbbell (or kettlebell) in both hands at chest height.

  2. Bend your knees as far are your range of motion will allow. Be sure to keep about 80% of your body weight in your heels.

  3. Drive through your heels to return yourself to a standing position.

  4. Squeeze your glutes at the top to complete the movement.

Plank Pull-Through

There are multiple variations of planks to complete your plank movement pattern. The plank pull-through incorporates a dumbbell, to help add instability to the move. Here is how you do a plank pull-through.

  1. Set one dumbbell on the floor and set up in a plank with the dumbbell on the right side of your body. In your plank, your wrists should be directly under your shoulders, and keep your feet wider for more support.

  2. Reach under your body with your left hand, and pull the dumbbell through to place it on the left side of your body. The goal is to avoid rocking in the hips.

  3. Reach under your body with the right hand, and pull the dumbbell through to the right side of your body.

  4. Continue to alternate arms.

A Word From Verywell

Adding free weights to your fitness routine will mix things up and give you options for the gym or working out at home. You will get the benefits of machine strength training with more versatility.

When creating a free weight strength training program, be sure to add the five major movement patterns—push, pull, hinge, squat, and plank. A well-rounded free-weight program will have you reaping the benefits in no time.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Should you use free weights or machine weights to build muscle?

    Both will build muscle, but it depends on your goals. If you are looking to work through multiple ranges of motion, and increase stability, then free weights should be your choice. You would also use free weights if had a lack of gym access or space.

  • Which type of free weight is the best for a beginner?

    Dumbbells are the best choice for beginners. They are easily accessible, and it's easy to go up in weight as you progress. They are also less of a challenge to your stability because you can use one in each hand, where as other free weight options can be more challenging to grip.

  • How often should you increase the weight you are using?

    When you feel like you can do five more reps than your desired rep range, with good form, or you are no longer feeling challenged, it is time to look at adding more weight.

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Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Brittany Hammond
Brittany is a Certified Personal Trainer and freelance wellness writer with work in Livestrong, Verywell Fit, and more.