The machine area of the gym is like a kiddie pool. It’s where beginners can get their feet wet and wade in shallow waters where it’s safe and comfortable. But if it’s significant body change you’re after, you might want to try taking a dip in the deep end. That means getting off the machines and learning how to use free weights.
It can be intimidating at first. But learning which exercises to do helps take the edge off. And the more you practice these movements, the more confident you’ll be taking up space in the weight room.
Remember, you have just as much right to be in the free-weights section as a more seasoned gym-goer.
Free weights are beneficial because they allow your body to move naturally. On a machine, the weight moves along a fixed track, providing the balance and stabilization for you. When you use free weights, your body has to learn to balance and stabilize itself along with the weight. So with dumbells, kettlebells, and a barbell you’re working harder, recruiting more muscles, and doing movements that are more functional.
The exercises listed below are compound movements, which means they use multiple muscle groups and joints. You get more bang for your buck with compound movements because they burn more calories and build more strength and muscle. And all you need for these exercises is a kettlebell and a set of dumbbells, which makes them good options for home workouts.
Popularized by CrossFit, this squat-press hybrid challenges your cardio and builds strength.
Directions: With the dumbbells resting above your shoulders, squat as deep as you can. As you come up, use the momentum to press the dumbbells straight overhead. In a controlled motion, bring them back down to your shoulders and repeat.
The kettlebell swing is another CrossFit staple. It builds strength and power in your posterior chain (i.e., your lower back, glutes, and hamstrings), which is important for maintaining proper posture and avoiding injury. It’ll also make your backside look great.
Directions: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and place the kettlebell about a foot in front of you, between your legs.
Maintaining a soft bend in your knees, send your hips back and lean forward to grip the kettlebell handle. Make sure to keep your back straight throughout the movement.
Still in the bent-over position, swing the kettlebell back between your legs. Using only your hips, thrust up aggressively, bringing the kettlebell and your arms parallel to the floor. Keep in mind that you should not be pulling at all with your arms. Your hips generate the momentum to swing the kettlebell.
The inverted row is the first step towards getting your first pull-up. It gets you used to pulling your own weight and is very effective for strengthening your core and back.
Directions: Find a bar that is anywhere between shoulder to hip height. The lower the bar, the more difficult it will be. You can also use the bar on a Smith machine.
Use an overhand grip on the bar and walk your feet under the bar until your forearms are perpendicular to the bar. Extend your arms so that you’re in a full hang, then pull your chest to the bar making sure to stay tight in your core. No sagging butts!
The squat is the cornerstone of any well-balanced fitness program. It builds muscle and strength, burns calories, and improves mobility. There are many different types of squat, but we are going to focus on the goblet squat. This variation is particularly helpful for anyone who has trouble with their chest folding over excessively while squatting. Holding a weight in front of your torso helps to train your upper body to stay upright.
Directions: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and use both hands to grip the kettlebell handle. Pick up the kettlebell and hold it in front of your chest. Send your hips back while bending your knees to perform a squat.
The kettlebell deadlift is a good beginner’s introduction to the hip hinge movement, as a kettlebell tends to be easier to manage than a barbell. And you’ll still be working your core, back, glutes, and hamstrings. The deadlift recruits more muscle than other single-lift exercise, so it’s a movement you’ll definitely want to master.
Directions: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. The kettlebell should be placed between your feet.
Send your hips back while keeping your back straight and reaching down for the kettlebell. Keep your upper back tight by imagining that you’re squeezing an orange in your armpit, then lift the kettlebell by standing up tall.