Is there a machine at the gym that you just LOVE? Cardio or weight machine, it doesn’t matter — you may have eyes for that ONE piece of equipment that you always depend on as a part of your workout routine.
If you do have a favorite machine, wonderful! We love that you’ve found something to get you moving and progressing towards your health and fitness goals. Machines serve a great purpose to those who prefer or need more stability during their workouts or for those who want to push their limits in a controlled way. It’s also comfortable sticking to machines as they usually offer the ability to do a few specific exercises on them, so you know what you’re getting in to with each workout.
But if you’ve ever thought about getting in to free-weight training, we’re here to tell you: Go for it!
Like we mentioned earlier, cardio and weight machines have their place in fitness programs, so don’t think that you have to give up your favorite machines entirely. But lifting free weights offers a variety of benefits that machines can lack.
More Freedom to Move
While weight machines offer adjustment settings to accommodate for individual height and desired resistance, they keep you in a fixed position and range of motion while lifting. This is ideal for beginners to provide stability while lifting and help reduce the risk of potential injury. If you’ve been exercising regularly and you have the stability to handle load with less restriction, free weights will change the game for you. You’ll be able to move through a greater range of motion while using more muscles to stabilize your body throughout the lift. Your mobility won’t just become greater, but STRONGER.
Improve Multiple Aspects of Fitness Simultaneously
Free weights will help develop strength, but there are other valuable aspects of fitness that will also improve once you incorporate free weights into your routine. We’ve already touched on how free weights can help improve stability (the body’s ability to sustain force) and mobility (the range of motion at a joint). Free weights can also encourage a stronger core as you’ll need to engage your core more to keep control of the weights. And by learning to brace your core as you move resistance through a greater range of motion, you’ll develop better balance at the same time.
For example, think of a Bent Over Dumbbell Row compared to a seated Machine Row. In the Bent Over Dumbbell Row, you’re standing with a dumbbell in each hand and hinging forward from the hips, letting the dumbbells shift in front of your body. In this hinged position, the muscles in your trunk will work harder to keep you from falling forward, encouraging a stronger core and better balance. In the seated Machine Row, the seat may lead to less engagement of the legs and core. You get more “bang for your buck” with the Bent Over Dumbbell Row.
Adds Variety to Your Workouts
As with any fitness regime, adding variety to your workouts can help speed up your progress and keep you from getting bored. Like we said, machines and great and we are here for them – but if that’s all you do, your mind and your body will get bored. If you’re up for a new challenge, keep reading for one!
Free weights aren’t limited to just a handful of exercises (or less) like most machines. The list of exercises that can be done with free weights is endless – Goblet Squat, Walking Lunges, Bicep Curls, Tricep Extensions, Dumbbell Snatches, Squat Thrusters, Hip Bridges – we think you get the idea. This versatility can be a timesaver in the gym, too – you can work every major muscle group with a pair of free weights and spend less time moving from machine to machine. So if you’re short on time but still want to hit the gym, free weights are your best bet.
Free Weights Can Help Develop Strength AND Cardiovascular Fitness
We’ve been referring a lot to weight training machines, but we haven’t forgotten our cardio machine lovers. Believe it or not, you can improve your cardiovascular fitness using free weights! Full-body compound movements using free weights, like Squat Thrusters, Dumbbell Snatches, Kettlebell Swings, and Walking Lunges can all kick your heart rate up. Compound movements are multi-joint exercises that utilize multiple muscle groups at once, making your entire body work harder and driving your heart rate up. You can also gear your free weight workout to have more of a cardio focus by increasing the tempo that you perform the exercises or by formatting your workout to be an interval or circuit-style workout with less rest in between exercises (this will keep your heart rate up for longer).
One way that we love to use free weights is by doing superset training. This involves performing two exercises back-to-back with minimal rest in between. Not only will superset training strengthen your muscles, but it will also strengthen your heart by keeping your heart rate elevated during continuous work.
We understand that you may have certain goals or physical limitations that may influence whether you should incorporate free weights into your workout regime. As always, we recommend that you consult with your physician first prior to using free weights to ensure that you are ready. Once you’ve determined that you’re ready to use free weights in they gym, give the following Dumbbell Superset workout a go! (Please note: This workout is primarily upper-body workout with some lower-body and core work. Be sure to select weights that are within your capabilities for the recommended sets and reps listed below.)
- Perform exercises A and B within each superset back to back for 8-15 reps each, depending on your weight selection and current fitness level.
- Each exercise pictured below is labeled “A” or “B” for the exercise, then sub-labeled “1” or “2” to show the steps to perform the exercise. A1 + A2 = 1 repetition of the exercise (same for exercises labeled “B”).
- Perform each superset 3 times before moving on to the next.
- Rest for 30-90 seconds in between each round of the superset.
- Rest for as long as you need between supersets (and for a minimum of 60 seconds).
Gilbert Torres is a Certified Personal Trainer through ISSA (International Sports Science Association) and speaks fluent Spanish. His experience as a sprinter during his time on Track and Field influenced him to specialize in athletic training with his clients. “I believe that I was put in this position to help others accomplish their goals,”, says Gilbert. “If I can just help one person then I am doing something right in this life.” When he’s not training clients at American Family Fitness Mechanicsville Gilbert enjoys spending time with his wife and two daughters.