This post was written by Keith Lewis, exercise specialist, Parkview Health & Fitness Center.
These days, finding the right exercise routine with the right equipment can be overwhelming. From using your body weight to resistant bands, dumbbells, barbells, TRX straps, or even stationary weight machines, the number of resources is endless. Today, we are going to discuss the many beneficial uses of free weights and how they can play a significant role in your fitness routine.
What are free weights?
Free weights are objects that are lifted during exercising and are not attached to any other piece of equipment like dumbbells or barbells. Simply put, they are not a part of a stationary weight machine like a leg extension, leg curl or leg press. So, what are some of the benefits you may see from the use of free weights?
One of the advantages of using free weights is how it forces individuals to engage their core with each movement. Often, while exercising, people will try to get their core exercises in by lying down on the floor doing crunches or sit-ups, which puts your lower back at risk. Instead, with the use of free weights, you can consistently get a free core workout while performing your exercises like bicep curls, chest press and squats.
Another great benefit with the use of free weights is how it helps the body work, especially on the imbalances it may have. For example, if you are doing a barbell chest press, the bar must move evenly on both sides as you progress through the range of motion. So, if you have one shoulder that may be a little weaker than the other shoulder, the barbell will force you to maintain equal pressure on both sides to help you finish the lift.
Burns more calories
Keeping core strength and balance in mind, the use of free weights makes your body work harder than if you were using stationary strength training machines. Free weight exercises recruit more muscle groups during one movement because the body must have stability and balance. Imagine you are doing an overhead tricep extension with a dumbbell. During this exercise, you are engaging your core muscles and stabilizer muscles, which in turn, are contributing to help protect your lower back and glutes during the movement pattern. Ultimately, this engagement of multiple muscle groups will help you burn more calories in the end.
Improves range of motion and strength
Lastly, your body goes through more range of motion when using free weights versus stationary weight machines. Stationary weight machines not only limit your range of motion, but they also limit the ability to challenge yourself on exercises that might be a strong suit for you. Instead of adding weights to a lift on a stationary strength machine, try increasing your range of motion when using free weights by adding another exercise within the set. A great example of this would be a leg press machine versus a dumbbell goblet squat. While the use of a leg press machine is a great leg exercise that uses multiple muscle groups at once, the only way to challenge yourself on this exercise is to add weight. Also, some leg press stationary machines will only allow you to go down so far on the lift. On the flip side, there are countless ways you can challenge yourself during a dumbbell goblet squat. These could include going a little lower at the bottom of the squat, holding two dumbbells at your side during the squat then adding a bicep curl at the top of the squat, or holding two dumbbells on your shoulders as you squat and then do a shoulder press at the top of the squat to finish. Not only does the use of free weights help with range of motion, but it also allows you to combine two exercises into one movement so you can make your workout go by even faster.
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