Free Weight Training Exercises

Use these free weight training exercises to get you started lifting. And these lifts are good for advanced lifters, too.

Weight training is one of the best methods of strength training! If you want to start weight training safely and effectively, with the best info, diet, and routines, check out the 5 Day Beginner Weight Training Course!

One thing to remember for any of the barbell exercises where you're under the bar is to use a power rack, like the guy is using in the picture below...


For many free weight training exercises use a power rack, like this one, to keep yourself safe. Don't get crushed by your weights!


The power rack in the photo (sometimes called a 'power cage') is the metal cage that surrounds the lifter. It has safety bars to catch the weight if you can't make it back to the top of your lift.

By using a power cage you have a spotter always poised to help you if you can't lift the weight. Getting injured from being trapped under a barbell because you were too, uh, 'macho' (stupid) to use a spotter or a power rack is simply incompetent.

Since you're doing these free weight training exercises near the limit of what you can handle (you are, right?) you won't always be able to get the bar up at the end of the last repetition. That's training hard, but don't hurt yourself.

These photos were done outside since my garage doesn't have good lighting, and hence on a light bar without a power rack, because I wanted you to see the lifts. Now, don't go getting hurt.

Pick the free weight training exercises that appeal to you, or that you find the most useful. And work both your upper and lower body to keep balanced.


1. Squat

The squat is a basic leg exercise, working mostly your thighs (quadriceps), glutes, and hip flexors, but it also hits the entire rest of the leg.



Free weight training exercises- how to do a squat. Free weight training exercises- how to do a squat, as seen from the side.


Stand with your feet at shoulder width, feet pointing slightly outward. With the barbell resting just above your shoulder blades, squat down till your thighs are horizontal and parallel to the ground. Then, at the bottom of the squat, power back up to a straight, standing position.

Be sure to keep your back as straight as possible. But remember that straight does not mean upright.

Bending your back here can cause strain and injuries. The trunk of your body will come forward slightly as you squat down to maintain your balance; just make sure you don't come so far forward that you lose your balance or get hurt.

If that movement is too deep for you, and/or if you have knee problems, you can do half or quarter squats. These are done by coming down just halfway, or just a quarter of the way.


2. Bench Press

The bench press is one of the most common free weight training exercises for your chest and arms. It's probably the best overall lift for the upper body.



Free weight training exercises- how to do a barbell bench press. Free weight training exercises- how to do a barbell bench press.


Laying on a bench beneath the bar, grab the bar at just-outside-shoulder width and move it right above your chest. Keeping your forearms as close to vertical as possible, lower the bar till it just touches your chest and then press it back up till your arms are almost locked.

If you want to work the outside of your chest, move your grip further apart. Also, (1) always lower the bar down till it just brushes your chest, and (2) lift the bar at a mid chest location, right above the nipples - NOT above your neck.


3. Shoulder Press

The shoulder press hits your deltoid muscles, but more importantly, it strengthens all around your shoulder. Since you're standing, this also works your core - keeping you balanced and upright while you're doing this lift.



Free weight training exercises- how to do a barbell shoulder press. Free weight training exercises- how to do a barbell shoulder press.

Stand with your feet at about shoulder width, holding the barbell against your upper chest right below your clavicles. In one movement push the bar overhead, bringing it as close to your face on the way up as possible (this makes the lift easier). After you've pressed the bar up overhead, lower it back to the top of your chest.

Don't let the barbell rest on your upper chest between reps - keep yourself working when you're lifting.


4. Lunge

Lunges are good for your thighs and glutes, as well as your core for keeping balance. Holding some heavy weights and doing these will really challenge you to keep upright and balanced.

One of the major benefits that these free weight training exercises have over machine exercises is the balance you build by doing them. Machines help you to control the weight, but here YOU learn to control it.



Free weight training exercises- how to do lunges.


Start standing with your feet at shoulder width or slightly inside that, holding a dumbbell in each hand. Simply step forward with one foot and then bend at the knees, barely touching your rear knee to the ground before stepping up and ending that repetition with your feet parallel.

Just keep stepping with these lunge steps, barely touching your knee to the ground. It will work your legs, as well as your core and hip muscles to keep you balanced.

When you're in the lunge position, keep your forward shin vertical when touching your back knee to the ground. Repeatedly having your forward knee extended in front of the heel of your forward foot will do bad things to your knee.


5. Side Bends

Side bend work your oblique muscles - your abdominal side muscles.



Free weight training exercises- how to do dumbbell side bends.


Grab a heavy dumbbell and lean to the side, then bring yourself upright using only the oblique muscle on your other side. This is a really hard way to work your oblique muscles.


6. Calf Raise

The calf raise hits, unsurprisingly, the calf muscles behind your shins.



Free weight training exercises- how to do dumbbell calf raises.


Pick up two dumbbells that are really heavy. Set your feet on an incline (a small steep hill, the edge of a rock, a step, etc.) and then push up with your calf muscles. Then, let yourself down in a controlled fashion.


7. Dumbbell Lat Fly

The dumbbell lat fly is one of the free weight training exercises that works your pectoral muscles primarily, similar to a bench press. However, it works the outside of your pecs, while the bench press can work the inside or the outside of your pecs (close grip=inside pecs, wide grip=outside pecs).

There are two variations of the dumbbell lat fly, (1) arms bent & (2) arms straight. Arms straight puts the most strain on your pectoral muscles.



Free weight training exercises- how to do a dumbbell lat fly with bent arms. Free weight training exercises- how to do a dumbbell lat fly with straight arms.


Grab two dumbbells and lie back on a bench, with the dumbbells held above your chest, in-line with the nipples. Keeping your arms stiff (either straight or with a slight bend at your elbows), extend your arms out to your sides until they are parallel to the floor (or as close to that as possible), and then bring them back up straight.

Then contract your pectoral muscles to bring the dumbbells back to their starting position above your body. Doing the bent arms version allows you to work with slightly stronger weights, but takes some of the strain off your pectoral muscles and moves it to your arms (biceps and triceps).

And...

Always use a power cage for the barbell free weight training exercises!

Oh, and be sure to sign up for the e-zine Starting Strong to get monthly strength training, exercise, and diet tips e-mailed to you - and access to the free e-book Train Smart, Eat Smart: Exercise Nutrition Hacks!

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Free Weight Training Exercises
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