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There are many workout techniques that can help you gain an impressive physique, but free weight exercises are perhaps the most essential for strength and muscle development. This article discusses why this technique is so effective and provides a complete list of free weight exercises for you to add to your arsenal.
Why Do Free Weight Exercises?
A “free weight” exercise is any movement performed with… you guessed it, free weights. This weight can take several forms, primarily barbells and dumbbells. Other unorthodox weights like kettlebells, medicine balls and DIY free weights also fall under this category. Anything not attached to a greater machine is considered a free weight exercise.
Unlike cables, machines and other fixed exercises, free weight movements give your body more freedom and flexibility. You can adjust your form according to your body type, thus engaging your muscles more effectively and getting a better stretch/contraction. This process is imperative to muscle growth, so free weight exercises often make up the bulk of a person’s workout routine.
free weight exercises are also generally more challenging, forcing your entire body to stabilize the weight. With your whole body involved, you can attain greater core strength and a more balanced physique. free weight exercises should be the foundation of your training program for these reasons.
Free Weight Exercises for Every Muscle
This list of free weight exercises doesn’t contain every movement. We narrowed it down to the most tried and trusted exercises that will get you the best results. That’s the beauty of free weights. An exercise might look different from person to person, but the final results remain the same (assuming you have a proper diet and well-rounded training program). Let’s start with the upper body and work our way down.
The chest is a unique muscle group for free weight exercises because you can perform pressing movements from multiple angles: flat, incline and decline.
- Barbell bench press
- Dumbbell bench press
- Dumbbell flye
- Close grip dumbbell press
- Dumbell pullover
The barbell or dumbbell bench press should be the fundamental movement of your chest routine. The other exercises are best used as isolation exercises later in your workout.
All three heads of the shoulder (anterior, lateral and posterior) have their own free weight movements. If you want, your shoulder routine can consist entirely of these exercises:
- Barbell overhead press
- Dumbell overhead press
- Arnold press (dumbells only)
- Barbell front raise
- Dumbell front raise
- Lateral raise
- Rear delt dumbbell flye
- Wipe-grip inverted row
You can perform most of these exercises (except for the front raises) while standing or sitting, depending on your preference. Standing enables you to move more weight, but sitting is generally safer and more stable.
For how massive the back is, it only has a handful of viable free weight exercises. Even so, you should absolutely include them in your routine to build a well-rounded posterior frame.
- Barbell row
- Dumbbell row
On the bright side, the deadlift and barbell/dumbbell rows are such amazing exercises that can make up most of your back workout. The rows are exceptionally versatile because they can target any back muscle with a slight tweak in form or angle.
All bicep movements involve some sort of curl, but this muscle still has a surprising amount of variety when it comes to free weight movements:
- Barbell curl
- Dumbbell curl
- Hammer curl
- Overhand curl
- Preacher curl
- Concentration curl
- Incline seated curl
Bicep activation varies based on your grip. A standard underhand grip primarily targets the bicep peak, while neutral and overhand curls isolate your bicep’s long head more effectively. Change up your grip to get a well-rounded pair of guns!
Most tricep exercises involve you pushing the weight down towards the floor. We obviously can’t do that with barbells and dumbbells, so we need to find movements that press up instead:
- Close grip bench press
- Overhead single dumbbell press
- Dumbbell kickbacks
Many people make the same mistake with the close grip bench press. They move their grip too close, putting too much pressure on the wrists and forearms. Your grip only needs to be about shoulder-width apart.
Your forearms should get plenty of action during your regular routine, but if you think they could use some isolation work, the dumbbell forearm curl is the only free weight exercise available. However, these back and bicep exercises can also give your forearms a good workout:
- Overhand barbell curl
- Hammer curl
- Barbell/dumbbell row
Our forearms work especially hard during these exercises because of the overhand/neutral grips.
Ab workouts usually consist of bodyweight movements – an effective exercise category in its own right, but not quite as beneficial as free weight exercises. We have to be more creative with this muscle group:
- Weighted sit-up
- Weighted lying crunch
- Overhead circle
- Medicine ball slam
- High-to-low woodchop
The medicine ball should be your weight of choice for most of these exercises. It’s easier to hold and won’t break or cause injury if you accidentally drop it.
Our legs consist of many different muscles, most notably the glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves. The abductors and adductors are there too, but we can’t really isolate them with free weight movements. They should get enough action during these exercises:
- Barbell back squat
- Barbell front squat
- Bulgarian split squat
- Goblet squat
- Kettlebell squat
- Stiff-leg deadlift
- Romanian deadlift
- Weighted calf raise
As you can see, you have many squat variations at your disposal. They can emphasize the quads with a narrow stance and the hamstrings/glutes with a wider stance. The deadlift also makes a reappearance because it’s just that great. The only calf movement is the weighted calf raise, which you can perform with any type of weight that feels comfortable.
Free Weights = More Dates
If your current training program is full of machine exercises and isolation movements, you need to stop what you’re doing and follow the free weight path to success. free weight exercises will help you gain functional strength, build a more balanced physique and get that much closer to reaching your fitness goals. Consult this list of free weight exercises and rebuild your routine!
Jack Shaw is a senior writer at Modded. Jack is an avid enthusiast for keeping up with personal health and enjoying nature. He has over five years of experience writing in the men's lifestyle niche, and has written extensively on topics of fitness, exploring the outdoors and men's interests. His writings have been featured in SportsEd TV, Love Inc., and Offroad Xtreme among many more publications.