Free weights offer a versatile and effective way to train your entire body – top to bottom, front to back. Seriously, you can work nearly every muscle in your body; improving strength, endurance, power, agility, balance and flexibility. Who wouldn’t love that?! As a newbie to free weights, it’s totally fine to have no clue where to start. We’re here to help! This guide will tell you pretty much everything you need to know about training with free weights to help you reach your goals and make you look like a B.A. in the gym.
The Benefits of Free Weight Workouts and Fitness
The benefits of free weights go beyond improvements in muscle.
- After a few weeks of regular training bouts, you’ll notice your body is much more willing to burn the stubborn fat that those endless hours of cardio wouldn’t budge.
- Your bones will also get denser and stronger as a result of training with free weights.
- Aside from the visible benefits, the American College of Sports Medicine suggests that resistance training can, “decrease the risk of heart disease by lowering body fat, decreasing blood pressure, improving cholesterol, and lowering the stress placed on the heart while lifting a particular load.” These issues may not be problematic to you know, but trust me, you’ll thank yourself later on down the road.
OK, enough of the chit-chat, let’s check out the benefits we’re all really interested in.
Weight Loss and Fat Burning Potential
This is a tricky one, because while, I believe, free weights are the cat’s meow when it comes to burning fat, you may find yourself disappointed if weight loss is your primary goal. You see, while working with free weights does indeed burn fat, it also builds muscle. So, while your fat mass is decreasing, your lean muscle mass is increasing and your scale isn’t doing much moving. This has a tendency to cause a lot of frustration, especially among women since, for some reason, we are all obsessed with seeing the number on the scale get smaller. Unless you are overweight or obese, this probably won’t happen, BUT I guarantee that your body will get smaller, tighter and look fantastic.
- Now that we have that cleared up, let’s look at how, exactly, training with free weights burns fat.
For starters, the actual act of moving weights around burns calories, albeit not many. In fact, a 155-pound person can only expect to burn about 112 calories during a 30-minute training session – that’s like burning off an apple, not very impressive.
- The recovery period is where things start to get interesting. During your weight training session, with each pull and push of the weights, the tiny fibers that make up your muscle groups endured a pretty good butt-whooping. Specifically, they experienced tiny micro tears. While tearing something down may seem like a bad thing, when it comes to our bodies, it’s good. Our bodies are resilient and when they experience a stress, in this case weights, they respond by making themselves stronger. This response and adaptation process (mainly protein synthesis) requires energy (calories) and attributes to the fat burning potential of free weights. To get nerdy on you, one study looked at seven 27-year old women. Researchers found that three hours after a weight training bout had ended, the women’s energy expenditure (metabolism) was 13 percent higher than before the bout and 4.2 percent higher 16 hours afterward. Those numbers could definitely add up and give you some great results.
- Lastly, the muscle that you gain with your training will also contribute a modest increase in your metabolism. Many trainers and fitness pros like to throw big numbers around here but in actuality you’ll only burn about 4.5 to 7 extra calories for every pound of muscle you have – but, hey, every little bit helps, especially when you consider a pound of fat burns only one measly calorie.
Toning and Muscle Building Potential
The most obvious benefit that comes from working with free weights is bigger, stronger muscles. Before we go any further, however, I need to make a disclosure: lifting weights will NOT make you look like a man! I repeat, you will not rival the muscle-bound men at your gym if you embrace strength training. Free weights will build muscle mass, making your muscles bigger and more obvious. This, however, will result in a lean, athletic body. The women you see with huge muscles have dedicated themselves through training and diet to build those bodies, they by no means happened by accident. So, to sum it up, you will build muscle but it will be attractive, not manly.
The potential you have to gain muscle with free weights is boundless, almost. Your genetics will play a big role in your ability to build muscle – some women will see modest progress while others have the potential to make huge gains. Building muscle also depends on your training program, if a small child can lift your weights, you’re not loading your muscles enough to invoke a response. You need to challenge your muscles on a regular basis if you want to see change occur and, if you stick with a routine, you will see change.
Let’s talk about toning muscles. While the tone of a muscle doesn’t really change, free weights can make your body appear more toned. You see, to get the “toned” look we see on the tube and social media, we need to lose the fat that covers all of that muscle you’ve been working so hard to build. Once the fat takes a hike or at least thins out, your muscles will surface and you will become one of the toned ones.
Classes: What to Expect; Should I Take Them?
When it comes to new endeavors, it’s always a good idea to get hands’ on experience through classes or other instruction. While free weights are fairly simple to use, they’re also fairly simple to injure yourself with. Learning proper form and technique is your best bet to stay injury free and continue down your path of goal crushing.
The option to hire a personal trainer is always available but if you don’t want to commit the time or money, many gyms offer a free intro class to strength training. You can expect to learn the basics of working with free weights as well as proper form and breathing for the primary exercises like shoulder press, chest press, squats, lunges, curls and extensions – but your instruction will vary based on your gym and trainer.
Group classes are a more affordable option offered by various fitness clubs. Get some fitness-minded friends together and hire a trainer to coach you all in the basics of using free weights – have some girl time and sweat time.
Instructional Free Weight Videos and Training Tips
If you’d rather opt out of in-person instruction, there’s always the internet. Please be selective when it comes to taking fitness advice – there are copious amounts of self-proclaimed fitness experts out there, many who may actually know less than you about free weights. Thankfully, there are plenty of legit sites out there with a plethora of useful information. Here are a few of my favorites that offer instructional videos for specific exercises as well as in-depth training information.
- Exrx.net Exercise and Muscle Directory
- ACE Exercise Library
- NSCA Exercise Technique
- Bodybuilding.com Exercise Database
Basic Training Tips
- Train on a regular basis for best results, aiming for two to three workouts per week with at least 24 hours between training sessions but no more than 72 hours.
- Train all of the major muscle groups including the shoulders, back, chest, arms, core, hips, hamstrings, quadriceps and lower legs.
- Perform the larger exercises first like squats and chest press and end with smaller moves like biceps curls and calf raises – this will prevent early muscle fatigue and optimize your hormone response.
- Begin each strength workout with a 5 to 10-minute warm-up of low to moderate-intensity cardio and end each workout with around 10 minutes of stretching and mobility.
- Focus on form over how much weight you can lift – the big lifts will come, but it takes your body time to respond and adapt. Going too heavy too fast will just wind up with something or someone hurt.
- Hydrate before, during and after your workouts and, if you’re really taxing yourself, have a little post-workout snack consisting of carbs and protein like a glass of milk, a couple of cheese sticks or an energy bar of some sort if you’re on the move. And, of course, protein shakes are always welcome if you’re on the hunt for the gainz.
Clothes and Proper Attire
What does a girl wear to lift weights? Pretty much anything she wants, sans the stilettos. Clothes that allow freedom to move (ass to the grass, anyone?) and sweat to wick are ideal. You can go all out and buy some booty shorts and a crop top or just wear a comfy racer back and shorts. Sports bras are highly recommended as boob sweat and a padded Victoria’s Secret don’t tend to go well together.
As far as shoes, there are shoes made specifically for weight lifting but until you get super serious about it, save your cash. Instead, go for flat and non-compressible (Chuck Taylor’s or minimalist-type). I personally lift barefoot, but I’m also in the comfort of my own garage, I’m sure you’d be sent packing at the gym. Basically, you just want your feet (your foundation) to be as stable as possible when you’re lifting — running or cross-training shoes don’t really give you what you need.
12-Week Free Weight Training Workout
Results and Success Stories
I can tell you all day long how great free weights can make you look but I feel visuals are much more effective and motivating, so here you go!
“October 2015, I found myself 5 months post-partum, 190 pounds and uncomfortable in my own body. I had been doing strictly cardio during the summer of 2015, 3-6 miles a day pushing a double stroller and hitting the treadmill at night. It was a struggle to get a workout in everyday, especially when I wasn’t seeing any progress.
Late October 2015 I joined a fitness center and they offered childcare. I had been an avid lifter in high school but 14 years later I had to basically start over. Luckily, I knew where to get started, but needed to update my fitness knowledge. I took to Instagram and started following as many fitness professionals as I could.
From October 2015- March 2016 I steadily worked my muscles by strength training. The results were amazing! After months of cardio with no progress, I was shocked to see how quickly my body could transform when I picked up the weights. Halfway through April 2016 I weighed in at 159.6 pounds! While lifting 5 days a week I didn’t want to focus on the numbers on the scale since I knew I was building muscle, but that didn’t stop the number from going down.
In April, I started lifting heavier while training for powerlifting meets. Squatting, deadlifting and benching heavy every week along with accessory work. I am now maintaining a 158 pound body while lifting heavy.
Lifting weights definitely doesn’t make women bulky; it will help us get to our goals. Weight training has given my physique a complete overall and I have never felt more confident. Since seeing progress from weight training I have focused more on the foods I put into my body. I have been able to increase my calorie intake while still achieving weight loss and muscle building goals. We need calories to fuel our bodies. Weight training has been the most prevalent factor in my overall body transformation success.”
“Since I started incorporating more strength training into my workouts, instead of only cardio, my overall health has changed immensely!! Before April of 2016? All I was doing was running 3-4 times a week, 10-15 miles total. I’ve tried other forms of cardio but never really known how or where to start with more strength training. I met, a now dear friend, who I introduced me to HIIT workouts where much of the strength exercises was with my own body weight, and just a few hand weights. I was amazed at how many workouts you can do at home with so little equipment!
She started me on a few at home workout programs like the 21 Day Fix, and Bikini Body Guide. I started training every day and started counting my macros. As the weeks went on I upped my weights and the movements got more difficult, but I was able to do them because I was gaining muscle and getting stronger!! After about 2 months of consistent strength training I decided to add in a few running days and work on my speed. I was amazed to find out that I could maintain a 7:45 min mile for 3 miles, and 8:15 for 10 miles!! I could really tell my training was improving my running and making my body strong enough to run faster than I had ever ran before, and all while running less than half of how much I ran before!
A few months after that, I had stopped running and went back to just strength training exercises. I entered a trail running race, which I love trail running!! And I won 1st place out of all the women!!! The whole time I kept thinking, I’m stronger at this because of all those weighted squats I’ve been doing!!!
I’ve recently joined a gym and have started taking classes there, many if not all, focus on strength training and or cardio at the same time. I’m so glad I’ve figured out that just doing cardio will not help me reach my goals of leaning out, cutting fat and gaining muscle!! It’s all about getting your heart rate up while lifting weights or using your own body weight to build muscle and lean out!!
I definitely feel like a new person!! Other than just my clothes fitting better, I feel better! I’m happy, I have more energy, I’m taking better care of myself and my family. My confidence in myself has improved immensely as I become stronger and each new goals that I never thought I could.”
“All my life I have struggled with my weight and I would have such a hard time losing anything just to gain it right back. My frustration led to me giving up in the past. After having my daughter I found myself at my heaviest weight yet and knew I had to make a change.
I had never worked strength training into my workout routines before because I thought lifting would make me bulky and muscular but my fiance convinced me to give it a try. I was amazed as I watched my body tighten and tone up in ways I never thought possible!
I run at least a mile a day or walk, and strength train 4 times a week for a half hour by lifting weights, using resistance bands, and incorporating yoga into my workouts. In just 3 months I have lost 32 pounds and for the first time in my life I can run! I want women to know strength training will help burn fat and tone your body!”
“I’ve been struggling with overcoming obesity for years, on 12/28/2015 at my highest weight of 250. I told myself, enough is enough, I am going to push to consistently keep strength training and eat right, to reach a healthy weight and to continue maintaining my health. I did this with the understanding that life happens and regardless, I’m going to keep pushing. In the first three months I lost 30 pounds.
Strength training has helped improve my health and sculpt my body in ways I never would have ever imagined. Dr Miami is not the only person that can sculpt bodies to desired looks. Strength training gives you the POWER to change your body physique and be empowered by your health that cannot be achieve with just cardio alone.
I can go on and on with the benefits of strength training and eating right, if you want to truly make a positive impact on your emotional, physical, and mental health, strength training is the way to go bottom line.
Here some tips that helped me along the way:
Do your research on strength training exercises and how to train safely AND EFFECTIVELY with machines and weights at the gym or at home.
Remember Rome wasn’t built in a day; your body won’t be either. It takes time, stay consistent.
Make sure you start off slow and gradually progress training weights over time to consistently get results safely.
Plan, Prep, For Progress. Make sure you write down your fitness, health goals and training progress.
80% food+ 20% exercise= 100% weight loss success!”
Now that you have a better idea about all that free weights entail, what are you waiting for? Set some goals and start today, you’ll be amazed what a little iron can do for your body.