Tips for Using Free Weights

Free weights are bars with weights on each end. The long bars are called barbells, and the short bars are called dumbbells. It takes two hands to hoist a barbell. You can lift a dumbbell with one hand, although you may do some exercises using two hands on a single dumbbell.

At most gyms, you find a wide array of dumbbells, lined up from lightest, usually 3 pounds, to heaviest, as much as 200 pounds. At larger gyms, you also find a selection of bars with plates welded to each end, starting with 20 pounds and increasing in 10-pound increments.

You can use dumbbells for hundreds of exercises. [Credit: Photograph by Sunstreak Productions, Inc.]
Credit: Photograph by Sunstreak Productions, Inc.
You can use dumbbells for hundreds of exercises.

Virtually every gym has bars without weight plates on each end. The long bar (also called an Olympic bar) alone usually weighs 45 pounds. To increase the poundage, you slide weight plates — round plates with a hole through the center — to each end. You then secure the plates with clips called collars. An assortment of these weight plates, typically from 2.5 pounds to 45 pounds, sits on a rack near the bars. If you want to lift 75 pounds, you add a 10-pound plate and a 5-pound plate to each side of the 45-pound bar. After you finish, be sure to remove these plates and put them back in their proper place.

Anyone using free weights needs to be very careful, even with light weights. Here are a few other tips to make free-weight training safe and fun:

  • If you’re using very heavy weights, enlist a spotter. A spotter is particularly helpful when you graduate to a heavier weight. You can enlist help from a health-club staff member; or better yet, ask anyone nearby who doesn’t look too busy. Fill your spotter in on your game plan — mention how many reps you think you can do.

    Spotting the bench press. [Credit: Photograph by Sunstreak Productions, Inc.]
    Credit: Photograph by Sunstreak Productions, Inc.
    Spotting the bench press.
  • Be careful when you lift a weight from a rack and when you put it back. Never pick up a weight off the floor without bending your legs.

  • Never drop the weights carelessly when you’ve completed a set. The loud clang is sure to annoy your fellow lifters, and the weights may roll away and land on someone’s toes.

  • Use two hands when lifting weight plates. Remember that plates are weight, too, and you can just as easily hurt yourself placing a weight on a bar as you can performing an exercise. Don’t attempt to lift a weight plate onto a bar if it’s too heavy for you.