Best Exercises for Free Weights

By Dawn Marcotte , last updated January 29, 2012

Choosing the best exercises for free weights depends on the strength and goals of the individual doing the exercises. Free weight exercises are great for building muscle strength in specific areas. Free weight exercises for the upper body, core and lower body can be combined in a program that adds muscle to the entire body.

Before You Begin

It is important to follow all safety procedures when using free weights. Individuals new to the process should work with a trainer or other experienced person to learn the proper form for each exercise. Proper form is important to avoid injury and get the most out of each exercise. It is also a good idea to consult with a physician before starting any new exercise program to ensure there are not any underlying health issues that would require modification of the exercises. Individuals with arthritis or injuries will want to modify exercises to a level at which they can be done safely.

Upper Body Exercises

This is the most common type of exercise done with free weights. Exercises that you may be familiar with from media such as a bench press or arm curl are only the beginning. It is important to balance exercises so all muscles are used. A workout for the upper arms that includes curls should also include a dumbbell pullover and lateral raise. The pullover will exercise the triceps (muscles on the back of the upper arm) and the lateral raise will exercise the shoulder muscles that connect to both the triceps and biceps. A pullover is done with a small hand weight and swinging the arm back and up as the body is leaning over. A lateral raise is lifting the weight up from the side of the body with straight arms. This process of using groups of exercises together is the best way to add muscle evenly and not strain one particular set of muscles.

Abdominal Exercises

Many people who exercise regularly still struggle with their abdominal strength. They may want to add abdominal weight training to their regular exercise program to help tone this area.

The best free weight exercise for abdominals is the side bend. This uses free weights to exercise the oblique muscles of the abdomen. A side bend is done with a weight in one hand and the other hand on the hip. Bend to the side at the waist toward the weight side and stand up straight again. Another way to exercise these muscles is to add a twist to an upper body exercise such as the overhead raise. In this exercise small hand weights are held in each hand at shoulder height with bent elbows. Lift the weight up over the head one arm at a time and return to the beginning position.

Lower Body Exercises

The most common lower body free weight exercise is the dead lift. This exercise should be done cautiously until the proper body posture is mastered. Make sure to use the legs to lift the weight, not the arms or the back. The squat is a perfect partner to this exercise.

Using free weights is a great way to add muscle strength. The best exercises for free weights will vary by individual, but a trainer or experienced weight lifter can provide guidance and ideas for specific exercises.

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