How to Use Free Weights Effectively

Do you ever look over to the free weight section in your gym and wonder what everyone uses them for?

I used to do that too, until I learned how effective they can be.

Once I learned how to use free weights and implemented them into my workout effectively, my gains improved dramatically. After just 1 month of using free weights in my routine my max went up on all my lifts, especially my bench max. But more on that later.

So lets break it down, what exactly are these magical free weights and why is it so important for you to use them?

Why are free weights so effective?

In short, the use of free weights promotes the use of more of your muscles than a machine does. If you are looking to build strength and improve your lifting overall then free weights are almost a necessity.

For example, say you have been working your chest on only machines (i.e chest press, etc) and are feeling pretty strong. Let’s say you can push out about 5 reps of 150 lbs on the machine. Well, when you decide to go throw up some weight on the barbell bench press or dumbbell bench press (both free weight exercises), you will be hard pressed to find yourself lifting that same amount of weight even for just one rep.

After the weight comes crashing back down on your chest you’ll realize that you actually were not as strong as you thought you were. There’s several reasons for this less than pleasant wake up call…

When you’re using strictly machines in the gym, your body is not recruiting the same muscles that it uses when you do similar exercises with free weights. When you are barbell benching you use various smaller muscles in your chest, shoulders, triceps and even your back to balance the weight effectively. When you are on a machine none of this comes into play and you will notice this difference quite quickly.

Considering the fact that the overall purpose of lifting in general is to be a stronger/more fit individual, most things you lift outside of the gym are “free” weight. This is where the balance and the strength and the smaller muscle groups comes into play. You won’t find that on all those machines you’ve been using.

The same is true with dumbbell benching. However, you may find that it’s even more of a struggle than barbell benching. That’s because dumbbell benching isolates your chest muscles and all the other smaller muscle groups even more than barbell benching does. You should be rotating between both exercises in your workout routine but we’ll talk more about that later.

Example free weight workouts

Well now that we know how effective the use of free weights are, let’s look at some common and highly effective free weight workouts.

Barbell Bench Press:

This is probably the most common free weight exercise you will come by. Everyone who’s new to the gym loves to default to this staple lift. It’s not a bad lift and if done correctly can definitely get you some serious results.

Compared with a machine chest press, the barbell bench is a much better choice and will dramatically increase your strength and fitness overall.

However, don’t limit yourself to only the bench press on your chest days. There are several other extremely effective workouts, which leads us to our next workout…

Dumbbell Bench Press:

An often forgotten or less known chest workout is the dumbbell bench press. This is one of the MOST effective workouts you do for your chest if done properly.

The reason it’s so effective is the amount of control required to perform this lift. With this lift (even more so than barbell) the balance and control needed is immense. This may sound daunting and painful but the results are often phenomenal.

After a few weeks of dumbbell benching, you’ll find that not only do you have more control when you lift but your bench will likely increase dramatically just from doing this one lift.

Decline Dumbbell Press:

Notice I said “dumbbell” not barbell. Although barbell decline is a good lift many people forget that you can get the same -if not better- of a workout out with dumbbells.

It will feel weird at first and might even give you a slight hanging sensation, but once you get past it you’ll get a solid chest workout that others may not know about.

This lift will really work that lower chest and give you some nice pecs. Have fun with them and work on that balance.

Implementing these workouts into your routines

The workouts I outlined above are great, but you have to know how to implement them into your current workout effectively.

However, it’s hard to give you a predefined way to do this because everyones body is different. The most important part is to try them out and see how your body adjusts to them.

Once you get a feel for your body and how it reacts to different workouts, move certain lifts around (i.e doing them after using bands or other chest workouts) and see what your optimal routine is.

Once you find what works for your body, stick to it for a few weeks and go hard. You’ll start to see results and improvements in strength almost immediately.

Just keep in mind this is a trial and error process and may take a couple of workouts before you figure out what’s best for you.


As far as lifting goes, free weights should never be overlooked. Don’t not try things because they look hard, or difficult to do or learn. Often times those are the things you need to do most because that is what usually gets you results.

There is no way around training hard to get results. You have to train hard and on a consistent basis to get the results you desire. Don’t rush things and let your body heal after each workout.

Stay strong.


3 thoughts on “How to Use Free Weights Effectively”

  1. Hey Brodie,

    Great article, dumbbell bench press has been a staple in my workout program for the last decade, really can’t beat it. Do you generally see better results from decline or incline DB bench press?


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.