This is the ultimate guy thing, well it usually is. Now you will find women in the free weight pit. What’s the attraction? You are totally independent with free weights. They are what the name implies.
With freeweights you set your limits and execute it all with a minimum of fuss or accompaniment. Often you see people using freeweights with a “spotter” or buddy who can help you with form, the amount of weight you are using, and comment on how you did.
Freeweights can be just about anything heavy: hand weights (these can go from 1 lb to 100 lbs or more), kettleballs (iron balls with a handle to make them simpler to lift), bars with weights on the end, medicine balls…anything practically. I have seen large concrete balls that look like boulders used in some gyms. The only thing a freeweight really can’t be is a machine, and freeweights are never done in a class, they are very individual.
If you are going to choose freeweights, it is imperative that you are: a) honest with yourself, b) faithful to performing your exercises, c) aware of yourself and your surroundings.
Being honest with yourself has more to do with realizing your limitations, weaknesses, and talents than it does just about anything else. Don’t pick up too little weight because you won’t gain strength. Don’t pick up too much weight because you will hurt yourself and then the game is over for 6-8 weeks and you will lose your momentum. Be critical of your own form and this is where a spotter can help because as much as you think you know how you look when you do something, sometimes you can get quite a surprise.
Being constant is pretty self explanatory. If you miss more than two sessions ask yourself if you are enjoying your free weights or if you are bored and would rather do something more social. Free weights are not right for everyone, and forcing yourself into doing an exercise you hate is not a good idea.
Being aware of yourself and your surroundings means that you will be less likely to hurt yourself or other people. Putting your equipment away can be a pretty dangerous time because you are tired and just want to get the clean up over with. Make sure you are not going to hit someone else or hurt yourself.
Coming up with a good routine is actually pretty easy nowadays. The internet is full of great routines for you to print out and try, there are a boatload of great freeweight routines on apps for your smartphone (iFitness is free and lets you choose from a great variety of muscle groups and routines). You put in your vital statistics, choose a routine you would like to do and click “go”. You even get movies of what they should look like while you are doing them (the exercises that is). They tell you the reps you need to perform, how many more you need to do during the course of your development, and let you record your progress.
Again, please know you cannot “spot develop” one muscle. If you are working on, say, your biceps you are going to be working out your shoulders, triceps, lats, and back muscles, too. All muscles work in groups, that is what they are meant to do. So if you think you are developing big biceps and your shoulders are not as equally large…try working on exercises which target the shoulder as the main beneficiary of the exercise but know that the other muscles will be going along for the ride. Oh, and sometimes you think one muscle needs developing and you realize that you were looking at it unclenched, and sometimes you are just unlucky to have that one muscle always being smaller than you would like. Normally, it just takes a lot of practice and lifting, opinion changing and then one day you ARE surprised and happily so.
Also, please please please don’t talk about “toning” your muscles. You either develop them or not, there isn’t much middle ground here. Whether you are a man or a woman, it is almost impossible to overdevelop your muscles. To do that you would have to spend an inordinate time at the gym and resort to some chemical supplement which is not recommended (Arnold Schwarzenegger had a heart operation way too early in his life and that leads me to believe that his muscle bound appearance was based on something other than hi reps, not worth it and most people just end up looking odd rather than wonderful).
If anyone offers to help you “spot tone” thank them and decline. There is no such thing.
Last but not least, please wipe down your equipment after you finish. Most gyms have a spray and paper towel set around for this purpose. I carry a set of alcohol wipes that I tear open and wipe down. Washing your hands real well after your exercises is a great idea. Unfortunately, there have been rumors of bad germs out there and the thought of other folks sweat, skin flakes, and oils is pretty unappetizing. There are times I wipe down my equipment with one alcohol wipe before I start.