What are Free Weights?
Most serious strength trainers prefer free weights because they are inexpensive, readily available, and easily adaptable to almost any movement or muscle action. As opposed to machines, which stabilize the body, free weights demand that you stabilize the body with your muscles. Whole-body dynamic exercises, such as the clean and snatch, are impossible using weight machines. These advanced exercises are popular with serious power athletes.
Free weights include barbells and dumbbells.
Barbells are usually five to seven feet long, with weights placed at both ends, secured by collars. The two most common types of barbells arc standard and Olympic. Specialized barbells are available for doing curls, squats, and rotator-cuff exercises.
Standard barbells vary in length and weight. To determine the total weight you’re lifting, you must know the weight of the bar as well as that of the weight plates at the ends. In general, standard barbells weigh 15 to 30 pounds (without plates).
Olympic barbells are seven feet long, weigh 45 pounds (20 kilograms), and have a rotating sleeve at each end. The finest bars are made of spring steel; these bars bend and recoil during heavy lifts but remain straight after the lift. Poor-quality bars arc often permanently bent when loaded with a lot of weight.
The holes in Olympic weight plates are larger than those in standard plates, so Olympic plates can be used only with Olympic barbells. The most common weight-plate denominations arc 20, 15, 10, 5, and 2.5 kilograms per plate (45, 35, 25, 10, 5, 2 1/2 and 1 1/4 pounds if the set is calibrated in English measurements).
Heavier or lighter plates arc available for weight-lifting contests or leg-press machines. Olympic weight lifters use rubberized plates called “bumper plates” to protect the floor during training or competition. Some new plates contain built-in handles that make the weights easier to manipulate.
Olympic bars have special markings to help you get an even grip. The middle of the bar is typically smooth, but most of the bar is knurled to provide a good grip. Markers toward the end of the bar help you get an even handhold for wide-grip exercises, such as the snatch (an Olympic lift).
Collars are used to prevent the weights from falling off the bar. Collars weigh 2.5 kilograms apiece. A relatively new innovation is the clip collar, which secures the weights tightly and slides easily onto and off the bar.
Dumbbells are much shorter than barbells and are generally held in each hand. They are constructed from various combinations of weight plates or are molded into a particular weight. Most well-equipped gyms have large racks of dumbbells, ranging in weight from 2 1/2 pounds per dumbbell to well in excess of 100 pounds.