As a new gym goer, you need to quickly familiarize yourself with different types of weights in a gym.
There are lots of different types of weights in the gym, and each one has its own benefits and downsides that should all be taken into account when you’re picking your exercises. Here we’re gonna do a quick overview of all the different weights you may encounter, and how you should use each one to achieve your fitness goals.
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The barbell is the most common piece of equipment used in resistance training. The reason for its popularity is based on its versatility. You can properly work your entire body using just a barbell.
Versatility With Different Bars
When most people think of a barbell, they are just thinking of a standard Olympic Barbell. A standard barbell is great, but there are several specialty bars that can also be used for your unique goals.
Traps Bar: Trap or Hex bars are unique in that they allow you to take a neutral grip while standing in the bar. This really helps to take some of the strain on your lower back while doing deadlifts.
EZ Bar: EZ or curl bars are bars that are curved in the middle. The curves allow you to take a more slanted grip that is much easier on your wrists and elbows. These bars are great for isolation work on your arms by doing curls and skull crushers.
Swiss Bar: The Swiss or Football bar is a barbell that has a variety of grip laddered through it. These bars allow you to take a neutral grip during presses to get some variation or help with wrist pain.
Safety Squat Bar: The safety bar is a bar that has arms to come across your shoulders while squatting. In simple terms, the change in bars shifts your center of gravity so that you can a greater depth during squats.
Lift Heavier Weights
Barbells will allow to lift the most weight in the gym. Simply put, a barbell allows your body to be very rigid which in turn allows you to lift more weight. Compared to other free weights, a barbell requires less stabilization.
Not Very Adaptable To Your Body
The problem with barbells is that they cannot really do much to adapt to your body. For people with longer limbs or injuries, the fixed style of barbell training can feel limiting.
Barbell Bicep Curls
Next we have dumbbells. Dumbbells are compact weights usually ranging from 5-100 pounds in any gym. Much like barbells, they are very versatile and can be used to work every muscle in the body.
For exercises like curls, presses, rows, etc you will find that you are working each side of your body individually. The benefit of this isolation is that you can address muscular imbalances and prevent the development of new ones.
Furthermore, the ability to focus on one side at a time allows for a greater mind-muscle connection. If you think about movements like the bench press, you can bring the dumbbell across your body for a maximal contraction on your pec.
Adaptable To Your Body
Since dumbbells are compact, you can control exactly how they move through space during your exercises. Unlike barbells, you can better customize the path of the weight to suit your mobility and body. For example, many taller lifters find dumbbells to be more suitable for pressing.
Hard To Lift Heavy
As you start to get stronger and bigger, the dumbbells will also get bigger. For exercises like the dumbbell chest press or shoulder press, it can be very hard to get the dumbbells in place for your set. Even if you do get them placed, the energy drain is just not optimal for an intense set.
As we already you we already touched on, you have more control over dumbbells and their movement. The cost of this though is that your stabilization muscles have to do a lot more work. As a result, you simply cannot lift as much weight with dumbbells.
For example, if you can bench press 200 pounds, you may think that you can press 100 pounds in each hand. In reality, you can probably only use around 60-70 pounds per hand.
This really only applies to home gym owners but dumbbells can be expensive. If you really want to incorporate dumbbells into your training, you will need a wide range of them since dumbbell exercises require a wide range of weights to hit your entire body.
Dumbbell Chest Press
Dumbbell Skull Crushers
No matter which barbell you use, you will also need to use weight plates to add weight to the bar. Weight plates usually come in the following sizes: 2.5lb, 5lb, 10lb, 25lb, 35lb, and 45lb. There are two basic types of plates you should be aware of:
Standard Metal Plates: These are the ones most commonly found in any commercial gym. These are fine to use for any barbell exercise.
Olympic Weight Plates: These are specialty plates that can be found in premium gyms. These plates tend to be thinner and better suited for absorbing drops to the ground. If you are going to do Olympic lifts or any lift that requires you to be very explosive, you will want to opt for these plates. As a side note to home gym owners, Olympic/bumper plates also tend to cause less floor damage as well.
Ease Of Progressive Overload
Plates are by far the easiest way to progressively overload in strength training. Even if you are benching 300 pounds, you can add 2.5 lbs to each side and continue to slowly get stronger and stronger over time.
This again only really applies to home gym owners but a full-weight plate set can easily run you over a thousand dollars. Especially if you are going for the premium Olympic weight plate
Medicine balls are usually between 14-25 inches in diameter and between 2 and 40 pounds in weight. These are more unconventional and usually used for core exercises or conditioning work.
Good for core and conditioning work
Not heavy enough to build strength as a barbell/dumbbell can
Hard to grip for some exercises
Kettlebells are similar to dumbbells in terms of their weight range and use. They are usually used for dynamic movements or circuit training.
Usually inexpensive compared to other weights
Great for quick home workouts
Good for building explosivity
Applicable for dynamic/athletic movements
Harder to grip and maintain balance than dumbbells
Easy to lose control and use it incorrectly
Kettlebell Goblet Squat
Fixed Weight Bars
The next thing you see in the gym is a fixed-weight barbell. These come as either just straight barbells or as an EZ bar. These are very convenient since they already have a set weight you don’t have to waste time selling them up or getting everything ready. I find that these work best for movements that do not require much weight. Personally, I only use these for my arms for things like curls, tricep extensions, or skull crushers.
Great for isolation exercises targeting your arms
Some gyms have their fixed weight bars jump in 10 pounds increments which can make it hard to overload your muscles easily
Dip Belt or Pull Up Belt
Dip belts are weightlifting belts with a chain or bands meant for holding weight. These are most commonly used to make traditional bodyweight exercises harder. Most people reach a point where a regular pull-up or dip is too easy, the dip helps to continue making progress on these lifts.
Great for making bodyweight exercises more challenging
Can be uncomfortable on your waist with heavier weights
Can only really be used on traditional bodyweight movements
Another type of weight that you may encounter is weighted vests. These are a bit bulkier and serve the purpose of adding weight to cardio or traditional bodyweight exercises.
Can make cardio more challenging
Good for overloading on bodyweight exercises
Great for circuit training
Can be too bulky for properly doing exercises with
Need to be washed after workouts
Gym machines are great pieces of equipment that are highly adjustable. These are either plate or pin loaded. The benefit of machines is that you can really slow a movement down to completely isolate and feel the muscle you are working. Machines also require less mobility and coordination to operate. They are “idiot proof” if you will. While great, it is also important to consider using free weights as well to develop a proper weight-lifting form.
Good for isolation work
Easy to “feel” muscles for mind-muscle connection
Adjustability allows for intensity techniques like drop sets
Do not develop a proper weightlifting technique
Cannot overload muscles with as much weight as you can with barbell exercises
Common Gym Machines
Which Weights Should I Use?
If you’re doing powerlifting, you’re going to be doing the majority of your lifting with a straight barbell since the main powerlifting movements like the squat and bench are performed with a barbell. You can use machines and dumbbells for isolation or recovery work, but everything should be done in the pursuit of improving your barbell exercises.
In terms of bodybuilding, this is really an arena where you can choose whatever you like. Generally, you will probably have a mix of barbell, dumbbell, and machine work but what is important is that you like and connect with every exercise that you do. If you find a chess press machine that you really like then use it every chest day. Similarly, if you REALLY feel your chest during a barbell bench press then focus on that every chest day.
Circuit training is fast and dynamic so I can really see the appeal. Since you are primarily going to be doing conditioning work, I would stick to lighter for adjustable free weights. Thinks like dumbbells, kettlebells, and medicine balls all work great here.
For calisthenics, I know the purpose is to mostly just use your body weight. However, you will eventually reach a point where the hardest exercises become too easy to do with just your body weight. If you want to continue making progress at the same rate, you should be starting to add weight where you can. Using a dip belt on pull-ups/dips or a weighted vest for push-ups are a great place to start.
Benefits Of Weight Training
If you are wondering why you should even consider taking up a weight training program, there are some amazing benefits that you should be aware of.
Easier To Lose Or Maintain Weight
The more muscle mass you have, the more calories your body burns it is as simple as that. People with more muscle mass who actively train, can be less strict with their diets and eat more food as a result.
Improved Bone Health
Lifting weights will improve your bone density. As you get older, your bones become more likely to develop diseases like osteoporosis. Lifting weights has been proven time and time again to improve bone density and prevent disease.
Better Quality Of Life
You will also notice a general improvement in the quality of your life. Weightlifting has been proven to reduce stress, improve your sleep, and help you increase your energy. Not to mention the feeling of accomplishing something and improving your physique, will just make you feel more confident overall.
As people get older, injuries from everyday tasks become more and more common. By moving different types of free weights around in your training you will strengthen your muscles and tendons making them less likely to tear during mundane tasks.
Weight training is one of the best ways to get your body in shape and one of the best things you can do for your overall health. There are limitless amounts of weight in the gym. Each one has its own specific benefits that you should take it into account, but the bottom line is to pick whatever type of weight you enjoy using and just build a consistent routine around that.
There is no best type but barbells and dumbbells usually allow for the most versatility and ease of use.
You should get a barbell if you can only get one. They are easier to store and allow you to be more specific with the weight you use.