Having spent the last 20 years doing weight training four days a week, I have started thinking more and more like the veteran weightlifters that took me under their wing two decades ago.
Back then, I had very little experience in the fitness arena and they greatly assisted me with their guidance.
They would tell me what I should be eating, how much I should be sleeping, and how I should be ingesting a gram of protein per pound of bodyweight daily to put on the most muscle mass possible. At the time, some advice I listened to, other times I did not.
As an example, I would love to take in 225 grams of protein a day, but my appetite won’t allow me to. I also didn't listen to their suggestion to wear those baggy weightlifting pants that used to be so popular. I wanted to workout, not look like MC Hammer.
However, most of their advice was definitely worth listening to. And now that I am older, I take it to heart. Their guidance has become invaluable. One piece of information they imparted to me was to leave the weight machines alone and stick with the free weights.
There are several reasons behind this thinking, and once you hear more about it, there is a good chance you will be doing fewer machines and more free weight workout routines.
Free Weight Workout Routines for Balance and Coordination
When you are using a weight machine, your pathway is pretty much set in stone. It is an isolation movement. You perform the reps just following the path that the machine allows.
For instance, think of the seated overhead press machine or the bicep curl machine. With both of these, you are unable to add any variation to the exercise.
With a free weight workout routine, there are several options that can be added to the exercise. Plus, you will be using more muscle interaction because the weights will not be supported at all by a machine. Your stabilizer muscles will be firing away, and this will not happen when you use a weight machine. Your exercise routine is severely limited.
Free Weight Workout Routines with Compound Movements
Compound movement exercises simply mean that you are training more than one muscle group at a time.
These can only be completed through free weight workout routines I cannot think of one machine that could offer a solid compound movement exercise.
Weight machines usually just focus on one or two muscle groups at a time. Compound movements are more for the whole body at once.
For instance, with free weights, deadlifts will strengthen every muscle in your legs, back, lats, and traps. In addition, it improves grip strength greatly. Next time your wife asks you to open a stuck jar of pickles, it will be your chance to shine.
Working more muscle groups through compound movements will make your muscles grow like never before. Be ready when your sleeves get tighter for the derisive comments about how you only wear small shirts now.
More Muscle Less Fat
Here is something that you might have forgotten from your high school science class: Muscle burns calories even while resting. There is a reason that bodybuilders can take in 6,000 calories a day and still look good.
Their muscle mass is acting like a furnace for the fat and extra calories in their body. They can consume all of that food every day because their muscles use it effectively and burn the rest off.
We already established that using a free weight workout routine will allow for greater compound movement exercises.
This type of training will then activate more muscles groups, which will lead to an increase of lean muscle mass. Your new found muscle will be burning away those excess calories and will force you to wear a belt when wearing your old jeans because your waist size will be shrinking. This will all happen just because you switched to free weight workouts.
Below are a few free weight workout routines that can get you started on your way. I have split them up into focusing on certain muscle groups to assist you. Now you can have a biceps and triceps day, leg day, chest day, and back and shoulders day during the week using only free weights.
Free Weight Workout Routine for Biceps and Triceps
If you ask women what they first notice about a guy, they might give you some sort of answer like “his eyes” or “his smile.”
The only reason they are focusing on those things is usually because the guy does not have impressive arms.
If you have bulging biceps and horseshoe triceps sticking out from your shirt sleeves, they will be lying if they say that is not what they are noticing first.
Luckily for you, there are many free weight workout routines for your bis and tris that will have them pumped up in no time.
I usually find three or four different exercises for each muscle group provides a great workout. I also tend to complete three to four sets for each exercise for eight to twelve reps each. Keep this in mind when you are following this routine.
Standing Dumbbell Curls: Nothing fancy about this exercise. Grab a pair of dumbbells and start to alternately curl with them. Be sure to keep your feet shoulder width apart to provide stability. You can either do them the normal way with the palm of your hands facing forward or do hammer curls with the palm of your hands facing your sides.
Curl Bar: You will be able to find in your gym a bar that is about four feet long and has a couple bends in it. It may look a bit odd to you, but this is a curl bar that you may use for your bicep exercises. Clamp some free weights on the ends and start curling. You will notice that most bicep exercises are very similar. When you are basically pulling something towards you, you are working your biceps.
Curl in the Squat Rack with the Straight Bar: If you ever tell anyone that I said it was okay to do arm exercises in the squat rack, I will deny it with my last breath. However, I have a few friends that are freakishly strong, and they love to do curls with the straight bar and a couple plates on each side. As for me, curling with the straight bar really hurts my forearms, so I try to avoid them. But they may work well for you!
Seated Dumbbell Curls: Take a seat on a bench in the gym with proper back support. Have the dumbbells hanging down at your side and then alternately curl with them. It is amazing how sitting down while doing these can work muscles differently.
Dips: Anytime you are pushing something away from you, it is working your triceps.
You will find that you probably will end up working your triceps more than any muscle in your body just because you incorporate then into chest and shoulders as well.
Dips are really a compound movement that does not receive enough credit as a full body workout. While they are making your triceps grow, they are also working your core, shoulders, lats, and chest.
There are no free weights used with this exercise unless you want to hang them around your waist as you do them to add more difficulty. Dips will use your own body weight to make your muscles grow quickly.
Skull Crushers: This exercise is relatively safe, so don’t be scared away by the name of it. There is only like a 5 percent chance of actually getting your skull crushed. Lay down on a bench with the curl bar that you used for biceps.
You should be in the same position that you are when you bench press. But this time when you raise the bar over the top of you, bend your elbows and slowly lower the bar to the top of your forehead. Once you get accustomed to these and your balancing is good, you can start adding weight to the bar.
Kickbacks: Kickbacks are not just illegal payments to politicians; they're also a good triceps exercise.
The illustration to the right shows how you should position your body and do this exercise.
It is called a kickback because you slowly straighten out the arm holding the dumbbell behind you.
Free Weight Workout Routine for the Chest
I usually do about four to five different exercises when training my chest. That will be between 15 and 20 sets, and if you do them correctly, you will achieve good growth. If you are just beginning this type of training routine, do not be disappointed if you need to start with light weight. Once you get your balance down, you will be able to start adding more weight quickly.
Flat Barbell Bench Press: This is the mother of all exercises in the gym. No matter what, everyone does the bench press.
It is with good reason though. It trains your shoulders a bit, your chest, and your triceps. Always have someone spotting you if you are trying for more weight than you have ever used before.
I’ve seen guys that could not bench the weight they had on the bar, so they end up eating it. I’m sure 300 pounds on the neck does not feel good.
Dumbbell Flat Flyes: Grab a pair of lighter dumbbells to begin with and lay down on the bench. You can add more weight later on once you get the movement down. Your form should be like you are trying to hug a tree. Keep your arms bent and bring them together in front of you.
Incline Dumbbell Bench Press: I like incline dumbbell presses better than using the bar with free weights, and I am not the only one. Using the bar during incline on bench can leave your shoulders hurting. While quite a few do not have this problem, I definitely do. Using dumbbells instead saves my shoulders from aching later on.
Incline Dumbbell Flyes: While you have already done the flat flyes, changing it to incline works different parts of the chest. Many people skip dumbbell flyes and just do the standing cable machine flyes instead. I feel more stretching and pump when doing dumbbell flyes though.
Free Weight Workout Routine for the Back and Shoulders
Some people like to do back and shoulders the same day during their workout. I feel as if these exercises work a bit of both, so I knock it out in one day. Other people may do back and biceps together or shoulders and triceps. It all comes down to preference. After all, some people like Coke and others like Pepsi. It doesn't mean that anyone is wrong.
Standing Military Press: This is a forgotten compound movement that you don’t see nearly enough in the gym anymore. When a person does this exercise, they are working out almost all the muscles in their body. Do these in the squat rack for added safety.
Shrugs: While you are still in the squat rack, complete a few sets of shrugs as well. Not only does it work your traps, but your back as well. Plus, you are standing while you are doing these, so your legs may feel it, too.
Pull-Ups: Once again, while this usually does not require any extra weight, you may always add weight plates around your waist as you get stronger to make it more difficult. These will give you the puffed out lats and the V-shape that most people like.
Bent Over Barbell Rows: These may take a bit to get the form down, but they work you back well. While you do these, try squeezing your shoulder blades together. You will also find that these work a bit of your biceps also.
Dumbbell Lateral Raise: These will really train your delts well, but don’t get carried away. Far too many people go with a much heavier weight than what they should. Instead of improving your shoulders, you could end up needing rotator cuff surgery.
Stick with lighter weight and proper form. Leave the ego lifting to the others.
Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press: I tend to finish my back and shoulders workout with this exercise. Since it is seated, it adds another dimension to your routine. You will still be training your shoulders, traps, triceps, and your core with the seated dumbbell shoulder press.
Legs with Free Weights
As you become more familiar with training with free weights, you must not forget one of the ten gym commandments: Thou shalt not forsake leg day. I realize that wearing skinny jeans is in fashion right now, but this is one fashion statement I won’t be joining anytime soon.
Squats: There is nothing fancy about squats, but be sure to keep your form tight. Don’t try going heavier than what you should. Instead, focus on the full range. If you aren’t comfortable with squats, slide a bench underneath you. Once your bottom hits the bench, you know you have gone down far enough. Squatting is a compound movement and is almost a full body workout.
Deadlifts: While these can be completed on your back and shoulders day, they also incorporate a bit of legs into them. I save these for the end of my legs workout. Remember to keep your form otherwise you may hurt your back more than help it.
Calf Raises: Tiny calves can haunt even the toughest men. Even if you can’t get them to grow much, at least make them as strong as possible.
I Rest My Case
You just read a free weight workout routine that will help you build quality muscle fast. But here is the toughest thing about it. It does require you to make a commitment. I realize making a commitment is not usually a strong point for most guys. However, by just working out four days a week for about an hour each time, you will totally transform your current body.
Writer, The Fit Father Project
Ryan is a fitness expert from Illinois with two decades of experience under his belt. Never one to turn down a challenge, he has taken every class any gym has to offer, even the Dance Kickboxing class. If 70s disco dance music starts playing, everybody should run for cover. You have never lived until you have kicked somebody in the head to Dancing Queen.
*Please know that weight loss results & health changes/improvements vary from individual to individual; you may not achieve similar results. Always consult with your doctor before making health decisions. This is not medical advice – simply very well-researched info on free weight workout routines.