Here is a basic free weights workout to help beginners transition from the weight machines to free weights. If you have never used the free weights section of the gym (or are seriously out of practice), these basic free weights exercises will ease you into strengthening your muscles with free weights. (Here’s a quick guide to weightlifting room equipment if you need it.)

Why transition to free weights? While weight machines are good for helping novices begin strength training for the first time, after a few weeks on the machines you will need more variety of muscle movement, or risk becoming both sore & bored. Free weights exercises are “functional”, meaning they more accurately mimic the motions that humans engage in real life, allowing you to move better.

If you need an ongoing workout plan (which is a good idea, you don’t want to be repeating the same workout over & over again) scroll to the bottom of the page for links & details.


Basic Free Weights Workout for Beginners:

Do 3 sets of 8-12 reps for each exercise, or modify this number according to your fitness level.


  • Bench Press (chest & arms): Lay on a flat or incline bench press station. Grip the barbell at shoulder-width, bring it down to your chest, then push back up to full arm extension.
  • Military Press (shoulders & arms): Done either sitting or standing, hold either a barbell or two dumbbells at shoulder-height. Press the weight up & overhead to full arm extension, then lower the weight back down to your starting position.
  • Barbell Row (arms & back): Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and grip the barbell with your arms close to the outside of each leg. Bend your knees slightly, and lean the torso forward from the hips to initiate the starting position. From there, pull the barbell up to your chest, then let it back down to a hang.


  • Deadlift (pretty much everything): Begin with your feet hip-width apart, standing in front of a barbell that is resting on the ground. Bend your knees & hinge forward at the hips to grip the barbell, then straighten your knees and stand upright, bringing the barbell off the ground. It is important to keep your back straight, and the barbell close to your legs while deadlifting.
  • Decline sit up (abs): Lay with your back against a decline bench, holding a small dumbbell in each hand. Place your hands where you feel comfortable for sit ups (across the chest, behind the head), and perform your sit-ups as you normally would.


  • Back Squat (glutes, legs, core): At the squat rack, place the barbell over your shoulders, squeezing your shoulder blades together to make a “shelf” for the weight with your upper back. Holding that in place, bend your knees and squat to parallel or below parallel, then rise back up.
  • Power Clean (legs, core): Begin the lift with a deadlift movement, bringing the barbell from the ground up to a standing position. Then, with the help of a hip-thrust, bring the weight up to your shoulders, rotating your hands & arms underneath the bar, and catching it with a slight dip in the knees.
  • Lunges (glutes, hamstrings, quads): Stand and hold a dumbbell in each hand, with your arms at your sides. Step forward with one foot, bending your front leg to a 90 degree angle, lowering yourself down until your back knee lightly brushes the floor before standing up.

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Categories: Tips