by Lesley Maxwell

As exercise trends come and go, one thing is for certain and that is the reliability of a free-weight exercise routine for achieving great results.

Why free weights? Apart from the convenience factor, there are many great reasons for choosing to do a free-weight routine.  After all, you can do a full body workout with just a few dumbbells and without even leaving the house.

Stabilise yourself! Free weights force you to use more of your stabiliser muscles as well as your major muscle groups. These are the smaller muscles that come into play that help you to balance the weight and can help you to build more overall strength.  Your stabiliser muscles are crucial for major muscle groups to produce the most force which means that you’re recruiting more muscles than for a machine-based workout. It makes sense to say that free-weight exercises cause you to burn many calories during your workout because so many muscles are used to provide balance and stability.

Do you overcompensate?  Another benefit of training with free weights is your body can’t cheat!  This can often happen on machine weights where one side of your body can overcompensate for the other. You may have one stronger leg or arm which is working extra hard on machine weights and overcompensating for your weaker side without you even realising it! This can leave one side of your body stronger and more developed.  Free weights result in a more symmetric muscle growth.

It sounds like a bore working your core but… your core muscles stabilise and support ALL of your movements! So without a good core or ‘midsection’ we are lost!  These are the deep abdominal and back muscles that work as stabilisers for your entire body.  Although you cannot see them (unlike a pretty six-pack) they do all of the work so they definitely deserve some care and attention, too.  Without conditioned stabiliser muscles you are at risk of injury even from simple movements which could then hold you back from your regular training.  Training on a Fitball will ensure that your core muscles come into play as they are needed for balance, especially if you are doing your weight workout with one. Even if you are just sitting on a fit ball you are going to improve your posture; try it for a good change. There are many exercises you can perform using a fit ball and here are just a few.


Dumbbell squat

This simple exercise works almost every muscle in your lower body at the same time and burns lots of calories, too. It is definitely one of my all-time favourite exercises.

You can begin with Fitball squats against the wall if you are a beginner and progress to weighted squats when you are ready.

Start by standing with your feet hip width apart and holding the dumbbells on your shoulders.  Lower your body as if to sit in a chair, keeping your weight in your heels until your thighs are parallel to the floor while breathing in. Ensure that your knees never go past your toes. Now, while breathing out, push through your heels and squeeze your glutes to return to starting position. 



Lunge your way to toned thighs and glutes. Lunges are a very effective way to tone your hamstrings and glutes. The longer your stride, the more this exercise will target this area.

Stand tall and holding a dumbbell in each hand. Take a large step forward with your right leg and raise your left heel off the ground, ensuring that your left foot is on its toes. Now, while breathing in, slowly lower your body in a straight line until your right knee is at a right angle. Ensure that your knee does not pass over your toes.  Slowly rise back to starting position while breathing out.


Dumbbell Row

Hold a dumbbell in your left hand while placing your right hand and right knee on a bench or Fitball.  Ensure your left foot is firmly planted on the floor. Let your left hand hang down by your side and keep your core muscles tight.

While breathing out, pull the dumbbell up and slightly back towards your hip. Now breathe out slowly and bring the dumbbell back to starting position and repeat your desired number of reps.


Dumbbell Chest Press

This is quite a challenging exercise, especially on a Fitball. Great for your core muscles, too!

With a dumbbell in each hand, lie face-up (supine position) on a bench or Fitball and hold the dumbbells in line with your chest.  If you are using a Fitball, place your feet flat on the floor and activate your core muscles.

While breathing out, push the dumbbells up to almost fully extend your arms and gently touch the weights together at the top of the movement. While breathing in, slowly lower the dumbbells back to the starting position and repeat desired number of reps.


Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Hold a dumbbell in each hand and stand with your feet hip width apart and your knees slightly soft.  While keeping your abs and core muscles tight, bring the dumbbells up to your shoulders as this is your starting position.

Now, while breathing out, raise the dumbbells above your head and gently touch them together at the top of the movement. Allow a brief pause before bringing the dumbbells back to your starting position while breathing in. I always ensure the dumbbells touch my shoulders in between reps to allow for a full range of motion.


Biceps Curls    

Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing forward and your hands by your sides. Your feet should be hip width apart and your knees slightly soft. Tighten your core muscles and you are ready to begin.

Keep your elbows close to your sides and, while breathing out, bring the dumbbells towards your shoulders in a slow and controlled manner. No swinging is allowed as it is always about maintaining perfect technique. Hold that position for a moment while you squeeze your biceps at the top of the movement. Now, while breathing out, slowly return the dumbbell to the starting position and repeat your desired number of reps.

For variation you can also perform ‘dumbbell 21s’. This is where you perform seven reps within the first half of the movement followed by another seven reps at the higher end of the movement.  Finally, the last seven reps are with a full range of motion, hence the name ‘21s’. It is a great way to fatigue your biceps!