Don't fear the free weights.Despite the popularity of classes such as Body Pump and circuits, many women are still afraid to venture into the free weights section of the gym, notes London-based strength coach Sally Moss. This is a mistake though, as not only is free-weight training an effective high-intensity way to burn fat, it can be fun and boost your confidence too. As an introduction to free-weight training, perform two full body workouts with free weights each week.
Lower Body Moves
The squat and deadlift are queens of lower-body free weight moves. All squatting variations target the quadriceps muscles on the front of your legs, while deadlifting works your hamstrings and glutes. Regular squats involve holding a barbell across your back and squatting as low as you can. You can also perform front squats with the bar across the front of your shoulders, hold dumbbells instead or even substitute in single-leg squats and lunges. The same goes for deadlifts -- conventional deadlifts involve picking up a barbell from the floor until you're standing straight. Any type of deadlift variation is fine though, according to strength coach Nia Shanks, so try stiff-legged, wide-stance sumo or deadlifts with a trap bar.
Upper Body Moves
Split your upper-body exercises into pushing movements and pulling movements. Pushes work your chest, shoulders and triceps and include bench presses, dumbbell presses and overhead presses. For pulling moves that hit your back, biceps and traps, focus on dumbbell or barbell rows. You can add in free weight isolation moves for your arms, chest and shoulders too -- these include dumbbell or barbell curls, triceps extensions, flyes and lateral raises, but the basic pressing and rowing movements should be your staples.
The beauty of full-body workouts, and free weights in general, is that you don't need a multitude of exercises to work your whole body. Pick two upper body and two lower body exercises each session, then add in one or two extra moves for weaker body parts if you feel the need to. As for sets and repetitions, the number you do depends on your goal. According to trainer Justin Miller, sets of one to five are best for strength gains, and six to 12 reps for muscle growth. Thirteen or more reps per set is better for beginners and will also build muscular endurance. Switch your rep ranges around by using each range for two to three weeks in turn. You'll need heavier weights for the one to five rep sets, slightly lighter for the sets of six to 12 and lighter still for the highest rep sets.
Benefits and Considerations
If you needed any more persuasion to embrace the barbells and dumbbells, women who train with weights lose significantly more weight than those who just perform aerobics, claims Sarah Richards on the "Fitness" magazine website. Not only that, but lifting weights has functional carryover to everyday tasks, adds women's fitness expert Joan Pagano of the IDEA Health and Fitness Association. Speak with a trainer before starting a free weight program and ask her to assess your technique. You also need the all-clear from your Doctor before embarking on your routine and should take things slowly while you get used to free weights.
Mike Samuels started writing for his own fitness website and local publications in 2008. He graduated from Peter Symonds College in the UK with A Levels in law, business and sports science, and is a fully qualified personal trainer, sports massage therapist and corrective exercise specialist with accreditations from Premier Global International.