Exercises to learn
To develop more confidence and skill to use free weights to strength train we need to start with the most basic exercises. We'll learn about the exercises first, then later we will learn more about the concepts and about figuring out how many sets or repetitions to do.
The squat is my favorite exercise. Bodyweight squats target the greater muscles of the hip and thigh (gluteus, quadriceps, hamstrings).
To begin, place your feet shoulder width apart or slightly wider. Your toes should be pointed slightly outward. Next, squat down until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Be sure to keep a straight posture as you squat. Finally, return to the standing position and repeat the exercise. You should exhale as you stand up. Be sure to perform the squat slowly and with control. Do not bounce out of the squat position. If needed, you can extend your arms out in front of you as it will help with balance.
Here is a link to a video that shows a demonstration of the exercise. Workoutz.com - Bodyweight Squats
Mastering the squat motion is in my opinion the most important thing a person can do if they are looking to improve their workout routine. There are dozens and dozens of variations to this.
The bench press is often used as a measure of a person's strength. I like this because it is one of three exercises that, when done in the same workout, can work the entire body in a short amount of time.
This exercise is great for shaping and strengthening the chest muscles. The chest is scientifically named the pectoralis. This muscle is used any time you push a chair up to the table, shut a car door, or push a shopping cart. There are two muscles that make up the pectoralis. They are the pectoralis major and minor. The pectoralis major is always the prime mover during chest exercises.
The bench press is traditionally done on a flat bench (hence the name), but can also be performed using a variety of workout devices. You can also do this exercise with various forms of weighted resistance. For this example, a weighted straight bar will be used.
To begin, lie down on the bench with your feet flat on the floor. Place your hands on the bar approximately shoulder width apart and hold it straight over your chest. Next, slowly lower the bar to the middle/lower portion of the chest, then push the bar up, just short of locking the elbows. In the fully pressed position, the bar should end up directly over your head. Exhale as you press the weight up.
Here is a link to a video that shows a demonstration of the exercise. Workoutz.com - Bench Press
Here is a link to a video and description of the push-up, which is a close variation to the bench press. Workoutz.com - Push Ups
Gaining experience and skill with the bench press is a great way to increase strength.
The third exercise we will learn is the row. This exercise will help to activate the, often under-used back muscles.
The two arm dumbbell row exercise is used to target the back, primarily the latissimus dorsi or "lats." The lower back is also used in this exercise as a stabilizer. However, many individuals can often mistake this exercise as an arm exercise. While in fact you are incorporating your arms in this routine, it is important to remember that the main focus is the back. When performing this exercise it is very important to remember proper form; failure to do so could lead to back and neck pain.
Start with legs shoulder width apart and knees slightly bent. As you bend at the waist forward, let the dumbbells come down to about knee height. Focus on sticking your butt out and keeping a nice arch in your lower back while keeping the neck in neutral alignment with the rest of the body. It is also okay to move naturally throughout the exercise, but refrain from any jerking motion. With palms facing towards the body, bring the dumbbells toward your abdomen by squeezing the shoulder blades together. Breathe out as you bring the weights to the abdomen and inhale as you lower them back down. To ensure proper and efficient contraction you should be able to count to 2 on the way up and 2 on the way down.
Tip: It is very important that you do not round out your lower back as you perform this exercise as this could easily lead to injury.
Here is a link to a video and description of the row. Workoutz.com - Dumbell Rows
These three excercises, when done together, use all of the major muscle groups, and require the most use of energy. Doing just these three exercises, is the most efficient way to build strength, improve muscular endurance, increase bone density, and boost metabolism. They are also the most basic movements and developing skill in these movements is essential to performing more advanced movements later.
To start training your muscles to better perform these motions add the following to two of your week's workouts:
Select a weight that you can comfortably do more than 15 times. The purpose of this is to build confidence and become even more familiar with the motion.