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by Staff Writer
Whether you want to increase general fitness or enhance sports performance, free weights can help you reach your goals. Common free weights like dumbbells and barbells as well as alternative free weights like kettlebells, medicine balls and wearable weights can help you create a serious workout routine that you can execute in your own home.
Dumbbells: Usually just a steel bar with weights at either end, dumbbells have been around for ages and are still popular today. Dumbbells are a weightlifting standard, and for good reason: they're simple; they're effective; and they're versatile. With dumbbells, you don't have to bother removing or adding weights, and you get a great workout because dumbbells require you to use stabilizer muscles. These free weights can be used for an almost infinite variety of workouts.
Barbells: Barbells are very similar to dumbbells. The only difference is that, with barbells, you can add or remove weight. Barbell sets have a steel bar, either a short bar designed for use with one hand or a long bar used for bench presses and other exercises that require a weight bench. While barbells aren't as simple as dumbbells, they conserve space and allow you the same versatility that dumbbells offer. They are the free weight of choice for bench presses and squats.
Kettlebells: Occasionally called "kettleballs," kettlebells look like cannonballs with handles. Originally from Russia, they were traditionally made from steel or iron. Nowadays, they can be made from metal and can be weighted with a fill, like sand, water or even gel. Among workout equipment, kettlebells come and go in popularity. Today, interest is growing again as they complement dumbbells and barbells in many professional and home gyms.
Medicine balls: Hippocrates purportedly directed his patients to use primitive medicine balls to promote injury prevention, giving medicine balls a solid claim as the free weight with the longest history. Medicine balls are still popular today because they can be used in a variety of different exercises and they help increase core strength.
Wearable weights: Weighted gloves or weights strapped to wrists and ankles are frequently worn to increase effort during aerobics, cycling, walking or running. These hand weights and leg weights help the wearer burn more calories and increase muscle toning; they can be used in total fitness programs or simple things like mall walking, gardening and housework. Some wearable weight sets have pouches, making them adjustable, and they have exteriors of nylon, neoprene or other comfortable materials. Units commonly vary from 2 to 5 pounds, though weights up to 20 pounds are available.
Dumbbells and barbells are usually made from steel or iron. High-priced free weights usually vary from low-priced ones in terms of looks, with the top-quality ones featuring nice chrome finishes. If you're shopping on a budget, don't despair: A 20-pound dumbbell with a rough, painted finish weighs the same as a chrome-plated 20-pound dumbbell.
One of the appeals of free weights is that you don't need other bulky pieces of equipment to get a good workout; however, weight benches can be very helpful. For example, you'll find it difficult to get a good pectoral workout without a weight bench. While they're not essential, if you plan using free weights to bulk up, you may want to consider buying a weight bench.