Gym Equipment Explained: Free Weights 101

I’m sure many of you have recently started going to gym as part of your New Year’s Resolutions. The gym can be a bit intimidating at first however. Don’t worry Rockheads! Scratch is here to explain the gym equipment to you in this first part of my new series: Gym Equipment Explained!

Types Of Gym Equipment

Gym equipment can easily be divided into four categories: free weights, weight machines, cardio equipment, and assorted equipment. We’ll focus on free weights this time.

Free Weights

Free weights are the most basic form of bodybuilding equipment. The reason they are called “free weights” is because there are no attached pulleys, cables, pins, or weight stacks. Free weights include resistance-training equipment, such as dumbbells, barbells, and weight plates in a variety of sizes that you move freely about your body. Because they are not restricted to the preset movement of a machine, free weights offer versatility and portability. They also require you to engage the stabilizer muscles of your body, allowing you to improve your balance and coordination and to strengthen your muscles in a way that mimics your natural movements. To avoid injury, however, you may need training on how to lift free weights properly, or you may need a spotter to assist you with heavy lifts. Additionally, free weights may not isolate specific muscles as well as some weight machines.


The barbell is a long iron bar which weight plates and placed. Barbell exercises are performed by holding the barbell with both hands.

The largest are Olympic barbells. They are 7 feet long and weigh 45 lbs. These are heavy-duty bars that can handle huge weight loads of over 800 lbs. They are so big they are used mostly for heavy basic exercises such as bench press, squats, and dead lifts.

There are smaller versions of the Olympic barbell that are between 4-6 feet long. These bars are used for exercises such as barbell curls, shoulder presses, bent rows, etc.

The type of barbells that you will see for sale in most department stores is standard barbells. They are 1 inch thick and usually 5-6 feet long. These are ideal for a home gym setting but many gyms also have a barbell rack that has an assortment of fixed weight barbells.


A dumbbell is a short barbell, usually 10 – 15 inches long. Dumbbell exercises are performed with a dumbbell in each hand (or by holding one in both hands for some squats). Most gyms have an assortment of fixed weight dumbbells.

There are also adjustable dumbbells that have small collars that clip on the ends of the dumbbells to hold the weight plates. While they are not a convenient as a rack of fixed weight dumbbells, they are much cheaper, take up less space, and are ideal for a home gym setting.

Weight Plates

Weight plates range from 2.5 lbs. to 100 lbs. There are two types of iron weight plates – Olympic plates for the Olympic barbells and standard weight plates for the 1 inch thick standard size barbells. Some weight plate sets are made of plastic, but look for iron. The plastic sets limit you.

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