Fitness 101: A Guide to the Weightlifting Room

fitness guide weightlifting room

This guide to weightlifting equipment will help you recognize equipment in the free weights section, know how to properly use them, and gives a few exercise suggestions that can be done with each piece of equipment.

The gym can be a daunting place for many, but the  free weights section seems to invoke a certain type of fear for beginners. If you have been curiously staring at the weightlifting room from afar in the cardio section, now is the time to take the leap! Below is a guide to the most common free weight equipment found in gyms, and their uses.

*Psst!* Need a workout plan for the weight room?

  • For those looking to build strength using simple barbell lifts, our Beginner Strength plan follows a 3-moves a day, 3 times a week schedule.
  • For ladies who are tired of cardio-heavy workouts, check out Transform Your Body: a workout plan designed specifically for women who want to try lifting something heavier than a 2-lb dumbbell.
  • You can find more details about these workout plans by clicking on the above links, or scrolling to the bottom of this post for summaries of each.

A Guide to the Weightlifting Room

dumbbells_weightlifting_guideDumbbells:

You are probably familiar with this weightlifting room staple, but dumbbells are very versatile and great for isolation exercises. If you are looking to build strength in specific muscles or muscle groups, dumbbells are your best choice.

A few suggestions for dumbbell exercises are alternating bicep curls, lateral raises, and triceps kickbacks.

plates_weightlifting_guideWeight Plates:

These were originally designed to be put on the ends of barbells (covered below). However, weight plates are also great for making bodyweight exercises more difficult. For example: placing a plate on your back while holding a plank position, or holding a plate overhead during lunges.

Barbells:

There are a few variations of barbells, and you should choose wisely depending on your goals.

olympic_barbell_weightlifting_guideOlympic Barbell

An Olympic barbell is 7 feet long and 45 pounds. It can hold up to 800 pounds of weight. This barbell is the choice for Olympic Lifts. Check out this Olympic Lifting Starter Plan for how-to video tutorials on barbell lifts.

There are also smaller, straight barbells ranging from 4-7 feet, and 20-35 pounds. The smaller barbells are good for exercises such as barbell curls and military presses.

fixed_weight_barbell_weightlifting_guideFixed Weight Barbell

These are barbells shorter in length, and of a fixed weight. Theoretically, you can use them exactly the same as non-fixed weight barbells. However, it is less common to use fixed weight barbells for Olympic lifts.

Fixed weight barbell exercises include barbell lunges and skull crushers.

ez_curl_weightlifting_guideEZ-Curl Bar

This is the funny, wiggly-shaped bar at the gym. Like the name implies, it is designed specifically for curling exercises (mostly biceps). The funny shape actually allows for a more “natural” hand grip when curling, and some say they can curl more weight with an EZ-Curl bar than with a straight barbell. Ez-Curls come as bar-only, and as fixed-weight.

Two exercises you can do with the EZ-Curl bar are spider curls and triceps presses.

barbell_clamp_weightlifting_guideBarbell Collar Clips

If you are going to add plates to your barbell, you must use barbell clips to hold them in place, otherwise they will fall of the ends once you start moving the barbell around.

 

Benches:

These will probably be scattered throughout the free weights section and have a plethora of uses. There are flat benches, incline benches, and decline benches. “Olympic style” benches mean that there is a barbell rack attached to the bench.

Olympic benches are for barbell exercises, while benches with no racks are generally for dumbbell & bodyweight exercises.

flat_bench_weightlifting_guideFlat Bench

These benches are the most versatile, and can be used to support you in a huge variety of exercises.

To give you a few ideas, flat benches can be used for Bulgarian split squats, bench triceps dips, decline push ups, chest presses, dumbbell rows, and more.

incline_bench_weightlifting_guideIncline Bench

These benches are for performing exercises while you sit, the advantage being back support.

Exercises you can do on the incline bench includes shoulder presses, incline bench presses, and dumbbell flys.

decline_bench_weightlifting_roomDecline Bench

These are benches for performing exercises during which your head is below your feet.

Exercises include decline sit ups and decline triceps extensions.

 

olympic_bench_weightlifting_guideOlympic Bench

These are most commonly used for bench presses. However, some Olympic benches are adjustable to be incline and decline, as well as flat. On those Olympic benches you have more choices for exercises, such as incline military presses or decline bench presses.

 

roman_chair_weightlifting_guideHyper Extension Bench aka Roman Chair

This confusing looking bench is for strengthening your core & back muscles. Use this bench by hooking your feet around the rollers, and resting your thighs on the padding, so that your torso hangs off the bench (here is a picture of how to sit on the roman chair).

You can do GHD sit ups or back extensions on the roman chair.

preacher_curl_bench_weightlifting_guidePreacher Bench

This is a bench with an angled pad for you to rest your upper arms on for stability during bicep exercises. You can use either dumbbells or a barbell for bicep curls on the preacher bench.

Racks:

This section covers exercise racks, which are different from weight storage racks (not covered in this post).

squat_rack_weightlifting_guideSquat Rack

The squat rack is for squatting, obviously. The basic squat rack will have pegs on the side for holding plates, hooks for storing the barbell, and two spotter “arms”. The spotter arms are there the catch the weight in case you fail on a squat.

However, along with back, front, and overhead squats, it is also socially acceptable at the gym to use the squat rack as a station for deadlifts, cleans, thrusters, and other Olympic lifts. To do lifts other than squats, simply back out of the range of the spotter arms. Keep in mind that if you do so, you must be much more careful because there is no spotter if you drop the barbell.

power_rack_weightlifting_guidePower Rack

The power rack is probably the single most versatile piece of equipment at the gym. A good power rack will include a pull up bar, dip bars, and spotter arms/hooks that are adjustable. This is a big deal because unlike the fixed spotters of the squat rack, spotters that are adjustable to any height for any exercise means you can safely do almost every heavy lift alone.

Any barbell exercise can be done in the power rack, but it is considered “rude” to do isometric exercises (such as bicep curls) in the rack. The power rack should be used for heavy, multi-joint lifts that require a spotter.

smith_machine_weightlifting_roomSmith Machine

The Smith machine is a cross between a machine and a free weight barbell. It is a barbell that slides on a fixed rail, and can lock into certain places on the track. there is a simple J-hook locking mechanism that acts as a spotter. The Smith machine is good for exercises in which the barbell moves only along the vertical plane. For instance, this would be a horrible choice for practicing snatches, but a good choice for bench presses.

barbell_rack_weightlifting_guideNote: This is a barbell rack (pictured to the left), for storing multiple barbells. You should not try to do exercises in this type of rack.

 

Power towers:

These are great for working on dips, pull ups, or any hanging exercise such as L-hangs or toes-to-bar. They come in a variety of arrangements, but if you see a big, tall piece of equipment with zero gears, pulleys, cords, or weights- it’s probably a power tower.

captains_chair_weightlifting_roomCaptains Chair

Any good gym should have at least two of these. A captains chair will have a pull up bar, dip bars, and back & arm padding (the “chair” part) for leg raises. Here is a picture of how to use the captains chair for leg raises.

 

pull_up_dip_weightlifting_guidePull Up / Dip Station

These are less common in gyms, as there are usually multiple other pieces of equipment with pull up and dip bars attached. However, if you see an object like this, it is for pull ups and dips.

 

Beginner Gym Workout Plans:

Both of the following workout plans include instructional videos. These videos introduce & teach all of the lifts & technique for the exercises used in the training plan.

Beginner Strength: This basic workout plan aims to build functional strength by practicing big barbell lifts.

  • Ideal for: Men & women with a beginner to intermediate level of fitness, looking to build overall strength that will improve their quality of life through increased functional fitness & strength capability.
  • Not ideal for: Men & women looking for a weight-loss plan, or bodybuilding.
  • Equipment: One barbell, and additional weight plates
  • The 5 lifts: Back squat, bench press, deadlift, military press, & barbell row.
  • The method: Lifts are separated into “A” days & “B” days. Each workout you add 2.5-5 lbs of weight to the lifts from your last workout. By the end of the plan, you should be strong enough to handle lifting 20-35 lbs more weight than your numbers in the beginning.

Transform Your Body!: A 4-week functional fitness training plan designed specifically for women who are tired of cardio & want real results.

  • Ideal for: Women of all levels of fitness, especially women frustrated with the lack of results from their current workout regimens. Cardio bunnies looking to add shapeliness to their bodies, women who want to stop looking “skinny-fat” (slim arms & legs, but rounder midsection), and those who struggle to lose weight through traditional methods would especially benefit.
  • Not ideal for: Those with health conditions or existing pains that do not allow for high-impact movements (ex:jumping), or high intensity workouts.
  • Equipment: Depending on the day, a barbell + weight plates, dumbbells, the rowing machine, & the Air Dyne (or indoor bike).
  • The movements: Depending on the day, exercises can include squats, sprints, deadlifts, push presses, rowing, running, lunges, burpees, and more.
  • The method: This Functional Fitness workout plan uses a combination of high-intensity conditioning to shed fat, and functional strength moves to build shapeliness, confidence, and power.

yoga-after-workout

  • Emma Nutrition

    I see the links but is like to know what workout the writer actually uses or recommends? Specifically is using your own body weight going to build muscle in your experience? Thanks.

    • Sophia

      Hi Emma! Sophie responding here. I would personally recommend the “Transform Your Body” training plan- I’m a huge fan of all the moves in this workout plan, as well as how most workouts are high-intensity.
      Using your own bodyweight is an excellent way to safely build muscle. You can progress with your strength training while using bodyweight moves by constantly scaling up the difficulty of your moves- for example, doing decline push-ups if you find regular push-ups too easy.
      Hope this helps!

  • Sarah downes

    It is the best workouts for increasing your mussels and body parts.Thanks for giving me such exercise equipment suggestions above here.

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