Losing fat with free weights

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If you've followed my writing for any length of time, you know that I'm a fan of using free weights (dumbbells, barbells, kettelbells) in my workouts. 

But it wasn't always like that.

In fact, when I first started lifting weights regularly, in the spring of 2010, I went to the top floor of the Holmes Sports Center on the campus of Simmons College in Boston and used all of the machines. I did what anyone else would do  - I went down the rows of machines and tried to hit all of the muscle groups. 

I did what I knew how to do, and there was nothing wrong with that.

But one day, I was fitness-shamed (I don’t recommend this approach) by a co-worker for not using the actual weight room. After my conversation with her, I went back to my office and sat down thinking, what do I even do with free weights?

Growing up, my dad had bought my brother a set of Sears free weights and a bench that I taught myself to use. I followed the poster that came with the weights, though the only exercises I could recall were the Military Press and the Dumbbell Curl.

Fortunately, in the age of Google, I found a routine on About.com and made my way in to the free weight room at Simmons College. It was tiny, filled with mostly men, and there were no convenient instructions on what, exactly, I should do with said weights.

But it was enough to get me started.

Why use free weights for fat loss?

My original goal in lifting weights was to get stronger. I couldn’t even do a push up, and like many women, I assumed that was the ultimate litmus test for how I weak I was (OMG IF YOU TAKE NOTHING ELSE FROM THE ARTICLE PUSH UPS ARE ALL OF THE HARD AND NOT A GOOD LITMUS TEST FOR STRENGTH.

But truth be told, I was also at a point in my life where my weight and my body fat was creeping up. Pants were getting tighter and I was beginning to feel more sluggish. I still used running for exercise, but I was constantly battling nagging injuries that made it difficult to run with any consistency. As it turns out though, lifting weights doesn’t just help you lose weight.

1. Lifting weights helps you lose more fat

Not all pounds are created equally. I could lose a pound of muscle or I could lose a pound of fat. The scale would only let me know that I lost a pound - most scales can’t tell you what kind of weight you’ve lost. In a Penn State study that put dieters into three groups - non-exercise, aerobic exercise and aerobic exercise with weight training, all groups lost 21 pounds. But the lifting group lost more body fat, six pounds of fat.

If you have ever said to yourself or a friend that you want to get more “toned” losing fat is what you’re talking about.

2. You’ll burn more calories

You might burn
The bar (pun intended) to entry for using free weights is much higher than that for using machines, but if you think you're ready to get started, I want to give you six exercises to get you started with free weights. 

This is how you can split them up (after you do your foam rolling and warm up).

For your first set, follow this format:

A1. DB Goblet squats 3x8
A2. Chest supported DB rows (or TRX rows) - 3x8
A3. DB Floor press 3x8

This means that you will do one set of 8 repetitions for the goblet squat, then one set of rows, then one set of the floor press. Once you’ve done each exercise one time for eight reps each, that is one set. Repeat two more times and then move on to your second set.

B1. Pallof Press 3x8
B2. DB Split Squat (or TRX Split Squat) 3x8
B3. Farmer’s carries (two DB’s of the same weight) 3x 30 seconds per carry.

Follow the same format as above.

DB Goblet Squats

Skip to the 1:00 part if you just want to move past the instruction and see the exercise.

Chest supported DB rows


DB Floor Press

Pallof Press

Skip to the 1:00 mark to see just the exercise.

DB split Squat

DB Farmer’s Carries