Best Free Weights For Maximum Gains

Two guys in a gym doing free weights

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Free Weights are the foundation of weight lifting and physical fitness. There are very few muscle groups that cannot be targeted with only the use of free weights such as dumbells, medicine balls, and kettlebells. 

A great advantage to free weights is the fact that they can be used at virtually any fitness level and for any body type. They are also incredibly versatile, offering a wide range of exercises for all parts of your body. Free weights can be used to build muscle or burn fat, depending on how you use them, and they have the potential to take your fitness to a whole other level.

What are Free Weights

A free weight is simply a weight used for weightlifting that is not attached to an apparatus such as a machine or cable system.

Free weights are typically made of metal, and can be either solid pieces such as dumbbells, or adjustable with clips and plates such as barbells. Some common free weights used in weightlifting include dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells, and medicine balls.


Dumbbells are an iconic and widely used type of free weight.

They are essentially two weights, usually made of metal and connected at the middle by a handle, allowing them to be lifted with one hand or both hands.

Dumbbells can come in a variety of sizes, ranging from very small to quite large and heavy.

Back of a woman carrying two dumbbells on her hand

Bowflex Adjustable Dumbells(552 and 1090)

Best Space Saving Choice

Great for its compact size and precise weight adjustment, the Bowflex 552 and 1090 adjustable dumbells are great compact dumbells with the 552 capable of increments of 2.5lbs from 5 to 25lbs, increasing to 5lbs increments from 25 to 50lbs(with an added 2.5lbs at full adjustment). The 1090 is for those looking for a heavier option. It can be adjusted starting at 10lbs in increments of 5lbs all the way up to 90lbs.

The more health focused and budget conscientious will probably stray toward the 552 for its lower price point as it already has a modest capacity, while the more serious powerlifting style lifters will be interested in the 1090 for its heavier weight capabilities.

These dumbells can be awkward for some lightweight work as they have a length of 17.5'' which can get in the way for some movements, but for the most part its more preference then problem.


  • Adjustable
  • Space saving compared to full dumbell setup


  • Awkward large size for some movements

Rogue Hex Dumbells -

Standard Good Quality Choice

Dumbells have stood the test of time for good reason. Their is a plethora of exercises you can perform with them and they fit into any training program with ease.

This standard rubber hex design is a great, budget-priced option that still delivers on quality, performance, and longevity. It comes in weights ranging from 2.5lbs all the way to 125lbs, giving you a good range of options that will fit your training needs.

The main drawbacks of these which any buyer should keep in mind is low storage convienence (you pretty much require a dumbell rack if you wish to purchase a whole set) and lack of variability compared to adjustable versions. Using a pair of standard dumbells feels better then any adjustable pair I've ever tried, but if you require a large scale of different weights an adjustable pair may be a better choice, both on your wallet and your storage space.


  • Long lasting durable choice
  • Rubber coating keeps surfaces damage free


  • Less variability then adjustable choices
  • Requires more storage for multiple pairs

Titan Adjustable Dumbells

High Capacity Loadable Option

A good pair of adjustable dumbells is a great option for those looking to save space, and with the Titan Fitness adjustable dumbells you get the added bonus of them fitting any olympic sized plate. They also have an incredibly high weight capacity at 400lbs each.

With a length of 20'' these dumbells are a little awkward for some isolation exercises like bicep curls and tricep extensions. These dumbells shine in heavy compound exercises where their size isn't an issue like dumbell bench press or dumbell rows.

If you already have an Olympic barbell setup or are looking to get one, this is a great choice for the simple fact it will be compatable with all the Olympic plates you use with your barbell. Hitting two birds with one stone.


  • High weight capacity
  • Adjustable


  • Large size makes them awkward for some exercise


Kettlebells are a type of free weight that have become increasingly popular in recent years.

They typically consist of a single, cannonball-style weight with a handle attached at the top, allowing them to be held and swung in various ways.

Kettlebells are great for strengthening many areas of the body, particularly the core, arms, and legs.

They can also be used for a range of dynamic metabolic exercises that can help you burn fat and build endurance.

Group of women with kettlebells

Bowflex Adjustable Kettlebell

Top Choice for Home Gym

If your willing to spend a little extra money, Bowflex's adjustable kettlebell will be the only one you ever need with weight adjustment from 8 to 40lbs. It comes in a convienent size that will pull apart to achieve the desired weight, and go back together once your finished for compact storage.

The max weight of 40lbs is enough for the majority of people, the adjustment is done with a simple turn of a dial located on top of the kettlebell.

The only drawback of this product is its less then ideal ergonomics for overhead work. It can dig into the top of your wrist in a way regular kettlebells don't, making it uncomfortable for some movements.


  • Adjustable
  • Space saving multiple weights in one


  • Awkward on overhead movements

Synergee Cast Iron Kettlebell

Durable Standard Option

These kettlebells made from durable cast iron can be a great choice for those looking at building functional strength. You can easily base a whole workout around these and implement them in aerobic and anaerobic exercises, although they are more comonly used for the former.

This kettle bell comes in weights ranging from 4 to 32kg or 9 to 70lbs. Giving you ample choices to suit your specific needs.

Most exercises involving kettlebells also challenge your coordination and balance, so if your more athletically focused you may want to consider this tool.

Synergee's cast iron kettlebells are as standard as they come at a very affordable price. Another benefit is you don't need many kettlebells to complete a functional workout, most get buy with 2 or 3 just fine. This puts less stress on storage concerns and make it an ideal home workout tool.


  • High flexibility
  • Functional strength builder


  • No adjustment
  • May have grip problems
Group of people in a gym carrying a blue medicine ball

Medicine Balls

Medicine balls are a type of free weight that has been used for centuries as a tool for conditioning.

They come in various sizes and weights, usually ranging from 2-20 lbs.

Medicine balls can be held with one or two hands, allowing for a range of exercises that target almost any muscle group in the body.

Rogue Medicine Ball

American Made Brand Name

Rogue's medicine balls are stitched and constructed in Ohio. They come in the same 14'' diameter package for all the weight options it comes in, 4 to 30lbs.

Medicine balls are a great for a variety of core exercises and isometrics and are a great conditioning tool used by many athletes.

Another strength they have is their soft exterior means you won't have to worry about causing any damage and can even slam the ball down on the floor without worry.


  • Easy to store
  • Great for conditioning


Variety of Free Weights

The sheer variety of free weights available to weightlifters is staggering. You can find dumbbells, barbells, and kettlebells in nearly every weight range from 1 pound to over 100 pounds.

In recent years adjustable free weights have really taken the market by storm and for good reason. The space saved in home gyms as well as the time saved switching out plates and dumbbells between exercises is nothing to scoff at.  Adjustable weights are also perfectly suited for more advanced exercises such as supersets and drop sets.

Benefits of Using Free Weights

A frequent question we often hear is "why should I use free weights over a machine or other workout equipment?"

The answer is simple - free weights offer many more benefits than machines.  

But that does not mean one is better than the other, in fact, both machines and free weights offer advantages the other cannot provide.

Man carrying a free weight with dumbbells in the background

1) More Muscle Activation

When it comes to free weights, the most significant advantage is that they mobilize more muscle fibers than an identical machine exercise. This is because a machine does the balancing act for you, and removes the need for stability when performing the lift.  In contrast, free weights require more balance and stabilization throughout the entire movement, which engages more of your core muscles and other stabilizing muscle groups.

2) Great Beginner Point

Because free weights are so simple yet so versatile, they are a great starting point for someone who is first entering the fitness world. Trying out a new exercise? Use the smallest free weights you have, and practice the motion. Your technique is always more important than the weight being lifted. Once the motions feel comfortable then move up the weight but never sacrifice your form.

3) Improved Coordination & Balance

Since free weights require you to counterbalance the weight when lifting it.  It helps develop your sense of balance and coordination, which is especially beneficial as you move up to performing compound exercises like squats, and deadlifts that require more stability and strength.

4) Greater Range of Motion

Another benefit to using free weights is that they allow for a greater range of motion compared to machines. This means you can move freely in all directions without any restrictions. This allows you to target muscles in a more natural way, and forces your body to adapt by increasing flexibility and mobility.

5) Always Useful 

If you have been lifting for a while, you may think you have outgrown some of the weights you originally purchased but that is not the case. Consider using them for a warm-up set, for assistance exercises, or even for drop sets and super sets. Super sets and drop sets especially are incredibly powerful workout tools that will have you reaching for those smaller weights real quick.

6) Space Saving

One set of dumbells and an adjustable bench can replace an innumerable amount of machines designed for dedicated muscle groups. The obvious advantage here is you don't need nearly as much space to work out, and you can use a significantly smaller space as a home gym.

Additionally, you can further save space by investing in a set of adjustable free weights, whether they are dumbells, kettlebells, or barbells, there is an adjustable option that will suit your needs perfectly.

More Functional Strength

The best scenario showcasing the benefits of free weights is one that I see all too often from newbies. 

A new person joins the gym and chooses not to use a personal trainer to get them started. This newbie sees the massive room full of gym equipment and the smaller area off to the side with free weights. The equipment is available and has instructions on how to perform the exercise and circuit. Meanwhile, the free weight room is filled with intimidatingly large muscles and no clear direction for exercise. 

It doesn't take a genius to figure out which direction the newbie will go. Although, I am sure the room full of muscles would gladly show him the ropes, ultimately fear and intimidation leads the newbie away most of the time.

As time goes by the newbie begins to get the hang of it and it begins to show with how much weight they are beginning to lift.  As their confidence increases the newbie begins to feel more comfortable in the space and begins trying new exercises. Seeing the free weight room is unusually empty, they try their hand at some free weight exercises.  Knowing they can press 140 lbs. on the machine, they confidently reach for the equivalent in free weights.

The scenario ends one of two ways, a hit to the pride, or even worse an injury.

Here lies the crux of choosing to exercise using only machines. The inflated numbers and the overconfidence can lead to some pretty nasty injuries at worst and at best an absolute gut punch to the pride. This is because this entire time, the machines were isolating major muscle groups while not training any stability to support those major muscle groups.

I know this because I was the newbie who made this exact mistake when I first started to learn about fitness and let me tell you, dropping back down to the "small" weights hurt my pride a lot more than I care to admit.

The difference in functional strength between using free weights and machine training is huge.  Free weights train muscles in a more natural way, forcing your body to adapt by increasing balance, flexibility, and mobility. This not only helps you avoid injuries but also increases your overall performance generating greater gains and more fat loss.

Whether your objective is fat loss or muscle gain, Free weights are certain to be one of the greatest assets in your fitness journey.

To help narrow down which free weights are best for you we have assembled a small list of some of the best free-weight equipment you can buy:

Denver Matheson

I spend a lot of time at the gym and even more time in the kitchen giving my body what it needs to repair itself and grow stronger. The third most important place for any athlete is their research zone. That's exactly why this site exists, to help me share all of the information I've learned throughout the years just like people did for me in the first place!

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