Help me be a stronger person
May 20, 2009 10:06 AM   Subscribe

I work out at home. I'd like to add some free weights to my workout routine, but I don't know where to start.

I'm naturally introverted and prefer working out at home to going to a gym. So I have a stair machine set up in front of a TV and also do sit-ups and push-ups. If I get bored I head to the living room and put in an aerobics or belly dance video.

I really feel like some free weights would help tone my upper body and add more to my workouts.

I have some dumbbells...somewhere, but they are really light, and anyway I feel that I need different weights for different muscles (biceps can take more than triceps, I'm pretty sure). What weights do I need to get started?

I also wonder if I should have a bench? I'm not planning on building muscle or anything, just toning up, so would that be overkill? I'm thinking of setting up in our den, if I can free up enough space--is there a problem because it's carpeted?

Lastly, any suggestions for a routine to start out with?
posted by misha to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
Check out The New Rules of Lifting for Women. It's a great program, and should outline the equipment you need to work out from home.
posted by emilyd22222 at 10:15 AM on May 20, 2009


Starting Strength is a great book that gets recommended in pretty much every weightlifting AskMe.
posted by box at 10:19 AM on May 20, 2009


Whenever this comes up, somebody inevitably mentions the shovelglove. As a happy user, I will be that dude for this thread.
posted by thejoshu at 10:25 AM on May 20, 2009


My spouse bought a small dumbbell kit from the local sporting goods store (Academy Sports, here) that comes with two hand bars and lots of different weights to attach to them. The pros are that it's contained and can neatly be put away. Also, it's easy to change weights so you can go from 5lbs on the biceps to 15 for something else. We don't use a bench (although we're considering getting a small bench or a stool) and we do all our lifting in the guest bedroom on carpeted floor. With dumbells, my usual routine is a mix of chest and arms, with some beginner's squats for legs.

Arms/Chest:
Flat bench dumbell press (I lay flat on the floor, starting with my elbows slightly off the ground. A bench would give fuller extension.

Dumbell Press - I do this on a chair.

My spouse likes to do laterals but I don't have the muscle control yet to do these effectively.

Standing curl: The typical curl, with dumbells instead of a barbell.

If I had a bench or a chair of the right height, I would do one arm dumbell rows.

I try to do 2 or 3 sets of less than 10 repetitions. If I can do 10 or 12 without muscle fatigue, then I move on to a higher weight on the next day.

If you've never squatted before then I think stumptuous has the best advice online. I don't own a barbell so I started with holding on the back of a chair for balance, then used a broomhandle across my back. Next I'll try dumbells or get a real bar.

I don't really see the need to alternate upper-lower for a home workout. I just listen to my muscles and take a day off if they're sore.
posted by muddgirl at 10:26 AM on May 20, 2009


Get a spinlock dumbbell set. The single most versatile element of a home gym. The weights can be purchased for about a buck a pound at your local sporting goods store, and the dumbbells themselves, maybe 25 bucks (get solid steel ones).
Browse exrx.net for exercise gifs, lots of dumbbell exercise ideas in there.
posted by GleepGlop at 10:27 AM on May 20, 2009


I'm not planning on building muscle or anything, just toning up, so would that be overkill?

This is your problem. What are you trying to do? Do you want to become stronger? Do you want to lose bodyfat? Do you want to increase your endurance? Figure out what your actual goals are, then you can figure out how to achieve them. You're on the right track, in that it doesn't sound like what you're currently doing is accomplishing much.

If you want to get stronger, Starting Strength is the way to go. You'll need a bench, a barbell, plates, and a squat rack. Without those things you can't do Starting Strength and it's going to be difficult for you to get strong. If you don't want to buy those things you'll have to get over your fears and go to a gym.

Doing tons of reps of isolation exercises with light dumbells, as many folks like to do, will accomplish very little. You don't need to do any kind of curls or tricep kickbacks to get strong. You don't need to do more than 3 or 4 exercises in a day to get strong. A proper beginner strength program will include the squat, the press, the bench press, and the deadlift.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:28 AM on May 20, 2009


Get yourself a set of those Bowflex adjustable dumbbells - they're worth every penny, and you can probably find a used set on craigslist - and a bench. Then bookmark/print out this workout, and you're good to go.
posted by jbickers at 10:35 AM on May 20, 2009


You don't need to do any kind of curls or tricep kickbacks to get strong.

I just wanted to mention that I've heard the criticism against curls, and I understand that for most people curls are useless. I started doing curls because I'm a bowler, and I've found that a strong bicep really helps my finishing motion. YMMV of course.
posted by muddgirl at 10:38 AM on May 20, 2009


Chinups will give you strong biceps while also working several other muscle groups. Curls aren't evil, they just don't deserve nearly the focus they get at every gym I have every been to. They are a minor accessory exercise, not the focus of your day.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:41 AM on May 20, 2009


Chinups will give you strong biceps while also working several other muscle groups. Curls aren't evil, they just don't deserve nearly the focus they get at every gym I have every been to. They are a minor accessory exercise, not the focus of your day.

I concur. Maybe someday I'll be able to do a chin-up, but doing a chin-up in a home gym requires even more equipment or the ability to sink anchors in a door frame (which renters can't do).
posted by muddgirl at 11:01 AM on May 20, 2009


I also wonder if I should have a bench? I'm not planning on building muscle or anything, just toning up, so would that be overkill?

A bench is not overkill. You can use a bench for all kinds of useful upper body work using dumbbells. I agree that a set of adjustable dumbbells is a good choice, because you will find that as you get stronger, you'll need to challenge your body with heavier weights.

Can you explain what you mean by "toning"? Do you want to be strong? Then you need to lift progressively heavier weights with proper technique. Do you want to have shapely arms that don't jiggle? That requires a combination of strengthening, the slight increase in size many people call "toning", and fat loss, which means lifting progressively heavier weights with proper technique, plus careful eating and cardio to help you lose fat. Do you want arms like Michelle Obama? That means lifting plus eating plus cardio plus serious time.

Stumptuous on:

- home gyms
- alternatives to standard equipment
- toning and associated concepts
- getting stronger without getting bulky
- the all-dumbbell workout
posted by maudlin at 11:09 AM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Whenever this comes up, somebody inevitably mentions the shovelglove.

2nding the shovelglove. Don't over complicate this.
posted by torquemaniac at 11:15 AM on May 20, 2009


I got one of these pull-up bars recently and it is great for building upper-body strength. It doesn't require any screws or other hardware for installation, so it can be removed easily, but can still support up to 300 lbs (so it says--I haven't tested that max).
On preview--yes really! I was totally skeptical at first, but I have used it without making any marks on my (rental) door frame.
I can't even do a complete pull up (yet!) but it has been a great addition to my routine. I started by jumping or using a stool to get my chin above the bar, then hanging in that position for as long as I could (without resting on my chin). We called this the "flexed-arm hang" in middle school gym, if that helps. I've been building up by starting from a lower and lower point (so I have farther to pull up), and have definitely noticed that my upper body is getting stronger as a result. And as ludwid_van mentioned, it's not just your arms that get stronger. I feel it in my gut and shoulders too.
posted by Jemstar at 11:15 AM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


I found a copy of Joyce Vedral's Fat-Burning Workout book at a garage sale and I *love* it for free weights, they're all I use now. I don't think that book is around any more, but I find her philosophy sound and her other books are probably good too.
posted by Billegible at 12:37 PM on May 20, 2009


I'm not planning on building muscle or anything, just toning up

Toning = building muscle + losing fat .

Lots of good suggestions here. I'll add that bodyweight exercises are great, and there are tons of helpful vids onine, including some meant for women.
posted by coolguymichael at 1:27 PM on May 20, 2009


I was coming here to say exactly what Jemstar said. Adding some jumping pull-ups and work towards pull-ups would be a great compliment to your push-ups, probably better than anything you do with a simple set of dumbbells. I also have one of those bars and it is great; I can do full pull-ups and I think I have added at least 2 to my max reps just by having the bar around and available.
posted by ch1x0r at 7:05 PM on May 20, 2009


I'm surprised no one has mentioned kettlebells yet. They are VERY adaptive equipment:

-for leg work, try: lunges, front squats, sumo deadlift high pulls (QT video).
-for upper body work, try: kettlebell swings (YouTube), shoulder raises, maybe curls if you're daring (I'm against curls like some other posters).

Also, "toning up" is a common request I hear from women...but it's not that simple. If you have little muscle development, you're looking at developing muscle then losing weight; either way, your final physique is directly related to your caloric intake.

Also, let me suggest Crossfit as a entertaining and varied workout program (religion?). Refer to the BrandX forums for scaled versions of the daily workouts (because, as Rx'd, they're meant for top athletes and soldiers).
posted by achompas at 12:16 AM on May 21, 2009


Seconding stumptuous's website, and a pair of kettlebells. There are lots of videos on YouTube showing good kettlebell technique.
posted by essexjan at 5:50 AM on May 21, 2009


-for leg work, try: lunges, front squats, sumo deadlift high pulls (QT video).

These are all fine accessory movements to the back squat, which works more muscle and allows for heavier weights. The back squat is central to a beginner strength program.

-for upper body work, try: kettlebell swings (YouTube), shoulder raises, maybe curls if you're daring (I'm against curls like some other posters).

Also fine accessories to the press and bench press, but not primary strength movements.
posted by ludwig_van at 8:23 AM on May 21, 2009


Thanks to all who answered! We will be getting a weight bench with all the fixin's soon from a relative that no longer uses it.
posted by misha at 9:45 AM on June 23, 2009


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