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20 Fitness Experts Give The 60 Best Free Weight Exercises

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20 Fitness Experts Give The 60 Best Free Weight Exercises

Free weight exercises are a critical aspect of building muscle and increasing your overall level of fitness. The problem is, there's endless free weight exercises you can do - which ones are the most productive? To find out, we went out and polled fitness experts with a very simple question:
What are your favorite free weight exercises for upper body, lower body and core?
Their answers are compiled into this roundup post. High level results:
  • Upper body: 44% of the experts named variations of the standing press as their favorite.
  • Lower body: 70% of the experts named squats as their favorite.
  • Core: There was no major trend in favorites. Almost every expert named a different exercise.
MAIK WIEDENBACH

Upper body

  • Exercise: Standing military press
  • Reason: Nothing builds the upper body like military presses. It hits your triceps, chest, shoulders and abs - it's all there.

Lower body

  • Exercise: Squat
  • Reason: No surprises here, it's still the king of leg development. There's a number of variations you can use, but nothing beats a perfect technique squat.

Core

  • Exercise: Weighted pull ups with legs extended
  • Reason: Not only will this blast your abs, but your lats, biceps and forearms as well.
  Joel Snape

Upper body

  • Exercise: Strict Barbell Press
  • Reason: You can build a better chest with pressups and dips, but for most people, barbells are the way to better strength overhead.

Lower body

  • Exercise: Goblet Squat
  • Reason: This is the only squat a lot of people need to do. I wince when I see personal trainers let clients get away with half-rep, folding-forward barbell back squats when they'd get better depth with less risk from holding a kettlebell or dumbbell in front of them. A good goblet squat's almost like a loaded stretch for all your important bits.

Core

  • Exercise: Overhead squat
  • Reason: This is a great test of imbalances. If you can't do one with a stick, it's because you've got bad hip, ankle or shoulder mobility. For dudes who think they're strong, it's a great test full stop: if you can't do at least one rep with your own bodyweight overhead, you aren't strong.
  DAVE-SMITH

Upper, Lower and Core (Circuit)

I am all about time-efficient workouts, so I try to create workouts that require as few equipment changes as possible. One circuit I really like is:
          • Standing dumbbell shoulder press (10-12 reps)
          • Immediately followed by single leg dumbbell deadlifts (10-12 reps per leg)
          • Then followed with Russian Twists (40 reps with just one dumbbbell)
Doing these three exercises back-to-back-to-back is awesome for upper body, lower body, and core strength. Plus, it's amazing for your grip strength simply because you never put the dumbbells down during the entire circuit!   JOSIAH NOVAK

Upper body

  • Exercise: Deadlifts
  • Reason: A classic power lift that hits on multiple parts of your body.

Lower body

  • Exercise: Squats
  • Reason: Nothing beats the power of a perfect squat.

Core

  • Exercise: Hanging Ankles To Bar
  • Reason: By far one of the best ab workouts I've found.
  Dai Manuel

Upper body

  • Exercise: Man-Makers
  • Reason: I think the name says it all...

Lower body

  • Exercise: Dumbbell Cleans
  • Reason: An awesome lower body workout that also touches aspects of your core and upper body.

Core

  • Exercise: Planking
  • Reason: A great ab workout that blasts your whole core.
 

JOE-PIETARO

Upper body

  • Exercise: Bent Over Rows
  • Reason: It’s a great compound movement and will host more than just your back.

Lower body

  • Exercise: Squats
  • Reason: Squats are not called the king of exercises for no reason and they should be your first choice for lower body.

Core

  • Exercise: Rope Cable Crunches
  • Reason: Will hit the entire abdominal wall, obliques and lower back.
RICK-DRASIN

Upper body

  • Exercise: Dumbbell Standing Presses
  • Reason: Builds incredible mass in your shoulders.

Lower body

  • Exercise: Squats
  • Reason: The best exercise, period.

Core

  • Exercise: Squats and Deadlifts
  • Reason: Core is a new term we never used in the 70's. Instead it was abs, leg raises and crunches. Squats and deadlifts do that.
  BRANDON-EPSTEIN

Upper body

  • Exercise: Bent Over T bar Row
  • Reason: Nothing like the feeling of my shoulder blades squeezing together rep after rep and filling with blood. It's what I like to call a Backasm..

Lower body

  • Exercise: Squats
  • Reason: Keeps that lower body on point.

Core

  • Exercise: Yoga
  • Reason: It fires up dormant muscles in the core while improving flexibility and balance.
  julian-brown

Upper body

  • Exercise: Dumbbell Rows
  • Reason: This is a great lat exercise that isolates the muscle allowing you to create good symmetry.

Lower body

  • Exercise: Deadlift
  • Reason: It’s the no frills, tried and true exercise that I find my legs respond best to.

Core

  • Exercise: Variation
  • Reason: Outside of stabilizing my spine during my big compound lifts, I tend to train my core muscles with crunches, leg lifts, and planks.
  Ellyn-Ferriter

Upper body

  • Exercise: Shoulder Press
  • Reason: It's a compound exercise that targets multiple muscle groups in the arms, and if you choose a heavy enough weight, a few reps is all it takes to make those muscles burn!

Lower body

  • Exercise: Weighted Lunge
  • Reason: Whether it's walking lunges, lunge pulses, jump lunges, air squats, etc., having the added weight in each hand really maxes out the effort your legs can give, and the lunge movement works not only your quads, but glutes and hamstrings, too.

Core

  • Exercise: Russian Twist
  • Reason: I love targeting the obliques, and keeping your legs raised adds a bit more of a challenge for the entire abdominal region, especially when twisting with a heavy weight.
 

Hayden-William Cortland, Ph.D

Upper body

  • Exercise: Strict Press
  • Reason: There is nothing more functional for your upper body than pressing weight (an object) overhead and the Strict Press gets you very strong at doing this since it works a large number of your upper body muscles.

Lower body

  • Exercise: Squats
  • Reason: In particular the Low-Bar squat with a barbell. The low-bar squat allows you to lift the most amount of weight with the most amount of muscle mass through a large range of motion.

Core

  • Exercise: Turkish Getup
  • Reason: The initial sit-up off of your back is almost always the limiting factor as weight goes up, and once you do manage to sit up, you have to keep your core tight to stabilize the weight as you finish the movement.
 

ROBBIE-THOMPSON

Upper body

  • Exercise: Single Arm Dumbbell
  • Reason: A great way to activate key muscles in your upper body.

Lower body

  • Exercise: Squats
  • Reason: Hands down one of the best exercises you can do, period.

Core

  • Exercise: Seated Russian Twist
  • Reason: The cross motion activates tiny muscles in your core.

John Doe Bodybuilding

Upper body

  • Exercise: Pullups, Deadlifts and Incline Dumbbell Presses
  • Reason: Those 3 exercises right there will build everything, even if you neglected direct arm training you'd see your arms growing from just those 3 exercises hit on the regular.

Lower body

  • Exercise: Hack Squats and Leg Presses
  • Reason: Dorian Yates built an incredible body on just hacks and leg presses so there is living proof you can build up without barbell squats.

Core

  • Exercise: Situps and Decline Situps
  • Reason: Thats all you really need if your diet is tight enough, abs are made in the kitchen, not the gym!!
  Keil Nelson

Upper body

  • Exercise: Press Ups
  • Reason:a classic exercise that I think gets overlooked when building upper body strength. There are lots of different variations such as wide press/narrow press/diamond press etc so you can easily target specific muscle groups. No matter what your fitness levels, they are a great exercise you can incorporate into your routine to strengthen your upper body.

Lower body

  • Exercise: Jump Lunge
  • Reason: A twist on the traditional static lunge that bumps up the intensity by adding a plyometric transition. You literally work your entire lower body with the jump lunge. This exercise can be modified by changing the speed at which you perform the transitions, the depth of each lunge, and the height of each jump. A fantastic all over lower body exercise to make you feel the burn!

Core

  • Exercise: Plank
  • Reason: You can switch it up to really target specific abdominal muscles. A great exercise that increases core stability and strength. As you perform the exercise with a timer and not counting reps it's a great way to track your progress and see your core strength improving over time.
  Brandon Richey

Upper body

  • Exercise: The Push Up
  • Reason:Push ups are about maintaining core stabilization, scapula stability, and a streamlined rigidity. This is the purpose of the push up which addresses many areas that people tend to be weaker at during the movement.

Lower body

  • Exercise: Squats
  • Reason: Bodyweight squats are a huge component in developing lean muscle and addressing function. If the bodyweight squat is mastered then the barbell front or back squat offers tremendous value. Squats develop a bit more of a fine tuned sense of proprioceptive function while building a solid foundation.

Core

  • Exercise: Kettlebell Cleans
  • Reason: You guessed it the kettlebell clean requires a great deal of feel in order to effectively pull this off. It's a valuable lift with kettlebell training because it's a prerequisite for so many other lifts that can follow. In addition to this the kettlebell clean teaches a trainee to pull the weight off the ground using more hip and leg drive than trying to row the weight with the arm. Granted the upper body is getting worked, but the kettlebell clean is more a total body lift.
 

DAVID GILL

I recently came across a variation of the famous “Burpee” we all feel very strongly about (either love or hate). The trick is to execute these burpees at a much slower pace, with a relatively heavy dumbbell in each hand. The push-up part remains the same as usual, but the challenge is to get up with both dumbbells, and to finish with a shoulder press (no jump needed). Think of it as grabbing heavy objects on the floor and storing them high above your head. Highly functional.  

adam-nugent

Upper body

  • Exercise: Incline Bench Press
  • Reason: This exercise allows me to test my strength and for muscle size it really hits the upper chest and across the shoulders.

Lower body

  • Exercise: Squats
  • Reason: Hits your whole legs and thickens your upper body, plus makes my glutes stand out.

Core

  • Exercise: Barbell Roll Outs
  • Reason: One of the hardest ab exercises and demands a lot of core strength, but makes my abs look ripped.
 

miroslav judt

Upper body

  • Exercise: Decline Bench Press
  • Reason: Allows me to position myself on the bench better and can overload the pecs better than with anything else and its a great power movement.

Lower body

  • Exercise: Squats
  • Reason: For squatting I use wider stance and keep the bar low on my traps so I avoid leaning forward and target the quads and make sure I end the set due to the muscle fatigue and not due to the mechanical disadvantage.

Core

  • Exercise: Diet
  • Reason: I don't train the core directly. I leave the diet to lose the fat with an additional cardio and not any direct training. Another reason why I don’t train abs directly is to not increase my waist size and I rely on the compound movements to train my body as a whole.
  ERIC-BACH

Upper body

  • Exercise: Dumbbell Split Row
  • Reason: Rows are a cornerstone movement in most workouts for a good reason: They help build the coveted V-taper physique, thicken forearms, and strengthen the traps, lats, and rhomboids — all important muscles for posture and performance.

Lower body

  • Exercise: Front Squats
  • Reason: When it comes to maximizing the rewards of training while minimizing risk, the front squat takes the throne. The front squat is everything you need in the gym with less overall joint stress than back squats.

Core

  • Exercise: TRX Fallout
  • Reason: To reduce injury risk and boost performance, exercises like the TRX fallout crush the abs and teach you to resist extension of the spine.

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