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Weight Lifting Equipment

What to look for

Basic Strength Building Background

What is Strength Training?

We will classify weight lifting equipment as any equipment used in strength training. Strength training is exercising with the goal of increasing your physical strength. There are two general categories of strength, relative strength and absolute strength.

Relative Strength.

Relative strength is building maximal strength without increasing your body-weight. It is not about “bulking-up”. You would probably use different weight lifting equipment with this goal in mind.

Absolute Strength.

Absolute strength is simply about maximizing your body’s ability to perform work regardless of body-weight, more body-weight means bigger muscles and greater strength. Think about the big offensive linemen or the super-heavyweight power lifters.

While you can use many different weight lifting equipment to reach either goal the traditional weight lifting machines would be what most people would think of regarding this goal.

Building Strength

Weight lifting equipment has changed over the years. Jack Lalanne invented many of the concepts used in modern day weight lifting machines. These machines and equipment have not entirely replaced the classic barbell and dumbell sets.

Strength takes time to build and basically work through working your muscles in different ways. Many strength and conditioning coaches are getting away from the idea of using weight lifting equipment to build absolute strength.

Instead, more and more athletes at all levels are looking to build relative strength. In building relative strength, the weight lifting equipment used often not your traditional home gym.

In building strength you need to work your muscles in different ways.

Stress.

Exercising, by its very nature, places stress on your muscles. By placing stress on your muscles through exercise your body adapts by getting stronger and building muscle. Weight lifting equipment provides different alternatives for producing this stress.

Progressive Loading.

As your body adjusts to the stress if you increase the resistance systematically to avoid plateaus you continue to stress your body and add strength. All weight lifting machines or weight lifting equipment are designed to do this.

Plateau Breaking.

Eventually your body simply reaches a plateau where resistance isn’t creating the benefits it was early in your training. By decreasing the resistance for a while, then increasing it again your body will often reacting by breaking through your plateau.

Again, weight lifting equipment generally provides you with the flexibility to alter resistance.

Speed

The faster you move the stronger you’ll be. You’re using more muscle fibers and can use momentum. This has less to do with the equipment you use than the technique. Some machines though could hinder your ability to exercise faster.

Power

Power is the ability to accelerate: going from a dead stop to fast. The quicker you can achieve top speeds, the stronger you’ll be. Again, this has less to do with weight lifting equipment than it does technique.

Types of Strength Training

You have different types of weight lifting equipment or methods available to build strength. Here’s a general list.

Free Weights

The classic picture of athletes working out in the gym or power-lifters competing in the Olympics is of people using barbells and dumb bells. The most basic weight lifting equipment are free weight sets and benches. They have been sold for years.

Weight Lifting Machines

A disadvantage of a machine over free weights are restricted in your plane of movement. A machine moves in a fixed plane of movement so you have to fit around it. Secondly, you're limited to the weight you can lift.

The advantage to a home gym are they are much safer than free weights, especially if you don't have a training partner. You can also push yourself to failure on each exercise. Most home gyms have a lat pull down and attachments to work your legs. Their biggest advantage though has to be convenience and ease of use. Just pull the pin out to change the weight. No lugging heavy plates on and off barbells in between exercises. In terms of space requirement there's little to separate the two.

There are numerous machines on the market. The type of resistance is what makes them different.

Weights

Machines that use weights as resistance are often known as universal weight lifting equipment or machines. They use pulleys and chains or other means of attaching weight. These machines allow you to do a variety of exercises and are generally safer for you to use alone than free weights.


Bands

The bowflex uses bands to create resistance. Each band provides a different amount of resistance. Unlike traditional machines, Bowflex home gyms with their resistance bars don't rely on gravity. As a result, they make it impossible to 'cheat' your way through an exercise while reducing strain on the joints and tendons. For efficiency, safety and results, no free weight system or weight stack machine even comes close.


Body Weight resistance

There are weight lifting machines that will allow you to do numerous exercises using a percentage of your body weight as resistance. Probably the most recognized machine of this type is the Total GymTM.



Other equipment include simple chin-up bars or push-up devices such as the Perfect Push-up.

What to look for

Durability

There are a number of cheap weight lifting equipment available. The free weights are typically filled with sand or some other material for weight. While this type of weight set offers its own advantages, it will undoubtedly wear over time and eventually become unusable.

A traditional and more expensive cast iron weight set will last as long as you do and take any abuse you dish out on it.

Don't ignore the material for any bench and storage devises for the sets you get. You do get what you pay for.

With any of the weight lifting machines you will want to make sure they are made of quality, durable materials. Cheap plastic and or metal can be both unsafe or likely to break in a much shorter period of time.

You would want to check out the warrantees. The longer the warranty the better. Also, if the manufacturer has been around for a while, like the Total GymTM, or BowFlex you can probably be safe that the quality of the product is generally good.

Portability

You will need to ask yourself how portable you need it and if it is designed in a manner that makes it easy to move even from one room to another. This would also include its ability to breakdown and store.

If you don’t have the adequate floor space and want this machine to out of the way when you aren’t using it the ability to break it down and put it up quickly and easily is vital. You also need to understand that if it is out of sight it is out of mind and it become much easier for you to not get into a workout routine.

We don't just mean all the weights but the benches and storage racks, which you would want to consider as well.

If you are intending to build a good home gym consisting of free weights storage and space will be important as by the very nature they are not extremely portable.. 

Size

You will want to consider the amount of weight that comes in a free weight set or the amount or resistance a machine can provide. Think about the workouts you will want to do as well as your ultimate goals. If your primary goal is relative strength you don't need a great deal of weight. In fact, many trainers will recommend not even using this type of weight lifting equipment.

You would want to look at the price of additional pieces to add to the set separately. It could be that you get a good enough deal by buying a set that you decide it is worth purchasing one with more weight than you will need for your goals.

You will want to look at the number and size of dumbells that could be included in the set. You would definitely not want to ignore having dumbells included.

Also, in considering size don't ignore the amount of floor space you will need for benches or other equipment that helps keep you safe while lifting or store your weights when not in use. The size of the machine or machines will also help you make a wise decision.

Weight Increments

How much can you increase the weight? The smaller the amount the more flexibility you have in designing a varied strength building routine. Many dumbbells are of a fixed weight, but adjustable dumbbell systems are available for a slightly higher cost.

These dumbbells are ideal for those who want to build muscle through single-arm exercises, but don't have room for fifty dumbbells of differing weights.

Safety

The more expensive sets are generally better quality and better made, which will make them less likely to break. The collars are especially important. If weights fall off the barbell injuries can and will happen.

Weight benches need to be strong and sturdy. The last thing you need is a bench to break while you are lying on it doing a bench-press. Check the construction material and design. Cheap material is more likely to break and design with lots of pieces to assemble makes for more opportunity for structural failure.

Most weight sets have either smooth iron, which could slip when wet, or textured iron or chrome which over time could wear away at skin. Many weight sets now have rubberized grips that allow for a very secure hold while being softer on your palms than metal.

Kettle Bells, Ropes, and other "weight lifting equipment.

Kettlebells

Anyone that is familiar with kettlebells will know that actually one of the oldest types of weight lifting equipment. If you are unfamiliar with a kettlebell, imagine a cast iron shot put (of various size and weights) attached to a very thick iron handle.

Kettlebells have become resurrected as an important option in choosing weight lifting equipment. This is especially true if your goal is relative strength.

I first learned of kettlebells through a gentleman who was working to for Punch Kettlebell Gyms. He had been involved in the gym scene for years and was working to help open franchises for Punch Kettlebell Gyms. We were coaching baseball and he was using some really interesting strength and conditioning techniques that caught my attention.

As it turns out there are numerous strength and conditioning coaches at the professional level who are using kettlebells and ropes (more on this later) as major weight lifting equipment.

If you are a rookie considering kettlebells and want to give them an honest trial you might want to at least purchase the video of Pavel Tsatsouline's The Russian Kettlebell Challenge. Pavel's is an expert with kettlebells (he was a nationally ranked kettlebell lifter in Russia) and with training elite special forces units. You can also check out the art of strength website.

Watching the video you will notice that many of the lifts were variations of the classic Olympic lifts. If you were an experienced weight lifter you would notice in the video that many of the kettlebell ballistic lifts were much easier to learn than the traditional Olympic lifts, and it seems believable that anyone could learn these lifts. There were some very interesting other exercises as well, such as the bent press, several different overhead pressing exercises, the windmill.

The movement of the kettlebell versus a dumbbell is different. The flipping of the kettlebell and the leverage was quite different along with the extra grip work that was performed because of the thick handle. Many people have been sold immediately that kettlebells are very useful weight lifting equipment.
   
The other great benefit of using a kettlebell is the ability to perform many different hybrid exercises. With a dumbbell the movements are not as smooth or easy to perform because of its shape. The kettlebell allows one to transition to many various exercises very quickly. This is not only effective for strength, but outstanding for dropping bodyfat because of the high caloric expenditure and the increased level of intensity.

There several features to consider in purchasing kettlebells. There are companies that offer plate-loaded kettlebells, which would make sense to many lifters. However, the problem with those is the kettlebell flips onto the wrist in many of the exercises, which is not a problem when the exercises are done correctly because of the shape of the bell. This changes though when you use plates. Imagine several ten-pound plates banging against your wrist!

In a traditional kettlebell you also have a stationary handle, the newer models may have a revolving handle. The problem then becomes the kettlebell would gain too much momentum when flipping over, again, this would lead to a very unpleasant striking of the forearm.

There are models that allow you to fill your own kettlebells. Those can be very convenient if you travel frequently and want to bring some with you. You may not want those as your everyday kettlebells.

Like most weight lifting equipment you should check out the manufacturer's guarantee and warrantee. How long have the been around? What is the material made from. In purchasing any weight lifting equipment we don't advise skimping. We understand it is hard to live within budgets, but you do get what you pay for.

They are terrific for bodyfat loss, improving lean body mass, and helping teach proper speed of the hips (very important for speed and power sports). I would not get rid of barbells and dumbbells, but do feel that kettlebells have and SHOULD be used by any serious lifter.

Just make sure that you find a qualified instructor if you are wanting to incorporate some of the more challenging lifts.

Benefits from kettlebells versus regular free weights include:
  • Greater body rhythm
  • Increased grip strength
  • Different leverage stimulates the muscles differently
  • Ability to perform hundreds of hybrids and exercises
Ropes

Ropes Gone Wild is a workout developed by Art of Strength. It is strength building and endurance training. The only weight lifting equipment you need is a heavy and long rope. Just a few minutes of Ropes Gone Wild is as good as running on the treadmill at high speed for a half-hour, and it’s a lot more fun!
 
The ropes are not your standard rope. The reason this helps build strength as well as endurance is they are heavy guage. The weight lifting equipment is the rope.

At home you would loop a rope through a couple of heavy kettlebells to anchor it down, and then I go right to undulating it.  That gets my heart rate up immediately.  It’s a full-body workout.  The movement comes from my core and radiates out into the ropes.



At Punch, workouts generally end with Ropes Gone Wild, Tabata style – 20 seconds of work and 10 seconds of rest, 8 times.  That’s about 4 minutes building up serious endurance. This intense interval-training also burns a lot of calories, not only while we’re training, but for hours afterwards.
 
Regardless of age, fitness, or skill level, anyone, strongman or not, can benefit from Ropes Gone Wild.  It beats the monotony of treadmills or ellipticals, and it burns far more fat and calories while increasing endurance.  That’s why ropes were named the best cardio tool of 2009, by Men’s Health magazine. 

Ropes are convenient, economical, and simple.  They can be used inside or outside, looped around a tree, a pole, or through kettlebell handles.  That’s all there is to it.  Ropes are another example of how you do not need fancy and expensive equipment to develop genuine strength and endurance. Simple equipment, huge effort, and lots of attitude are all that’s required.

Goals, workouts, and weight lifting equipment

Before investing in weight lifting equipment we suggest you take these steps.

First, be sure you are motivated to follow through with any workout plan. What is your history in this regard? What are you willing to put in place to be sure you will follow through? If you are not motivated to follow through you will be like an overwhelming majority who buy the weight lifting equipment or fitness equipment only to have it collect dust.

Second, assuming you have a good track record or good plan in place to follow through and develop a workout routine you will want to determine your goals. While you will want specific training goals right now we are talking about are you looking to develop relative strength or absolute strength. If it is relative strength you can get a great workout without all of this weight lifting equipment.

If you are an athlete looking to develop relative strength you may very well want this equipment, but you really don't necessarily need a huge home gym. Think about what you are after before deciding.
You should probably checkout our workout page also.

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