You are probably familiar with this weightlifting room staple, but dumbbells are very versatile and great for isolation exercises. If you are looking to build strength in specific muscles or muscle groups, dumbbells are your best choice.
A few suggestions for dumbbell exercises are alternating bicep curls, lateral raises, and triceps kickbacks.
These were originally designed to be put on the ends of barbells (covered below). However, weight plates are also great for making bodyweight exercises more difficult. For example: placing a plate on your back while holding a plank position, or holding a plate overhead during lunges.
There are a few variations of barbells, and you should choose wisely depending on your goals.
An Olympic barbell is 7 feet long and 45 pounds. It can hold up to 800 pounds of weight. This barbell is the choice for Olympic Lifts. Check out this Olympic Lifting Starter Plan for how-to video tutorials on barbell lifts.
There are also smaller, straight barbells ranging from 4-7 feet, and 20-35 pounds. The smaller barbells are good for exercises such as barbell curls and military presses.
Fixed Weight Barbell:
These are barbells shorter in length, and of a fixed weight. Theoretically, you can use them exactly the same as non-fixed weight barbells. However, it is less common to use fixed weight barbells for Olympic lifts.
Fixed weight barbell exercises include barbell lunges and skull crushers.
This is the funny, wiggly-shaped bar at the gym. Like the name implies, it is designed specifically for curling exercises (mostly biceps). The funny shape actually allows for a more “natural” hand grip when curling, and some say they can curl more weight with an EZ-Curl bar than with a straight barbell. Ez-Curls come as bar-only, and as fixed-weight.
Two exercises you can do with the EZ-Curl bar are spider curls and triceps presses.
Barbell Collar Clips:
If you are going to add plates to your barbell, you must use barbell clips to hold them in place, otherwise they will fall of the ends once you start moving the barbell around.
These will probably be scattered throughout the free weights section and have a plethora of uses. There are flat benches, incline benches, and decline benches. “Olympic style” benches mean that there is a barbell rack attached to the bench.
Olympic benches are for barbell exercises, while benches with no racks are generally for dumbbell & bodyweight exercises.
These benches are the most versatile, and can be used to support you in a huge variety of exercises.
To give you a few ideas, flat benches can be used for Bulgarian split squats, bench triceps dips, decline push ups, chest presses, dumbbell rows, and more.
These benches are for performing exercises while you sit, the advantage being back support.
Exercises you can do on the incline bench includes shoulder presses, incline bench presses, and dumbbell flys.
These are benches for performing exercises during which your head is below your feet.
Exercises include decline sit ups and decline triceps extensions.
These are most commonly used for bench presses. However, some Olympic benches are adjustable to be incline and decline, as well as flat. On those Olympic benches you have more choices for exercises, such as incline military presses or decline bench presses.
Hyper Extension Bench aka Roman Chair:
This confusing looking bench is for strengthening your core & back muscles. Use this bench by hooking your feet around the rollers, and resting your thighs on the padding, so that your torso hangs off the bench (here is a picture of how to sit on the roman chair).
You can do GHD sit ups or back extensions on the roman chair.
This is a bench with an angled pad for you to rest your upper arms on for stability during bicep exercises. You can use either dumbbells or a barbell for bicep curls on the preacher bench.
The squat rack is for squatting, obviously. The basic squat rack will have pegs on the side for holding plates, hooks for storing the barbell, and two spotter “arms”. The spotter arms are there the catch the weight in case you fail on a squat.
However, along with back, front, and overhead squats, it is also socially acceptable at the gym to use the squat rack as a station for deadlifts, cleans, thrusters, and other Olympic lifts. To do lifts other than squats, simply back out of the range of the spotter arms. Keep in mind that if you do so, you must be much more careful because there is no spotter if you drop the barbell.
The power rack is probably the single most versatile piece of equipment at the gym. A good power rack will include a pull up bar, dip bars, and spotter arms/hooks that are adjustable. This is a big deal because unlike the fixed spotters of the squat rack, spotters that are adjustable to any height for any exercise means you can safely do almost every heavy lift alone.
Any barbell exercise can be done in the power rack, but it is considered “rude” to do isometric exercises (such as bicep curls) in the rack. The power rack should be used for heavy, multi-joint lifts that require a spotter.
The Smith machine is a cross between a machine and a free weight barbell. It is a barbell that slides on a fixed rail, and can lock into certain places on the track. there is a simple J-hook locking mechanism that acts as a spotter. The Smith machine is good for exercises in which the barbell moves only along the vertical plane. For instance, this would be a horrible choice for practicing snatches, but a good choice for bench presses.
Any good gym should have at least two of these. A captains chair will have a pull up bar, dip bars, and back & arm padding (the “chair” part) for leg raises. Here is a picture of how to use the captains chair for leg raises.
Pull Up / Dip Station:
These are less common in gyms, as there are usually multiple other pieces of equipment with pull up and dip bars attached. However, if you see an object like this, it is for pull ups and dips.