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It’s 9 p.m. on a Thursday. You’re about halfway through an episode of The Bachelor (yes, you’re still catching up) when you suddenly realize that you haven’t worked out all week. Ugh. Before you brave the boredom of a late-night gym sesh—trust us, the elliptical won’t miss you—break out the dumbbells collecting dust in your closet. With a few simple moves, you can complete a full-body workout (warm-up and all) before Chris Harrison can say, “This is the final rose tonight.” Read on for 12 of the best free weight exercises you can easily do in your living room, plus an in-depth look at their benefits, how they differ from machines and how to determine exactly how much weight to lift.

What Are the Benefits of Free Weight Training?

To help us dive into the world of free weights, we consulted L.A. personal trainer Danny Saltos, who has more than a decade of experience in the fitness space and works with Instagram influencers like Jen Atkin, Camila Coelho and Aimee Song. “Free weights offer a variety of benefits,” he tells us, adding that they’re an integral part of his client’s routines. “They’re versatile and safer on joints, and they can provide greater results than other forms of resistance training. Most important, they’re fun!” Toning aside, incorporating free weight exercises into your daily life can also help prevent injuries. Whether you’re running, biking, swimming or just walking across the street, injuries can happen when there are imbalances in your muscles. Because free weights target multiple muscle groups at once, they are able to challenge and strengthen those small, stabilizing muscles you don’t even realize you have.

As far as workout gear goes, free weights are also a pretty reasonable investment (we love this $28 set from Amazon). All you need are a few square feet of space to complete dozens of exercises. Plus, when company comes over, stowing away a few sets of dumbbells is way easier than hiding an eight-foot-tall Bowflex 3000.

How Do Free Weights Differ from Machine Weights?

Ah, the great debate: free weights versus machine weights. How do they differ? And which will give you a better workout? For Saltos, the answer is clear: free weights, free weights, free weights. “Machines typically work in one dimension,” he explains. “They have a fixed movement pattern that only works in one plane of motion. Free weights, however, are functional.” Meaning they allow your body to move through space as you would in normal life, say while moving furniture, doing yard work or putting away the groceries. “As a result, they’re better for overall fitness. You’ll utilize more muscles, burn more calories and improve muscle imbalances.” A study conducted by The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research also found evidence of greater muscle activity during a free weight exercise compared to a guided weight machine (both simulating a bench press). Take that, Bowflex 3000.

How Do I Decide How Much Weight to Lift?

If you’re new to free weights and are just starting out, a light pair of dumbbells—anywhere from two to five pounds—will allow you to focus on form while still challenging your body. If you’ve dabbled in the dumbbell world but were never sure which weight to grab, Saltos suggests you follow these two simple rules: “One, make sure you have proper form. If you don’t have the proper form, you will most likely injure yourself and establish bad habits that are hard to break. And two, listen to your body. If the weight starts to burn at rep 9 or 10, and reps 11 and 12 are challenging but doable while maintaining proper form, you have the right weight. If you get through all 12 reps easy breezy, it’s time to find something a little heavier.”

But the true beauty of free weights? “You don’t need to lift crazy amounts of weight to get results,” Saltos says. Low-weight, high-rep workouts will leave you feeling strong and stable, guaranteed. Ready to break a sweat? Complete two rounds of this three-part, 12-exercise circuit (plus the warm-up!) for a fast and fun workout you can do just about anywhere.

RELATED: 12 Arm Workouts for Women That Require Zero Equipment

warm up 2x

Every great workout begins with an even better warm-up. “Keep it simple,” Saltos advises. “The warm-up should consist of movements that are similar to the exercises you’re about to perform, but at a much lower intensity. Follow that up with about ten minutes of light to moderate cardio and you’re good to go.”

To get your blood flowing and your heart rate up, move through this four-part arm series holding no more than a five-pound dumbbell in each hand. Keep your feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, chest angled down and core engaged. Complete two sets of five reps each, resting after each set as needed.

free weight exercises warm up
Mckenzie Cordell

Y-T-W-L

Y: Let your arms hang down at your sides. Keeping your elbows straight, extend your arms up above your head until your biceps are next to your ears, forming the letter Y. Lower and repeat five times.

T: Let your arms hang down at your sides. Keeping your elbows straight, extend your arms out to the sides until they are even with your shoulders, forming the letter T. Lower and repeat five times.

W: Bend your elbows with your forearms facing in, parallel to each other. Keeping the bend in your elbows, extend your arms up and back, forming the letter W. Squeeze your shoulder blades at the top to fire up the muscles in your back. Lower and repeat five times.

L: Let your arms hang down at your sides. Lift up through your shoulders with your elbows pointing out to create a 90-degree angle until your upper arms are parallel with the floor. Hinging at the elbows, rotate your forearms up and back, forming the letter L. Rotate back down, release your arms to your sides and repeat five times.

upper body 2x

This is where your workout begins. Grab two dumbbells of a challenging but doable weight and get ready to work. (Total newbie? Start with five-pound weights and go from there.) Complete 12 reps of each exercise before moving on to the next. Rest in between as needed.

free weight exercises dumbbell hammer curl press up
Mckenzie Cordell

1. Dumbbell Hammer Curl + Shoulder Press Combo

Step 1: Begin in a standing position with your feet shoulder-width apart and arms at your sides, holding a dumbbell in each hand. Rotate your palms in so they’re facing each other as if you’re holding a hammer.

Step 2: Keeping your elbows close to your body, curl the dumbbells up to your shoulders, pausing slightly and squeezing your biceps. Then press the dumbbells up over your head until your arms are straight.

Step 3: In a controlled motion, lower the weights in the same order and repeat.

free weight exercises chest press
Mckenzie Cordell

2. Dumbbell Chest Press

Step 1: Lie down on your back with your legs straight or slightly bent, holding a dumbbell in each hand just to the sides of your shoulders. Your palms should be facing your feet in the starting position.

Step 2: Press the weights up above your chest, extending your elbows until your arms are straight. Do not arch your back. Engage your core so your lower back stays flat on the ground.

Step 3: Under control, bring the weights back down slowly until just past your shoulders and repeat.

free weight exercises dumbbell row
Mckenzie Cordell

3. Bent-Over Rows

Step 1: Begin in a standing position with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand. With your knees slightly bent and your back straight, hinge forward at the hips until your torso is facing the floor.

Step 2: Drive your elbows up and back behind your body until the weights are even with, or slightly past, your torso. Contract your shoulder blades at the top, as if you’re trying to squeeze something in between them.

Step 3: In a controlled motion, slowly lower the weights back to the starting position and repeat.

free weight exercises tricep kickbacks
Mckenzie Cordell

4. Triceps Kickbacks

Step 1: Begin in a standing position with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand. With your knees slightly bent and your back straight, hinge forward at the hips until your torso is facing the floor.

Step 2: Bend your arms to a 90-degree angle with your elbows close to your body. Lift the dumbbells up and back, hinging at the elbows, as you straighten your arms and lift, engaging your triceps.

Step 3: In a controlled motion, lower the weights in the same order and repeat.

lower body 2x

It’s time to fire up those quads, glutes and hammies. Grab two dumbbells of a challenging but doable weight and get ready to feel the burn. (Total beginner? Try ten-pound weights to start.) Complete 12 reps of each exercise (per leg when necessary) before moving on to the next exercise. Rest in between as needed.

free weight exercises dumbbell swings
Mckenzie Cordell

5. Dumbbell Swings

*If available, you can use a kettlebell here as well.

Step 1: Begin in a standing position with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding one dumbbell with both hands.

Step 2: Without rounding your back, bend your knees slightly, pushing your hips back and swinging the dumbbell down between your legs.

Step 3: As the weight begins to swing forward, contract your hamstrings and glutes, push your hips forward and swing the dumbbell up to chest level. This movement should be entirely driven by your legs. You should not be using your arms or shoulders to raise the weight. At the top of this movement, engage your core, glutes and quads.

Step 4: Allow the weight to swing back down between your legs and repeat.

free weight exercises single leg RDLs
Mckenzie Cordell

6. Single-Leg RDLs (Romanian Deadlifts)

*The difficulty level of this exercise will depend on the flexibility of your hamstrings. If you need a chair (or a workout buddy) to help steady you, go for it.

Step 1: Begin in a standing position with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding one dumbbell in your left hand in front of your thigh.

Step 2: With a slight bend in your right leg, send your left leg back and up while hinging your torso forward as if they were in one line. Keep your left leg straight and your left arm out to allow the momentum of the dumbbell to lead your chest toward the ground.

Step 3: Keeping your back flat, continue to bend at the waist until the dumbbell is at about mid-shin height.

Step 4: Engage your hamstrings and drive through your heel to push your hips forward and return to the starting position. Repeat and switch sides.

free weight exercises dumbbell step ups
Mckenzie Cordell

7. Dumbbell Step-Ups

*For this one, you’ll need to get creative with your equipment. Use your couch, a step stool, a low chair or a sturdy coffee table to step up on. (The second step of a staircase works too.)

Step 1: Begin in a standing position with your feet shoulder-width apart and arms at your sides, holding a dumbbell in each hand.

Step 2: Step up with your right foot, pressing through the heel to straighten your leg. Bring your left foot up to meet your right foot at the top.

Step 3: Bend your right knee and step down with your left foot. Bring your right foot down to meet your left foot on the ground. Repeat and switch sides.

free weight exercises goblet squat
Mckenzie Cordell

8. Goblet Squats

Step 1: Begin in a standing position with your feet slightly wider than hip-distance apart and your toes angled out. Bend your elbows and hold one dumbbell in both hands at the center of your chest with the base of each palm on either side of one end of the dumbbell.

Step 2: To avoid unwanted stress on your back, engage your core and keep your gaze straight ahead (don’t look down). Press your hips back and begin bending your knees to begin the squat. Focus on keeping your chest tall, sternum facing forward, elbows facing out as you continue pressing your hips back. At the lowest point, your hips should end up slightly below your knees.

*Take a breather! Make sure your knees are in line with your ankles. If they’re extending beyond your toes, widen your stance slightly.

Step 3: Press through your heels to reverse the motion and return to the starting position. Squeeze your glutes and press your hips forward at the top.

Step 4: Return to the starting position and repeat.

core 2x

Free weights are a great way to take your standard core workout to the next level. Grab two dumbbells of a challenging but doable weight­—for some of these you will only need one. Complete 12 reps of each exercise (on both the right and left sides when necessary) before moving on to the next. Rest in between as needed.

free weight exercises woodchop
Mckenzie Cordell

9. Woodchop

Step 1: Begin in a standing position with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding one dumbbell with both hands. Keeping your back aligned, crouch down to your right side until the dumbbell is even with and on the outside of your right shin.

Step 2: Twist your torso to the left and lift the weight up and across your body with straight arms until it’s above your left shoulder. As you lift, twist your hips and torso to the left while rising up onto your right toes and pivoting, as if you’re squishing a bug beneath your foot. Use your core muscles to control the movement.

Step 3: Reverse the twist and bring the weight back down to the outside of your right shin, keeping your arms straight.

*Don’t rush here! This one is all about control.

Step 4: Return to the starting position and repeat.

free weight exercises russian twists
Mckenzie Cordell

10. Russian Twists

Step 1: Begin in a seated position with your legs out straight, holding one dumbbell with both hands. Lean back slightly so your torso and thighs form a V shape, engaging your core to keep your back, shoulders and head lifted. Cross your feet at your ankles and hold the dumbbell at the center of your chest.

Step 2: As you balance, use your obliques to twist your torso from side to side until the weight is a few inches above the ground. Keep your legs as still as possible.

Step 3: Flow through and repeat.

free weight exercises apple pickers
Mckenzie Cordell

11. Apple Pickers

Step 1: Begin in a seated position with your legs out straight, holding one dumbbell with both hands. Lean back slightly so your torso and thighs form a V shape, engaging your core to keep your back, shoulders and head lifted. Cross your feet at your ankles and hold the dumbbell at the center of your chest.

Step 2: As you balance, use your obliques to twist your torso to the right, raising the weight above your shoulder until your arms are straight, as if you’re picking an apple off a tree. Twist to the left and bring the weight back down to your left hip, contracting your abs throughout the entire movement.

Step 3: Flow through, switch sides and repeat.

free weight exercises plank row
Mckenzie Cordell

12. Plank + Dumbbell Row

Step 1: Begin on all fours in a plank position with a dumbbell in each hand and your feet at least hip-width apart.

Step 2: Engage your abs and legs to keep your body as still as possible. Begin the row by driving one elbow up and back behind your body until the weight is even with or slightly past your torso. Contract your shoulder blade at the top and try not to lean into your standing arm too much.

Step 3: In a controlled motion, slowly lower the weight back to the starting position. Switch sides and repeat.

RELATED: 18 Stretches for Hip Flexor Muscles That You Can Easily Do at Home

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