Have you ever started a fitness regiment or a new diet and noticed that your weight increased, even if only slightly? And have you ever had a friend or family member tell you the same, tired old rhetoric that we’ve been hearing for years? “You’re gaining weight because muscle weighs more than fat…” No. No, it doesn’t. A pound of fat weighs the same as a pound of muscle. That reminds me of the trick question one of my teachers used to ask in one of my many high school physics classes: “What’s heavier? A pound of lead or a pound of feathers?” It would always be surprising (and disappointing) to see how many people automatically jumped to feathers without taking a moment to contemplate the question…
My point is, a weight is a weight is a weight. And this applies especially to fitness, where if you decide on a particular day that you’re going to arm curl 20 pounds, it really doesn’t matter what type of weight you’re using, so long as it weighs 20 pounds. Still with me? Good. But the difference is HOW you intend to use the weight in question and how you’ll incorporate it into your workout. I know some people who use kettlebells to perform hyper-extended push-ups. Sometimes dumbbells, as well. When you start adding such variety and changes, not all weights are created equal. And here’s why.
First of all, I’m not a big fan of spending money. Even when it’s for something geared towards my health & fitness, I get rather pissy when I feel I’m being taken for a ride, financially-speaking. If you’re going to invest in weight equipment, try going second hand. You’ll likely still find decent equipment that will serve your purpose, but it’ll be less costly than buying it brand new. For example, a 20-pound hex dumbbell goes for about $35. Each. That makes for an average of about $1.75/pound, which can get ridiculous when you start wandering into the realm of 40 or 50 pounds.
I’m far from being what anyone would call a “fitness expert,” and I certainly don’t have any acronyms or abbreviations following my name to claim authority on the subject. But this is one of those cases where a bit more expensive MAY (key word) guarantee you a bit more quality. And weight “machines” are fun gadgets, but bear in mind that they’re limited to only one function per station and don’t allow for workout variety. Not to mention it’ll cost you a second mortgage, your firstborn child and likely your soul. But let’s focus on free weights. Here are some of the different ones:
This is the old school shit, right here. A bar of metal with thread at either end, and you slap on some weight plates and cap it with a screw-on fastener. They’re metal, they’re bad ass and they make even the smallest weights look like you’re imitating Schwarzenegger. In fact, the ones you see in the photo are only 15-pound dumbbells. But the size and look of the plates lend a certain, shall we say, psychological feel. The benefit of this type of dumbbell is you can adjust it to whatever weight you choose. The disadvantage is that you HAVE to adjust it to whatever weight you choose. It can be cumbersome and time consuming to change up the weight between sets, unless you have multiple bars to use. But the durability can’t be denied and if one plate becomes damaged or broken, it’s far easier to purchase and replace the one plate than an entire dumbbell.
I don’t know what the fuck these are actually called, but you likely know them from seeing them in the corner of your ex-girlfriend’s living room because she’s “decided to make a positive fitness change” in her life. They can be recognized by the bright colours and light weight amounts. The weights themselves are made of cast iron and are usually coated in their tell-tale colour using a PVC derivative. The benefit to this type of dumbbell is that it’s aesthetically pleasing to the eye and can be handy for lighter workouts, especially if you incorporate them in circuits or cardio. The disadvantage is that they rarely come any heavier than 10 to 15 pounds (although I’ve seen exceptions) and can be pretty costly, unless you buy them in some sort of set or kit that includes a batch of them in different denominations. I make light of them (see what I did there?) but the truth is we have some of these in our home and it allows my whole family to perform weight exercises with me and I use the 8-pound ones for various exercises as well.
Some weights that you find will be made with certain types of plastics, polymers, polypropylene and concrete. Like I said at the beginning, a weight is a weight and the reality is that you can sometimes get these alternative weights at a much lower price than the previously mentioned types. That’s the big advantage. I’ve seen some plastic kettlebells at a local retailer for less than a dollar a pound. If you’re starting out or even if you’re simply trying to limit equipment cost, that’s pretty good. The disadvantage is that what you’re paying won’t give you the long-term durability of some of the other types of weights. If you have plastic weights filled with concrete or sand, you need to recognize that long-term use and/or dropping can lead to these weights splitting open and making a God-awful mess. Especially if you use them for alternative exercise routines, like hyper-extended push-ups and stuff. That’s only one example, of course.
Here we go! These are the writer’s favourite, the cadillac of free weights, the best of the best… in this humble martial artist’s opinion! Hex weights are usually made out of one piece of solid cast iron and painted grey or black. The ones you see in the photo are a bit on the fancier side as they feature a chromed grip and black, PVC-coated weights at either end. The benefit to these types of weight is that they’re very near indestructible, can be used for a wide variety of resistance and circuit workouts and rarely need replacing. The disadvantage is that they cost a bloody fortune! If you get the pretty black ones from the photo, you may be easily looking at $2/pound. If you’re buying a pair of 40-pound dumbbells, that’s $160 just for a pair of dumbbells! Despite this, they still stand as my favourites. Their construction makes it impossible for them to roll away from you when you set them down, they can be used for push-ups and various alternative exercises and if you drop them on the floor, you won’t damage them. You may get pissed at yourself for the damage you’ve caused to your floor, but I digress…
At the end of the day, the weights you use will be directly dependent on your budget, preference and exactly HOW you’ll be using the weights. I still stand by my belief that finding the equipment you need second-hand from someone who no longer wants it is a better way to go, but since you’ll be the one using the stuff, you need to make certain that you’re comfortable with it. While we’re discussing comfort, make sure that you purchase weights that you’re comfortable with and can easily lift and move around. Don’t go buying a set of dumbbells that has you trembling as though you’re having a seizure in order to complete one rep. Although it’s good to push the envelope, you need to be able to move and transport your weight easily without compromising or injuring yourself. ☯