In this series of articles we are going to take a look at the top ten fitness trends for 2023 as created for the annual ACSM’s (American College of Sports Medicine) Health & Fitness Journal worldwide survey 
The survey list actually covers 20 fitness trends as collated as part of the survey, but we’re just going to focus on the Top 10 and dive specifically into some background information about the trend, how it can benefit you as a fitness consumer, as a fitness professional and also add some general guidance and / or recommendations.
So here we go… Its Number 2 on the List: Strength Training with Free Weights
Before 2021, surveys used a broad definition for “strength training,” but in 2020, this was refined to the more specific title “strength training with free weights.” This change has allowed fitness enthusiasts to dive deeper into the world of free weights, encompassing barbells, kettlebells, dumbbells, and even medicine ball workouts.
In 2020, training with free weights broke into the fitness scene at #4, demonstrating its growing popularity. Although it briefly dipped to #8 in 2021, it quickly reclaimed its position, surging back to #4 in 2022. This resurgence highlights the enduring appeal and effectiveness of free weight training.
The history of strength training with free weights in the fitness industry is a rich and evolving story that spans centuries. From its origins as a practice rooted in ancient civilizations to its prominent role in modern fitness culture, the use of free weights has undergone significant transformation and development.
Ancient civilizations such as the Greeks and Egyptians recognized the benefits of strength training with free weights as early as 3000 BC. They used stones, sandbags, and even animal parts as makeshift weights to improve their physical prowess. These rudimentary tools laid the foundation for what would become a fundamental aspect of physical conditioning.
One of the key figures in the history of strength training with free weights is Eugen Sandow, often regarded as the “Father of Bodybuilding.” Sandow, a Victorian-era strongman, popularised the use of dumbbells and barbells in his shows and training routines. He not only showcased his impressive physique but also emphasised the importance of strength for overall health.
The 20th century marked a significant turning point in the history of strength training with free weights. Weightlifting became an official Olympic sport in 1896, further emphasising the significance of strength and muscular development.
The advent of gyms and fitness centres in the mid-20th century provided accessible platforms for individuals to engage in strength training with free weights. Equipment manufacturers like Nautilus and York Barbell Company revolutionised the industry by introducing innovative machines and equipment, enhancing the effectiveness of free weight exercises and icons like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bill Pearl played instrumental roles in popularising free weight training, making it a mainstream fitness activity.
In recent years, strength training with free weights has experienced a resurgence, driven by a growing awareness of its numerous health benefits. It is now recognized as an essential component of a well-rounded fitness regimen, with exercises like squats, deadlifts, and bench presses becoming staples in workout routines.
So… we now know that Strength Training with Free Weights has long been a cornerstone of fitness enthusiasts’ routines, and for good reason.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a seasoned gym-goer or just starting your fitness journey, incorporating free weights into your workouts can provide a multitude of benefits for your health, body shape, and overall physical fitness.
Strength training with free weights offers a host of health advantages. Firstly, it promotes bone density and reduces the risk of osteoporosis, especially important as we age. Secondly, it can help manage chronic conditions like diabetes by improving insulin sensitivity. Lastly, it boosts metabolism, aiding in weight management and fat loss. Regular sessions with free weights can be a potent prescription for a healthier life.
Free weights are your ticket to sculpting a well-defined physique. Unlike machines, free weights engage stabiliser muscles, leading to a balanced, symmetrical appearance. They enable you to target specific muscle groups effectively, aiding in fat loss and muscle toning. From chiselled arms to a firm core, free weights provide the versatility needed to achieve your body shape goals.
Free weights enhance functional strength, improving your ability to perform everyday tasks effortlessly. Whether you’re lifting groceries or climbing stairs, a strong foundation translates into improved functionality. Moreover, free weights enhance sports performance, making you a more agile and powerful athlete.
As a personal trainer, fitness instructor or strength and conditioning coach, we are constantly seeking innovative ways to help our clients achieve their health and fitness goals. One proven method that has stood the test of time is incorporating strength training with free weights into their programs. Not only does this approach provide numerous benefits, but it also adds a dynamic element to clients’ workouts, keeping them engaged and motivated.
The Physical Benefits of Strength Training with Free Weights:
Helpful Tips for Fitness Professionals:
OK, are you now ready to take your fitness journey to the next level? Look no further than strength training with free weights. While it might seem intimidating at first, incorporating free weights into your programs can deliver remarkable results.
Here are some basic “tips” to help you get the best out of your programs that include free weights:
Regardless of what stage you are at with your health and fitness journey, I always find the K.I.S.S (Keep It Super Simple) principle to program design works best… there’s no need to over complicate things!
Here are three free weight-focused strength training programs tailored for beginners, intermediates, and advanced clients. Remember to consult with a fitness professional or physician before starting any new exercise program, especially if you have any underlying medical conditions or concerns.
Beginner Strength Training Program:
Goal: Build a solid foundation of strength and proper lifting technique.
Frequency: 3 days per week (e.g., Monday, Wednesday, Friday).
Duration: 8-12 weeks.
Intermediate Strength Training Program:
Goal: Increase strength and muscle mass.
Frequency: 4 days per week (e.g., Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday).
Duration: 12-16 weeks.
Day 1 – Upper Body:
Day 2 – Lower Body:
Day 3 – Rest or Active Recovery (light cardio or yoga)
Day 4 – Upper Body:
Day 5 – Lower Body:
Advanced Strength Training Program:
Goal: Maximise strength and muscle development.
Frequency: 5 days per week (e.g., Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday).
Duration: Ongoing, with periodic deload weeks.
The advanced program utilises the Intermediate Program but focuses on increasing the Load (intensity) and decreasing the rep range to 6-8
Please note that all three programs should include a warm-up and cool-down with dynamic stretches and static stretches, respectively. Additionally, progressive overload (increasing weights over time) is crucial for continuous strength gains in all programs. It’s essential to maintain proper form and consider incorporating rest and recovery strategies, such as active rest days, foam rolling, and adequate sleep, to prevent overtraining and reduce the risk of injury.
In conclusion, incorporating free weights into your workout routine not only builds muscle but also fosters functional strength, balance, and overall well-being. So, whether you’re aiming to sculpt a lean physique or improve your daily life, make sure to embrace the power of free weight strength training at your gym. It’s the path to a stronger, healthier you.
Please Note: The information provided in this article are the opinions and professional experience of the author and not all activities are recommended for the beginner or participants with underlying health conditions. Before following any advice or starting any fitness, health and wellbeing journey please consult with an Allied Health Professional and / or General Practitioner.
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