The best fitness gear purchase you can make…

Free Weights

A good starter free weight set, with 90 pounds of cast-iron weight plates, a 15 pound standard bar, 2.2 pound dumbbell handles, and a 4.4 pound kettlebell handle.

OK, this is something I’ve been amassing gradually. During this period of time while I’ve been waiting for my new local gym to open up, I’ve been doing short-term workout agreements at places like Golden State Crossfit and I’ve also been attempting to gain the ability to do Crossfit-style workouts at home. To that end, the most effective set of tools you can get yourself is a set of plates, a bar, dumbbell handles and a kettlebell handle.

Usually fitness gear is expensive, and the more expensive you go, the better the quality. However, not really with free weights like these. If you scour garage sales, chances are you will find a set. And places like Play It Again Sports and thrift shops are also gold mines for this sort of thing.

Some people will tell you that you have to buy Olympic bars to do it right. Not necessarily. They are built a bit tougher than “standard” weight bars, but they are also much pricier and weights are harder to find used for them. They are also about 6 to 7 feet long…kind of unwieldy. Do yourself a favor and stick to the skinnier bars and the weights with the smaller holes in the middle. My bar is 5 feet long, and since I’m 5′ 2″ on a good day it’s perfect for me.

Dumbbells: don’t get tempted to buy the pretty kind covered in neoprene in bright colors. Get a pair of handles and use your standard plates on the bars. You’ll thank me when you need to put more weight on them to challenge yourself. Better to throw a couple more plates on than have to go to the store and buy another pair of pretty neoprene covered dumbbells.

Big Bell And then there’s kettlebells. The current hotness with regard to weight training. You can spend $20 for a 7-pound kettlebell, complete with cute pink neoprene wrap and a DVD of exercises. Or you can spend a bit more, get a burly handle that will last as long as the rest of your free weight gear, and have an expandable kettlebell you can use and which will not hold you back. The one I got from New York Barbells is rated for seven 10 pound plates. That’s 70 pounds! You can load it with as much weight as you like up to that point. If you are regularly using a 70 pound kettlebell, maybe you shouldn’t be visiting my site for fitness advice. Unfortunately the only way to get this arguably indispensable item is to go through specialty sites online. This should be part of the standard set, since kettlebells are so popular now. Unbelievable. I think the fitness companies that sell to the Big 5s and the Sports Authorities of the world (Not to mention the Dick’s! LOL…) want to sell those solid kettlebells instead. They aren’t doing you any favors.

Finally, the plates themselves. They can cost as little as 70 cents a pound at Play It Again, and that’s for the sturdy cast iron stuff that will last you a lifetime if you treat ’em right. Treating them right means don’t drop them…they can break if subjected to enough force.

Broken Plate

You don’t want that happening to you, right? OK. The only kind of weights you can safely slam down like you sometimes see at weightlifting events and at Crossfit competitions are the ones that have a thick covering of rubber over the metal. You can break those vinyl weights filled with concrete too. In fact, if you find a weight set and it’s made of that vinyl stuff and you feel something loose in there, DON’T USE IT. Don’t buy it. Actually do yourself a favor and stay away from that stuff.

Anyway, the cast iron plates are inexpensive even if you get some of them new. And stores have deals on them from time to time. Keep an eye out. And yes, you can mix and match and get them as you need them. That’s how I built up this set. Like the Man in Black said…I got it one piece at a time

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