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Strength training requires minimal personal gear: weights, a pair of supportive shoes, and lifting gloves. A weight lifting belt is only recommended during maximal or near maximal lifts, and is not recommended at all for exercises that do not stress the back. This is because the belt takes over the role of the abdominal muscles in stabilizing the torso, preventing the strengthening of the abdominal muscles.

The most common barbells found in gyms are Olympic style barbells. There are several styles that vary widely in size and weight, so ask a staff member at your gym to help you determine which barbell best suits your needs. In addition, the weight plates to load the barbells come in a variety of sizes and are measured in both pounds (lbs) and kilograms (kg). Pay attention to the weight measurements in your gym; there is a big difference between 10 lbs and 10 kg! Use adjustable collars to keep the plates on the bar.

Choosing which equipment to use depends largely on your goals and training experience. Table 7-1 lists a comparison of free weights and machines to help you with your choice. If you are new to a fitness center or if you are unsure how to work a piece of equipment, ask a fitness center staffer for an orientation. This orientation will help you design a workout routine based on the equipment selection at your gym.

Though this chapter focuses on resistance machines and free weights, resistance for strength training can come from a variety of sources. Other exercise techniques and equipment available for strength training when space and equipment may be limited are outlined in Chapters 8 and 10.

Table 7-1. Free Weights vs. Resistance Machines

Free Weights Low cost and versatile.

Form is crucial; spotter is needed.

Trains balance and posture; mimics daily activities.

Can perform multi-joint and single-joint exercises.

Muscles trained through joint's full range of motion.

Resistance Machines

Expensive, less versatile, need access to equipment.

Supports the body during the exercise; easy to adjust.

Isolates muscle groups more easily than free weights.

Machines made for multi-joint and single-joint exercises.

Muscle training occurs in a limited range of motion.

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