Weight plates aren’t just for Olympic-style lifting: Their form factor makes them uniquely suited for adding resistance to exercises all by themselves. “Most plates have cut-out handles that work perfectly for you to be able to hold it comfortably in one hand or two as you go through exercises,” says Doug Spurling, certified strength and conditioning specialist and president of Spurling Training Systems in Kennebunk, Maine. Their thin profiles can also make loading exercises more manageable—for example, when adding weight in your hands by your sides, or holding them tightly into your chest.
Common plate sizes are five, 10, 25, 35, and 45 pounds. For most exercises, the 10-pounders are a good place to start. “However, don’t be afraid to increase weight when you can,” says Spurling. “Remember, it’s strength training, so in order to get effects, you want to have a good struggle towards the end of each set.” His rule of thumb: If after completing a set of 10 reps you could have done two more reps (with perfect form!), consider increasing the weight. On the other hand, if you can’t get within two reps of your goal number (so, eight reps of 10), the weight is too heavy.
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Below, Spurling suggests a few ways—demo’d in recordings made by the director of training at his gym—that a weight plate can amp up your strength-training session. Aim to do each exercise for 10 reps, then rest one to two minutes before going again. “Four to six rounds should be plenty for most people,” he says.
Squat and Press
Challenge your core and shoulders while adding weight to your squat with this combo move. Start holding a plate with both hands just above your collarbones. Sink deep into a squat, then as you come up to stand, extend your arms straight overhead. Lower the weight before squatting again.
Weighted Hip Thrust
“I think hip thrusts are one of the most underrated exercises for glute building,” says Spurling. “Loading them with a plate will help tremendously.” Keeping your plate nearby, come down onto the floor on your back, setting your feet on the floor directly under your knees. Place the plate on your stomach, so its edge is in your hip crease, and hold it in place with your hands. Bend at the hips to lower the butt down toward the ground, then motor the hips toward the ceiling by engaging the glutes.
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Single-Leg Deadlift with One-Arm Row
To take this balance-focused move up a notch, grasp a plate by its rim/handle in one hand. Shift your body weight so you’re standing on the opposite leg, and begin hinging forward, sending the free leg back behind you and letting the weight hang straight down toward the ground from your arm (you can put your free hand on your hip or hold it out to the side for balance). While hinged over, row the weight back, keeping your elbow close to your side. Engage the glute and hamstring of the standing leg to pull your body back to stand.
Because of its flat shape, weight plates are a great sub for dumbbells in this simple-but-effective core toner—you’re way less likely to bump your thigh on the weight as you walk. Pick up a plate in one hand, square off your shoulders, and walk forward 10 paces, then switch hands and walk back. By weighting only one side, your obliques have to work doubly hard to maintain your posture.
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Amy Roberts is a certified personal trainer.