5 essential exercises to do with weights

5 Essential Exercises to do with Weights

March 3, 2021

The first time I lifted weights, I was in college. I was working out at New York Sports Club, using their treadmills and elliptical machines, primarily. While I was waiting for the cardio machines, I’d often bust out some forearm stands or handstands or some other fun yoga pose on the gym mats, checking myself out in the mirror.

This was before iPhones, so I rarely had the chance to watch myself do yoga and I took it.

I didn’t use the weights at the gym at first because I was content to get sweaty doing cardio. The cardio was appealing not just because I got sweaty but because Ali Larter often used the same equipment at the same time. 

So it took me awhile to work up the courage to use weights. 

Truthfully, I was afraid I’d do it wrong or that I’d look silly.

Appearances meant a lot to me back then.

When I finally did start using the weight machines, I was a little unimpressed but that was probably because it felt harder than I wanted to admit.

I was used to things coming easy to me, especially if I was doing something physical.

Dancing, running, yoga — all of it came easily and naturally.

Lifting weights, on the other hand, was hard.

A few years later, I found my first real yoga teacher and started taking several classes a week. I figured that since I was doing so much yoga all of the time, I didn’t need anything else.

So I gave up the weights, happily.

Yoga definitely made me stronger than I was before.

But it wasn’t enough as I got older, particularly after I had my first baby.

Postpartum recovery was harder than I expected and I felt like I’d lost a lot of the strength I’d gained, pre-baby.

I was hesitant to lift weights again, so this time I worked with professionals instead of going it alone.

As a new mom, I couldn’t physically go to a gym so I took online classes instead. Being able to lift at home was the actual best.

I didn’t need anything fancy. A few options for hand weights were enough.

I started small, gained confidence, and built my way up.

And while I still workout with pros online, there are a few exercises I do every week to increase my strength on my own.

These are exercises I could have easily started years ago on my own because they are that simple.

They’re also functional and practical, benefitting me more than just having overall strength.

If you’re thinking about starting with weights, these would be the among the first I’d recommend.

5 Essential Exercises to do with Weights

Biceps curls

I love biceps curls. Nothing makes me feel more like a legit weightlifter than biceps curls. A few years ago, I was doing 10 reps or more with a 5lb weight in each hand. Now I’m doing 5 reps with a 20lb weight in each hand.

I also love biceps curls because from a practical standpoint, they help me lift heavier things (like bags of groceries or a child who has fallen asleep in their carseat)

Plus, we don’t really do a lot of biceps in yoga and our biceps need some attention.

Strengthening your biceps helps in your yoga practice with poses like dolphin, forearm stand, and headstand, among others.

Overhead press

The overhead press is hard for me. I can easily lift 8 and 10lb weights in each hand, pressing straight up from my shoulders, but more than that and I am shaking. This is not a bad thing. Just shows me where I can continue to do go work.

The ability to lift heavy things above my head is a big skill I want to keep as I get older.

In yoga, the overhead press helps with poses like handstand, wheel, and wild thing, among others.

Overhead triceps extension

This is another biggie. We use our triceps a decent amount in yoga, especially if you do a lot of chatturangas. But are you using them through the full range of their capacity?

Plus, there’s a big difference between supporting your body weight and adding weight, with repetition.

Overhead triceps extension can help with poses like salabasana, chatturanga, and cobra, among others.

Weighted Squats

To be honest, these are the easiest for me. My legs are fairly strong, so in order to really build strength, I am doing squats with 40lb kettlebells. I could probably go higher. Weighted squats are fantastic for building leg and glutes strength. They’re also great for pelvic floor health!

Weighted squats give me even more pick to pick up kids who have fallen asleep on the couch or in another siblings bed.

In yoga, they make all standing poses easier.


I dislike the name, but deadlifts are great for hamstrings. In yoga, we tend to stretch our hamstrings passively. This isn’t a universal truth. You can actively engage your hamstrings in certain yoga poses and working the muscles in a certain way. However, we’re rarely building strength with those poses.

Deadlifts are basically just coming up to stand from a forward bend with weight in your hand. You can do then single leg or both legs and use weights as heavy as you want. They key is to lift from your actual legs, not your back so a slight bend in your knees can be helpful.

In yoga, deadlifts can make forward bending easier, not to mention hanuman. And also picking up hundreds of tiny legos without throwing out my back.

Are you sold on adding more weight to your movement practice yet?

If so, check out my 8-week yoga with weights series. We’ll build strength on the mat using familiar poses and weights appropriate to your experience. Save your spot here.

If you’re not sure about how many reps will help you build strength or how heavy you should lift, check out this great informative video from Jenni Rawlings.

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