First off, it pays to dispel the myth that free weights are more dangerous than machines. The reality is that both free weights and machines can pose a threat depending on your knowledge of the exercise. The beauty of free weights is that the weight will always accommodate your body size perfectly. Machines on the other hand can force your body to move in unsafe and awkward ways that can bring about injury.
The great thing about free weights is that it’s actually kind of hard to screw up while using them. I like to think about lifting free weights like throwing a base ball. While there are some people who spend their life mastering the skill of throwing that ball, you don’t have to master it to play catch with some friends. So don’t let the skill factor intimidate you. Instead look at it as an area of fitness you can constantly improve in.
If you are a dedicated machine user I recommend switching to dumbbell exercises that mimic the same motion as the ones you are using on machines. For example, if you use a shoulder press machine where you sit upright and push a bar up over your head, try and do the same thing with hand weights. Simply sit on a bench and move your hands in the same motion, kind of like you were a mime mimicking the machine. multihead weigher
Once you have the motion down select a light pair of dumbbells and do the same thing again with weight in your hands. As you become more accustomed to the motion, you can add more weight until you feel the exercise is working you sufficiently.
By all means, take your time. You don’t have to learn 50 free weight exercises in a day. Simply tackling one or two a week will give you the basics within a few months.
I always recommend seeking the advice of someone who is proficient in the use of free weights. Learning directly from another person can drastically speed up your ability to become comfortable and avoid possible pit falls. You could hire a personal trainer, but you might even know a good friend or a coworker who can give you a few minutes of their time. Also don’t neglect sources such as You Tube or books from the library.
As always, listen to any aches and pains within your body. Every exercise you do should be pain free with the possible exception of some slight burning in the muscle. If your knees, shoulders of any other joints are talking to you during or after an exercise that’s a sure sign that something needs to be addressed immediately. Do not try and work through any such discomfort or pain.
Finally, feel free to experiment and play around. As I said, you don’t have to be a master at weight lifting to benefit. Simply playing around and seeing what works with some light hand weights is the best way to figure out what works best for you.