You are ready to get into shape, and you’ve heard of a mythical type of exercise called “resistance training” that can help you get the toned, strong body you want. What is resistance training, and does it have something to do with all those dumbbells sitting along the gym wall? In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about resistance training, including the benefits of resistance training, the various types of resistance training, and how to program your own resistance workouts.
What Is Resistance Training?
According to FitDay.com, “resistance exercise is any form of exercise that forces your skeletal muscles to contract. An external resistance (such as heavy weights) is used to cause the contractions, and those contractions lead to increases in muscular strength, endurance, and tone.”
Resistance training, also commonly called “strength training” and “weight training,” comes in many forms and can look different depending on the exerciser and their goals. For example, resistance training doesn’t have to include heavy dumbbells or massive barbells, but it can.
How does resistance training work? When you perform a resistance training exercise, like a bicep curl with a dumbbell, the movement causes microscopic tears in your muscle cells. That might sound bad, but this is actually a normal process called “catabolism.” Catabolism is necessary for your muscles to grow and your strength to improve. After a hard day of resistance training, your body will repair all those microscopic tears. This process, known as “anabolism,” will build your muscles back bigger and stronger. Testosterone is part of the anabolism process, which is why men develop larger muscles than women. (Note: Weightlifting doesn’t make women bulky. That’s a common fitness myth!)
The Benefits of Resistance Training
Resistance training offers a wide range of benefits for exercisers of all ages and fitness levels. It’s not just for weightlifters or people who want huge muscles.
Improves your strength
Unsurprisingly, forcing your muscles to work against resistance will make you stronger. This can improve your quality of life. You may find it easier to lift heavy grocery bags, play with your children, and lug the vacuum up the stairs. Resistance training also protects you from muscle loss as you age, helping you to maintain your quality of life longer.
Strengthens your bones
Working against resistance doesn’t just build your muscles; it also keeps your bones strong. This can help you age more gracefully and prevent dangerous conditions, like osteoporosis.
Increases your resting metabolic rate
Your body needs to burn more calories to maintain a pound of muscle than a pound of fat. For this reason, every pound of muscle you add to your body will increase your resting metabolic rate, or the number of calories your body burns at rest. A higher metabolic rate will make it easier for you to keep off extra pounds.
Improves balance and coordination
Performing resistance training, especially using free weights, will force you to improve your balance, coordination, and overall body awareness. This type of training will also develop what are known as “stabilizer muscles,” or the small muscles that support many different types of movements. One study found that older adults who performed strength training exercise reduced their risk of falling by 40 percent.
Improve your health
Resistance training can help you stave off certain lifestyle diseases. It’s been shown to improve glucose control, a big factor in type II diabetes. It can also lower your risk of a heart attack or stroke and improve your overall circulation.
Different Types of Resistance Training
If you’ve spent any time at the gym, you’ve probably noticed more than a few bodybuilders hefting huge barbells on their backs. Is this resistance training? Yes, but resistance training comes in many forms. The woman doing push-ups in the corner or the man using the chest press machine are also engaging in resistance training. Here are the primary types of resistance training:
Bodyweight resistance training
Nearly any type of weighted object can be used in resistance training, including your own body. In fact, bodyweight exercises are an excellent way for new exercisers to begin a resistance training program. Some of the most popular bodyweight resistance training exercises are pull-ups, push-ups, sit-ups, and air squats.
Most standard gyms offer a large selection of resistance machines that allow their members to isolate specific muscles. These machines are also a great option for beginners. Exercisers control the weight by moving a pin up or down the stack of weights. The machines are typically easy to use and don’t require a high degree of balance or coordination.
Dumbbells, kettlebells, and barbells are all part of the free weights family. Free weights offer some big advantages. For one, they require more coordination and balance, which can help exercisers work on those important skills. Performing exercises with free weights also force the body to activate and recruit stabilizer muscles, providing a better overall workout. Finally, free weights allow exercisers to perform compound exercises, like back squats and deadlifts, which work a range of muscles in a single movement. Of course, free weights have their drawbacks too. They can be difficult for beginners to perform and may cause injuries if an exerciser does not use the correct form.
Low-cost, easily portable, and highly versatile, resistance bands are perhaps the most underappreciated resistance training tool around. Resistance bands usually come in a set that ranges in resistance level. You can perform many different exercises using resistance bands and progress through the bands as your strength increases. They’re also an excellent option for individuals who travel regularly or can’t always make it to the gym.
Building Your Resistance Workout
Are you ready to get started with a resistance workout routine? Great! Here’s what beginning exercisers need to know.
Start with a goal
Before you grab a dumbbell or resistance band, consider your goal. Do you want to improve your muscular endurance (how long your muscles can operate under load), your muscular strength (how much you can lift), or your muscle mass (the size and definition of your muscles)? The answer to this question will help you design your workouts. Those who want to improve muscular endurance should focus on performing more reps at a lighter weight. To improve strength, use medium and heavy weight over a smaller number of reps. Those looking for all the gainz should focus on small sets of heavy weight.
How often to perform resistance training
Your goal should be to work each major muscle group two to three times per week. You can work different muscle groups on the same days. It can be time-consuming to work all your muscle groups in a single day, so consider working one or two muscle groups each time you hit the gym and then adding in a cardio workout to round out your visit.
The major muscle groups are:
- Arms and shoulders
- Abs and core
How to program your workout
Beginning exercisers should start with a light weight. Focus on performing exercises with the correct form rather than trying to lift a heavy amount of weight. By dialing in your form, you’ll train your body to perform the movements correctly, which will help prevent injuries in the future.
Once your form is good, perform one to three sets of 5 to 10 reps at a light or medium weight. Ideally, the last few reps should feel difficult to complete. If the last few reps are easy, it’s time to increase your weight.
Embrace the concept of progressive overload
Your body is an amazing machine. It will quickly adapt to your resistance routine. To see the best results from your efforts, you must continually increase the difficulty of your training. This is known as progressive overload.
If you perform a set of 10 back squats at a certain weight and it feels easy, it’s time to increase the weight by 5 to 10 percent. Start with five reps at this weight and see how it feels. Increase your number of reps over time, until 10 reps feel easy. Then, it’s time to increase the weight again.
Rest and eat healthy
Your muscles don’t get stronger at the gym. It’s only when you rest that your body repairs the damage from your workout session, thereby making your muscles stronger. That’s why it’s so important to get enough sleep and eat healthy, nutritious food after your training sessions. You should also wait 48 to 72 hours before training the same muscles again.
The Time to Start Resistance Training Is Now
Resistance training should be a part of every person’s exercise routine, whether you have dreams of being a bodybuilder or simply want to be able to give your grandkids piggyback rides someday. Resistance training can improve your quality of life and give your body great definition. Choose one of the different types of resistance training outlined in this article and begin building your own resistance workout at home or in the gym.
Not sure how to create your own resistance routine or nervous about picking up a dumbbell? Then, consider hiring a personal trainer to create a customized fitness program for you and to guide you through each workout.