Resistance Training Explained. Part 1: The Basics

Resistance training is a form of exercise which requires your muscles to exert a contractile force against an internal or external resistance. In simpler terms – it requires your muscles to work hard to push or pull something (reasonably) heavy.

First things first – resistance training can be both good and bad. It’s important that it’s done properly so you achieve the most benefits without injury. I’d definitely recommend investing in at least one session with a trainer so they can run through technique and weight selection with you.

Types of Resistance Training

The most common type of resistance training is using weights; either machine weights or free weights (dumbells, barbells, kettle bells etc). These are a great option as the weight can vary from really light (0.5kg) right up to really really heavy (500kg!!!). It’s simple to see when you’re getting stronger, as you’ll start finding the weights you’re currently lifting easy and will be able to move up to the next weight. The options with weights are pretty much endless and we can easily train all muscle groups effectively. If you’re training with weights, chances are you probably have a gym membership, but what if you don’t? You can buy a set of weights to use at home for about $100-200; even a simple set can still provide great variety in the exercises you can do. For those that are serious about genuine strength training (read: HEAVY), weights are the way to go.

A brilliant alternative: a resistance band or tube. Resistance bands/tubes are one of my favourite pieces of equipment: you can train every single muscle group using them; they’re light, cheap and portable; and particularly brilliant for those new to exercise, elderly and/or undergoing rehabilitation. We can use bands/tubes to really isolate and focus on particular muscles, especially the smaller ones used for stabilisation and posture. As the band/tube stretches further, the tension gradually increases, unlike weights which provide continuous resistance the whole way through the movement. Resistance bands/tubes are available in varying degrees of tension, you can also loop them around or change the amount of tension by changing the position in which you are holding them. For those who have been strength training for a long time, resistance bands/tubes might not provide enough tension, in which case weights are more suited.

And finally, the cheapest option: your own body weight. Being able to lift your own body weight is often considered a sign of true strength; if you’ve ever tried doing a chin up or 20 push ups on your toes (or even one!), then you’ll know how hard it can be. Some body weight exercise will still require equipment, such as a chin up or body weight row, however many can be done using just you – push ups, tricep dips, squats, lunges, abdominal exercises etc. Although your body weight is pretty well set, we can use different methods to change the intensity of the exercise; push ups are a perfect example, we start in kneeling, progress to knees and finally onto the toes, we can even take it further and perform push ups with feet elevated or one hand only! If you’re looking at doing a lot of body weight training, I’d highly recommend a TRX trainer (or other brand) which allow huge versatility in the types and intensity of exercises you can perform; they also encourage your smaller stabilising and core muscles to get in on the action.

How to include resistance training in your exercise program.

The frequency of resistance training will vary depending on your goals, the amount of time you have to dedicate to exercise and your current fitness level and experience. For absolute beginners, aim to complete a full body workout lasting 20 minutes 2-3 times per week; progress this gradually until you’re completing a full body workout lasting 20-45 minutes 3 times per week. Uh, so what comprises a full body workout? Aim to train legs, chest, back, shoulders and abdominals; if you’ve got more time, include triceps and biceps. Choose a weight that allows you to perform 12-15 repetitions with good technique, but something that is heavy enough that you couldn’t perform any more than 18-20 reps. Plan for 2-3 sets of each exercise, with about 30-60 seconds rest between sets. For the general public, this is also a great recommendation and all you need to build some good muscle mass and achieve health benefits. BodyPump classes are also a fantastic way to get a complete weights workout done within the hour, including a warm up and stretch. If you’ve never done a BodyPump class  before, let the instructor know and they’ll set you up with some light weights to get you started; once you become a regular and have your technique spot on, the sky is the limit!

Whether you completing your resistance workout using weights, resistance bands, body weight or a BodyPump class, make sure you always have at least a days break between sessions. If you’re still particularly sore, take another day off, or train parts of your body that aren’t sore. Our muscles need time to repair and rebuild after each exercise session; check out my post on the importance of recovery!

If you’re specifically aiming for endurance, hypertrophy (muscle building) or strength improvements your resistance training program will be a bit more intricate – Part 2 will have more details for you!

Benefits of Resistance Training

There are so many good reasons to start and continue resistance training; it’s not just for body builders.

Resistance training can:
– help to increase or maintain your bone density
– improve your posture (when performed correctly)
– increase your lean muscle mass
– contribute to decreasing body fat
– provide functional strength that can benefit you in day to day life
improve insulin sensitivity and be used to manage blood glucose in diabetics
– assist in rehabilitation and injury prevention
– improve and develop positive muscle activation patterns (it can also do the opposite if not performed correctly)
– increase muscular endurance
– it leaves you feeling good!

Resistance training is also used for treatment, rehabilitation and pain management in cardiovascular, neurological, cancer, renal, musculoskeletal and metabolic patients.

Coming Up! Part 2: The difference between endurance, hypertrophy and strength training.


5 thoughts on “Resistance Training Explained. Part 1: The Basics

    • jodieahp says:

      Hi Pam, Unfortunately that’s not a question I can safely answer over the internet. I’d suggest seeing a local exercise physiologist who can complete an assessment and individualised exercise program.

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