What is Resistance Training?
Resistance training, also referred to as strength training or weight training, is any physical movement in which you use your body weight or equipment such as resistance bands, gym machines, or dumbbells, to build muscle mass, strength, and endurance. It is based on the principle that muscles of the body will work to overcome a resistance force when they are required to do so. When you do resistance training repeatedly and consistently, your muscles become stronger. Having increased muscle tone has many benefits therefore, strength training is an important part of a balanced fitness program.
What types of exercise are considered Resistance/ Strength exercises?
- Bodyweight: no equipment needed! Using your own body weight is a great way to gain strength and build muscle. Doing exercises such as push-ups, planks, squats, pull ups and lunges uses your own body weight and the force of gravity to perform these movements creates resistance which strengthens and builds muscles.
- Free weights: equipment not bound to the floor or a machine, such as dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, medicine balls or objects around the house. Grab some weights and use them for bicep curls, triceps work or shoulder raises. Don’t have free weights? No problem – use 2 water bottles, 2 can food items or laundry detergent bottles. Many household items can substitute for free weights and build resistance to help strengthen muscles.
- Resistance bands/loop bands: rubber bands that provide resistance when stretched. These bands are great for small places and easy to travel with. Resistance bands can be used to do arm work and loop bands are great for lower body exercises. They also put less pressure on the joints and can target both small and large muscle groups at once.
- Weight machines: machines with adjustable weights or hydraulics attached to provide resistance and stress to the muscles. Most gyms have weight machines to enhance your workout. There are machines that will work upper body, lower body and core muscles. You can invest in weight machines for home use also.
- Suspension equipment: consists of ropes or straps that are anchored to a sturdy point in which a person uses their body weight and gravity to perform various exercises. In cable suspension training, you suspend part of your body – such as your legs – while doing body weight training such as pushups or planks. This is often called TRX (Total Resistance Exercise). Many gyms have TRX classes which will incorporate this type of strength training.
Regardless of the type of strength training you perform; the goal is to put your muscles under tension to allow muscular adaptations and stimulate muscle growth. With regular practice, your muscles will become stronger.
There are many benefits to resistance/strength training that can improve your health:
- Improved muscle strength and tone
- Strength training helps you become stronger which can allow you to perform daily tasks much easier such as carrying heavy groceries, lifting your child or running around with your kids or grandkids.
- Burns calories efficiently
- Strength training helps boost metabolism. Building muscle increases your metabolic rate. Muscles are more metabolically efficient than fat mass, allowing you to burn more calories at rest. Research shows that your metabolic rate is increased for up to 72 hours after strength training exercises. That could mean that you are still burning additional calories hours or even days after your workout!
- Can help you appear leaner
- Muscles are denser than fat, meaning they take up less space and you will look leaner. This may result in less inches on your waist even if you do not see a change in the number on the scale. Losing inches on your waist can help lower your risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.
- Help reduce body fat and increase lean muscle mass
- As we age, lean muscle mass will diminish, and body fat percentage will increase. If we do not do anything to replace the lean muscle mass that is lost over time, we will end up with weak muscles and more body fat than muscle mass. Strength exercises will help preserve and build muscles at any age.
- Improve mobility, balance, stability and flexibility
- Strength training increases joint range of motion which helps with flexibility and stability. Being more stable will help with overall balance which decreases risk of falls as you are better able to support your body. All of these can help you remain independent as you age.
- Lowers your risk of injury
- Strength training helps to improve the strength, range of motion and mobility of your muscles, ligaments, and tendons. This can reinforce strength around your major joints in your knees, hips, and ankles to provide additional protection against injury. Strengthening your core, hamstrings and glutes can help also prevent lower-back injuries.
- Greater stamina
- Making yourself stronger will help with your energy levels and you won’t get tired as easily.
- Improve heart health and can help manage blood sugar levels
- Multiple studies have shown that regular strength-training exercise can decrease blood pressure, lower total and LDL cholesterol, and improve blood circulation by strengthening the heart and blood vessels. Strength training can also help with managing blood sugars. Skeletal muscle helps to increase insulin sensitivity and reduces blood sugar levels by removing glucose from the blood and sending it to muscle cells.
- Makes your bones stronger
- Strength training helps with bone density. Weight-bearing exercises put temporary stress on your bones, sending a message to bone-building cells to take action and rebuild bones. Keeping your bones strong will help reduce the risk of osteoporosis, bone fractures, and frequency of falls as you age.
- Improves brain health and protects against cognitive decline
- Multiple studies in older adults have pointed to significant improvements in cognitive function such as processing speed and memory after participating in strength training. It is thought that resistance training has many neuroprotective effects such as improved blood flow and reduced inflammation which is linked to memory and learning.
- Provides confidence and improved quality of life
- Strength training can add a boost to your self-confidence. When you are working toward a goal, overcoming challenges and developing and appreciating your body’s strength, you feel better about yourself. Engaging in resistance training can make you feel better about yourself both mentally and physically.
How to get started
Before beginning any exercise regimen, consult your doctor, especially if you are over 40, have a chronic health condition or haven’t been physically active recently.
When starting resistance exercises, always warm up your muscles first by doing about 10 minutes of aerobic exercise such as brisk walking and some stretching to get your body loose. Cold and tight muscles are more prone to injury. It is also important to use proper technique and form to avoid injuries. Consult with a personal trainer or fitness specialist and they can help get you started.
Choose a weight or resistance level that is heavy enough to tire your muscles after about 12 to 15 repetitions. As you get stronger you can do more repetitions of a certain exercise or gradually increase the weight or resistance. Remember to breathe as you are performing your exercises and rest in between sets. You will not need to spend hours a day lifting weights to benefit from strength training. You can see significant improvements in your strength with two to three 20–30-minute strength training sessions a week. It is best to give your muscles time to recover, so rest one full day in between exercising each specific muscle group. For most adults, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends doing strength training exercises for all major muscle groups at least two times a week.