Resistance (also called strength training or weight training), is any form of exercise that causes the muscles within our body to contract against an external resistance to condition the musculoskeletal system of the body, leading to increases in strength, tone mass and/or endurance.
When you lift weights at the gym to get stronger or bigger or more toned, you are performing resistance exercise. Life today sees many of us “sitting” for long periods of time during the day, often every day, and it is our muscles that often play the price. The stiffness in the joints and the weakening of the muscles that we often blame on ageing are most often a direct effect of inactivity. Making the effort to strengthen and tone the muscles will help to avoid any potential bone and joint injuries, as well aid in maintaining an appropriate posture as we work away in those seated positions for majority of the day. Muscle and bone strength is a crucial physical component that is necessary for health, functional ability and enhanced quality of life.
How Does Resistance Exercise Work?
You may be thinking, how exactly does lifting weights help to build muscle mass and strength?
Well, resistance training works by causing microscopic tears or damage to the muscle cells that are in turn quickly repaired by the body to assist the muscles to regenerate and grow stronger.
The breakdown of these muscle fibers is often called “catabolism”. The repair and re-growth of the muscle tissues is called “anabolism”.
At this stage you are probably thinking that you are familiar with the term anabolic when used in relation to steroids. The term anabolic means ‘to grow’, and that is exactly what happens after you break down the muscle fibers with resistance training.
Testosterone, insulin-like growth factor, growth hormone, protein, and other nutrients within the body rush to the muscle after a session of resistance training to aid in the repair of the muscles in order to make them bigger and stronger. Your muscles heal and grow when you aren’t working out, and therefore it is important to remember to allow yourself necessary rest between workouts for optimal recovery.
Health Benefits of Resistance Training
The benefits of resistance training are well documented, and there continues to be ongoing research to prove that it is an important activity for all individuals to be undertake. Both physical and mental health benefits that can be achieved through resistance training include:
- Improved muscle strength and tone – to protect the joints from injury
- Maintaining flexibility
- Weight management and increased muscle-to-fat ratio
- as you gain muscle, your body burns more kilojoules when at rest
- May help reduce or prevent cognitive decline in older individuals
- Greater stamina
- as you grow stronger, you won’t get as tired as quickly and as easily!
- Prevention or control of chronic conditions such as:
- heart disease
- back pain
- Pain management
- Improved mobility and balance
- Improved posture
- Decreased risk of injury
- Increased bone density and strength and reduced risk of osteoporosis
- Improved sense of wellbeing
- resistance training can boost your self-confidence, and:
- improve your body image and your overall mood!
- Improved sleep and avoidance of insomnia
- Increased self-esteem
- Enhanced performance of everyday tasks
How Resistance Training Can Help You
Resistance training has an important role in weight loss programs. It can increase our basal metabolic rate (energy used to maintain bodily processes such as breathing), and aids the prevention of lean tissue loss.
This leads to a more favourable body composition in the prevention of chronic disease.
It is important to pay close attention to safety and exercise form when resistance training in order to reduce the risk of injury. A registered exercise progression, such as an Accredited Exercise Physiologist, can assist you to develop a safe and effective program. Initially, a typical strength program for a beginner to resistance training would involve the following:
- 8 to 10 exercises that target the major muscle groups of the body (as mentioned above), that are completed 2 to 3 times per week.
- Starting with 1 set of each exercise, comprising of a minimum of 8 repetitions (reps), no more than twice per week.
The overall aim in this instance would be to gradually increase to 2 to 3 sets of each exercise, comprising of 8 to 12 repetitions, every second or third day of the week.
So How Do You Do It?
Make sure that you warm up your body before commencing your strength training.
This may include beginning with some light aerobic exercise (such as walking, cycling or rowing) for approximately 5 minutes.
Along with this, make sure that you perform a few dynamic stretches. These should involve slow controlled movements through the full range of motion (for example; arm circles, leg swings, trunk rotations). It is also important to cool down after completing your strength training exercises. This can easily involve an slow walk or cycle for 2 to 3 minutes, followed by 5 to 10 minutes of static stretching. By doing this, it will:
- Remove metabolites, which are intermediate substances that are formed by metabolism, from your muscle tissue
- Prevent blood pooling in the lower half of your body, and
- Help you to be ready for you next strength training session in to 2 to 3 days time
Australia’s physical activity and sedentary behavior guidelines recommend that adults do muscle strengthening (or resistance) training on at least two days each week.
These exercises should target all of the major muscle groups in your body, including legs, hips, back, chest, core, shoulders and arms).
There are many ways that you can strengthen your musculoskeletal system through resistance training.
You can do this in your home, or at the gym. Wherever you most feel most comfortable is best.
Different types of resistance training include:
- Free weights (such as dumbbells, kettlebells or barbells)
- Medicine balls or sand bags
- Machine weights
- Resistance bands (therabands)
- Your own body weight
- Suspension equipment
And in Closing…
Many of you may be thinking…. ‘Should I be training with free weights or machine weights when resistance training?’…. The simple answer here, is both. That is, if you have easy access to both forms.