Resistance Training

Resistance training refers to any activity in which muscles contract against resistance to cause a training response in the body, this could be an improvement in strength, endurance or size of muscles.

There is also growing evidence that resistance training provides numerous health benefits to people who frequently engage in it. Some of these benefits include improved physical performance, better control of movement, enhanced cognitive abilities and self-esteem and management of certain health conditions[1].

Resistance training may also improve cardiovascular health, reduce resting blood pressure, reduce LDL cholesterol and promote better bone density[1].

In addition to these substantial benefits, it offers lots of benefits to those wishing to firm up. Resistance training helps to speed up your metabolic rate on both a short-term and long-term basis, increase insulin sensitivity and reduce intra-abdominal fat levels[1].

Resistance training sets off  a chain of metabolic reactions. When we exercise, we require energy for the actual mechanical work we do, we then require energy for replacing the energy we have burned, we then require energy for recovery and adaptation.

Muscle loss usually occurs in a calorie deficit. Resistance training combined with adequate protein and a sensible calorie deficit can limit or even reverse this[2].

Even if you don’t want to gain muscle mass, you should definitely consider resistance training. In my experience, people vastly underestimate how much fat they have to lose to achieve their preferred appearance. Resistance training can help you add muscle in visually pleasing areas whilst enhancing your fat loss efforts.

Studies have shown that women and men have certain preferences about each other, women appear to like men with proportionately wide shoulders. It has been suggested that men are most attractive if their shoulders are 1.6 times the width of their waist, this is rare in untrained males. There are of course other factors but the general fitness of a person undeniably contributes to their attractiveness to the opposite sex.

Resistance training will strengthen and build your muscles; combined with good nutrition, this will give you a healthy, toned look. This is what a most women ask for when they come for personal training.

You will have more strength, more endurance and generally more energy, day-to-day life will be easier and you’ll have more energy for the things you enjoy.

The mental benefits of engaging in resistance training include a reduction in symptoms of fatigue, anxiety and depression. In one study, a group of clinically depressed elderly people engaged in resistance training three times per week for ten weeks. At the end of the ten weeks, over 80% of the group were no longer clinically depressed[1,3].

Many people suffer from diseases such as arthritis and osteoporosis as they age, it is considered a natural part of aging by most. Most research suggests that training improves bone density[1]. Although exercise seems counter-intuitive to someone who may be in a bit of pain and less able than others, it can start an upward spiral of better health.

Resistance Training Methods

There are many types of resistance training with different advantages and different advantages.

Free Weights

Free weights refer to dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells or any object that can replace these items. Free weights generally produce the best results.

Barbell

A barbell is a piece of training equipment found in most gyms, a typical men’s bar is 2.2 metres (7 feet) long and weighs 20 kilograms. A women’s bar is usually shorter at around 2 metres (6.6 feet) and weighs 15 kilograms. Barbells almost always have an engraved crosshatch pattern known as knurling which is usually spaced evenly along the bar to make it easy to find a balanced grip quickly.

There are standard barbells and weights and there are olympic barbells and weights, the above information is concerning olympic bars. Standard bars are for beginners and general home-use, they are thinner and the weight plates have a smaller hole to accommodate this. Olympic bars are thicker and the plates that are loaded onto them have larger holes to fit the olympic bar, these are the type you will see in competitions and in commercial gyms. If you purchase a barbell or plates, be sure to check which type they are as the two types are not compatible with each other.

Barbells come with collars to ensure that the weight does not slide off during use. These slide onto each end of the bar to secure the plates.

Barbells are used for large movements such as squats, deadlifts and presses such as bench press and military press. A good olympic barbell set is a great addition to any gym set up.

Some barbell movements such as squats and bench presses do carry risks. It is always best to perform the heavier, potentially dangerous exercises within a properly set safety rack or get a reliable spotter to avoid getting hurt if things don’t go to plan.

Dumbbells

Dumbbells are similar to barbells but they are designed to be held in one hand instead of two. Dumbbells are typically more difficult to use than barbells as they are less stable and must be controlled in more planes than a barbell. Dumbbells are sometimes safer for when training alone as you can’t get pinned under a couple of dumbbells like you might under a barbell.

Kettlebells

Kettlebells are used in a similar way to dumbbells but they are not evenly weighted, with a kettlebell most of the mass is slightly away from the hand. This altered center of mass makes it suitable for more ballistic movements.

Kettlebell training is typically higher in reps as the weight is normally fixed or available in fewer variations than dumbbells.

Machines

There are many types of training machines that use levers, cables or sometimes water or air resistance. Free weights can only provide resistance in the form of gravity. Machines allow you to exercise your muscles in different directions which can help you to better target certain muscles or perform exercises in an easier way. This also allows you to work around injuries in ways that might be difficult to do with free weights.

Using machines is generally quite easy as most machines have a set path and don’t require the same degree of stabilisation.

Bodyweight Exercise

Your body is very versatile and you can achieve a lot with bodyweight exercises alone. Press ups, pull ups, lunges and inverted rows are examples of bodyweight exercises. For the purpose of general fitness, bodyweight exercise is sufficient. If you want to get very strong, you will need to use other means as it’s very difficult to fully develop your legs with bodyweight exercises alone.

Bands

Resistance bands are thick rubber bands that provide tension that you can work against. Bands are usually used in combination with other methods as they are not a complete training system. A set of bands take up very little space and are also very portable which makes them perfect for travelling with.

Training Principles

Specificity

It should be obvious that top footballers play football a lot, runners run a lot and powerlifters train their squat, their deadlift and their bench press a lot. They get good at what they practice.

The specificity, or SAID, principle simply states that you get good at what you practice as your body responds to that specific stress. SAID stands for Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands, training must be matched to the needs of the activity or goal.

Overload

This principle simply states that you must do more than you are used to in order to improve. If you do not push yourself then your muscles, your nervous system and your abilities are not challenged so they do not adapt. Progressive overload means running further or faster, or lifting more weight or completing more reps.

Progression

If you want to continue to get better, whether that means being leaner, stronger or more agile, you’ll need to keep increasing the difficulty of your training routine.

Reversibility

The adaptations that make you stronger, faster or more muscular are caused by your training routine and they only stick around if the stimulus is maintained. If you stop training, you’ll start losing the effects of training in a process known as detraining. This is a reason to select exercises that you enjoy and embrace your routine as part of your lifestyle. Luckily, detraining is also reversible, once you start again you’ll stop the detraining and start to regain your lost capabilities.

Variation

Variation is needed in programmes to allow for continuous progress. A good way to add variation in your programme involves strategically adjusting volume and intensity[4].

Warming Up and Stretching

Warming up before exercise is commonly used in sport and exercise programmes for the purpose of improving performance reducing injury risk.

Warming up is effective for improving performance[5], and may reduce muscle soreness slightly[6] and it is generally believed to reduce the risk of injury. Current research suggests that stretching before and after exercise doesn’t significantly reduce muscle soreness[7] and neither does performing a cool down[6]. That said, strength and flexibility are generally protective and an abrupt stop to exercise can be problematic in some people.

For the best results, use active stretching as part of your warm up, warm up until you are warm and feel prepared for the session – it doesn’t have to be an elaborate twenty minute routine – and have a short cool down period for more intense exercise.

Exercise Order

Exercises are classified based on the number of joints directly involved in the movement. Exercises that revolve around a single joint are known as single-joint exercises, exercises that involve several joints are known as multi-joint exercises[4]. The terms isolation and compound are often used in place of single-joint and multi-joint exercise respectively.

Multi-joint exercises are commonly practiced in strength sports and require more time for learning. Technique is important, exercises that use more joints and more muscle mass should be performed first in a training session when you are fresh.

Single-joint exercises are considered safer due to their simplicity. Multi-joint exercises are thought to be the most effective means of increasing strength and power[4].

If power movements, such as clean and jerk or snatch, are performed in a session then these should be the first exercise after warming up. These movements require a great deal of coordination and are best practiced when you are fresh.

Pain and Injury

Anyone who’s exercised for any length of time has experienced some form of exercise-related pain. Whether it’s the lactic acid building up in your calves whilst running, soreness in your shoulders after a hard session or the discomfort of a trapped nerve, it doesn’t take long for exercise to cause us discomfort. It is important to be able to distinguish between discomfort and injury and know when to call it a day.

DOMS

Some pain in the muscles during training and in the days following is completely normal. It is often the result of lactic acid build up (that burning feeling) during training and microtrauma, which is the dull ache that goes home with you. In the days to come you may experience DOMS, or delayed-onset muscle soreness. DOMS varies massively from a slight ache to difficulty getting out of bed[8], the intensity of your session will often be reflected in the DOMS to follow.

The worst thing about DOMS is that it there’s very little you can do to alleviate it. Stretching, ice, electrical impulses and ultrasound don’t appear to have any effect[8], the best treatment is exercise[8], so the best thing to do is keep moving. The good news is that DOMS diminishes as you get used to exercise and you almost get used to the feeling; most of it isn’t that bad.

Strains

Muscle strain is a very common injury which occurs when a muscle is stretched, or overstretched, while engaged. After a muscle is strained, it is at greater risk for further injury until it is recovered. Luckily several aspects of improved fitness such as better flexibility, strength and endurance are protective against strains[9].

Sprains

Sprains are another common injury, unlike strains, sprains affect the ligament not the muscle. Sprains are often caused by fast changes of direction, falls or collision and often affect the wrist, thumb, ankle or knee; whiplash is an example of a sprain affecting the neck.

Joint

It is not always serious but joint pain may be a sign that you are not performing the movement correctly or that the movement disagrees with you, which could be for many different reasons.

If you experience mild joint pain then the first thing to do is make sure that you are properly warmed up, a bit of discomfort when starting out on a cold day could be that you have simply not prepared yourself enough. Serious joint pain isn’t something that should be worked through. Rest and compression are great tools for managing acute joint pain, use ice if there is swelling but if there isn’t then warmth is often better. Foam rolling is another very useful tool for joint pain when used on the surrounding muscles, knee pain can sometimes be remedied by stretching and rolling the outer thigh and lower back pain can benefit from rolling of the lower back muscles between the hips and ribcage.

ACTION POINT
Find a resistance training programme suited to your goal and follow it to the letter.