Resistance training is a form of exercise that focuses on improving muscular strength, tone, mass, and endurance. These types of exercises use an external resistance provided by weighted bars or dumbbells, our body weight, bands, or anything that causes our muscles to contract. When we lift weights at the gym or use any equipment to get stronger or more prominent, we are performing resistance exercises.
There are many advantages to implementing resistance training in our lives. One of the main benefits is an increase in physical and mental strength.
Benefits of Resistance Training
Resistance training builds muscular strength, tone, and endurance. More strength leads to increased agility, balance, and flexibility, as well as improved mental health.
Other benefits of resistance training include:
- The development of strong bones and the prevention of osteoporosis, a condition where our bones lose minerals at an accelerated rate.
- A lower blood pressure.
- A higher metabolic rate, which is essential for maintaining or losing body weight.
- Reversal or slowing down of the aging process.
- Mental clarity.
- Overall strength and well-being
It is a fact that as we age, the number of our muscle fibers declines. Unfortunately, we lose 5 pounds of muscle every decade after the age of 30. This means that between the ages of 30 and 70, we can lose more than 25% of our type 2 muscle fibers, which are our strength fibers.
Research shows that resistance training is not only beneficial for the young but also the elderly . By lifting weights three times a week for ten weeks, a group of older men and women in their 80s increased their strength by 113%. They were able to walk 12% faster, climb 28% more stairs, and increase their thigh muscles by more than 2.5%.
Similarly, Danish researchers concluded through a meta-analysis of 25 different studies comprising of over 26,000 participants with almost 3,500 injuries that resistance training of any kind can reduce the frequency of injury by more than two-thirds . They also added that we could prevent 50% of overuse injuries through sufficient strength training.
There are more scientific studies that reiterate the advantages of resistance training in people of all ages. Most of us want to live long, vital lives. Hence, it is essential that we learn to incorporate it into our fitness routine.
The Science Behind It
Resistance training mainly uses two biological processes to increase muscle and strength – catabolism and anabolism. Catabolism is when muscle fiber breaks down. Anabolism follows right after – the broken-down muscle fiber is repaired and regrown into stronger tissue.
Most people are familiar when the term anabolic when referring to steroids – anabolic means to grow, which is precisely what happens when muscle tissue breaks down during resistance training.
Other biological processes utilize catabolism preceding anabolism. For instance, calcium and various growth factors aid in the regrowth of broken bones, making the bones stronger than they were before.
In resistance training, microscopic tears occur to the muscle cells. That prompts hormones such as testosterone and growth hormones, protein, and other nutrients to rush to the muscle to assist in repair and renewal.
Additionally, it is necessary to allocate time between workouts for recovery. Muscles recuperate and develop when we are not exercising. Thus, we must allow ourselves ample time to recover so that we may do our best in our next training session.
Principle of Progressive Overload
Resistance training utilizes the principle overload for promoting muscular tone, endurance, and overall strength. This principle entails improving our ability to carry heavier weight by building our strength gradually. It is a global model that all types of resistance training employ.
Milo of Croton, an ancient Greek athlete, did an exceptional job of demonstrating the principle. Legend dictates that as Milo began to train for the Olympics, part of his training regime was to carry a newborn calf on his back. He carried that calf for years before the commencement of the Olympics. By the time the Olympics were to begin, the calf had grown into a fully developed cow. Astonishingly, Milo was still able to carry it. He adapted to the continuous growth of the cow by growing stronger himself.
The principle of progressive overload is essential to developing and increasing our strength and endurance. We can apply this model to our resistance training by increasing the volume of our lifts gradually.
We should lift weights to cause muscle fatigue at the 10th or 12th rep. Then, once we are comfortable with the volume, we can gradually increase it.
However, as weight increases, we should reduce our reps until our muscles adapt to the new weight. That will prevent injury and promote proper form.
The Different Types of Resistance Training
Any form of resistance training contributes to a healthy lifestyle. However, each type caters to a specific set of goals.
There are four main types of resistance training:
- Olympic lifting
- Strength training
Powerlifting requires us to use barbells to perform squats, deadlifts, and bench presses. Athletes competing in powerlifting ‘meets’ have three attempts to lift as much as they possibly can relative to their body weight.
Weightlifting is a sport or activity where athletes lift heavy weights and barbells in a few repetitions, also known as reps. There are two main lifts involved in weightlifting: the snatch and the clean and jerk.
Olympic lifting is an athletic discipline within weightlifting where a competitor attempts a single overhead lift of a barbell at its maximum weight. Olympic lifters also attempt the snatch and the clean and jerk. Each athlete has three attempts per lift. The combined total of the highest two successful lifts will determine the athlete’s result in his or her body weight category.
Strength training is often used interchangeably with weightlifting and resistance training. However, this is technically incorrect. Strength training is a broad term that describes resistance training exercises that focus on building strength. The purpose of strength training is to increase our whole-body strength to its fullest.
- Focuses on increasing weight over time.
Instead of prioritizing a large number of reps and sets, a group of consecutive repetitions, strength training concentrates on building overall strength. It also emphasizes how much weight we lift over some time. This leads to expanding our volume of sets and reps with the focus on getting stronger.
- Emphasizes lower reps as opposed to higher reps.
Lower reps (4 to 6) of a particular exercise enable us to gain strength efficiently. They allow us to move more weight, consequently increasing strength. In contrast, higher rep exercises often use less weight and are for building endurance.
- Utilizes a select group of compound exercises.
Compound exercises are exercises that engage multiple muscle groups at the same time. These types of exercises complement the low-rep-more-weight nature of strength training. They allow us to work on various muscle groups while doing fewer reps.
Favorite examples of a compound exercise include but are not limited to squats, bench presses, deadlifts, overhead presses, chin-ups/pull-ups, push-ups, and loaded carries.
- Encourages periods of rest to aid our recovery.
Having a set time to rest in between sets is beneficial if we want to get stronger. It enables us to lift more weight and perform more reps and sets.
During recovery, our muscles rebuild and regenerate, so proper nutrition is crucial. It directly contributes to the well-being of our body while we’re recovering, which later affects how we perform. Also, recovery helps us maintain proper form and technique during sessions. This, in turn, reduces the risk of injury and strain of our bodies.
What You Eat Matters
The types of exercises we do are essential for effective resistance training. Still, what you put into your body is just as crucial if increased strength and fitness is your goal. Proper nutrition will significantly impact our training by nourishing our muscles, making them stronger during recovery.
If our goal is to increase muscle alongside endurance, our caloric intake must increase. Essentially, if you want to get bigger, you have to eat more.
A rule of thumb to determine how many calories we ought to eat is to multiply our weight in pounds by 16-18. This is a rough estimate; factors such as age, level of fitness, and metabolism may cause us to increase the number of calories.
A rule of thumb is to determine how many calories we ought to eat is to multiply our weight in pounds by 16-18. This is a rough estimate; factors such as age, level of fitness, and metabolism may cause us to increase the number of calories.
We must also consume adequate amounts of protein, as that’s what rebuilds muscle tissue. Excellent sources of protein include lean meat, poultry, fish, beans, legumes, dairy, and soy products like tofu. We should aim for 0.8 to 1 gram of protein per pound of lean body weight.
For example, if we weigh 150 lbs, we should be eating 2400-2700 calories and 120-150 grams of protein per day. The rest of our calories should come from appropriate sources of carbohydrates and fats.
Here are some protein food sources with either carbs or fats that we can use to fulfill our daily caloric intake:
- Whole milk
- Nuts and nut butter
- Sweet potatoes and yams
- Complex carbohydrates like oats, brown rice, and quinoa
It is essential that we drink plenty of water and consume enough vegetables too. This is to ensure proper digestion since we will be eating a lot of food. Also, a slight state of dehydration can decrease strength, so it’s crucial to keep sipping on water during the day.
Resistance Training Programs
There are different resistance training programs out there to try. Some are simple, while others require professional instruction. The good news is that there is a plan for everyone. Below are three popular plans that represent different aspects of resistance training. We can easily replicate and modify each workout to customize it to our goals.
This three-workout program focuses on building strength using squats, deadlifts, and bench presses – the three types involved in powerlifting competitions. These exercises increase muscle mass, leanness, and strength by combining compound movements with heavy weights.
This program is excellent for beginners or seasoned lifters who want to improve their form on the basic lifts. It decreases the likelihood of injuries during sports and other physical activities.
Each workout follows this simple 4-step plan:
- Warm Up
Begin with a relatively light exercise to mobilize the target muscles.
- Key Lift
Perform one of the three main powerlifting moves – the squat, the deadlift, or the bench press.
- Assistance Move
Follow up with a move that’ll supplement and smooth out any weak spots in the key lift.
- Another Powerlifting Move
This is to make sure that we train each powerlifting move twice a week.
We can reap maximum benefits by following the instructed reps, sets, and rest time for each exercise. Each workout is done once a week for six weeks. We must remember to increase the amount of weight we lift each week. Additionally, it is important to note how much weight we lift per exercise to stay motivated.
25% Stronger Workout Plan
This 12-week program is ideal for resistance training enthusiasts who enjoy lifting heavy iron at the gym. The end goal is to increase our three-rep max, 3RM, on all of our major lifts by 25%.
Over these three months, we must limit our strength training to 3 times a week. Initially, this may not seem like a lot. But if we push ourselves to our maximum, we will need those four days off.
The structure of the program is as follows:
- Week 0: Discovering our 3RM
First, we must determine how much weight we can lift in three reps.
In “Week 0,” we will do one workout for the whole week to find our 3RM on five multi-joint lifts. This is to ensure that we can accurately measure our progress by the end of the program.
Start with a 5-10 minute full-body warm-up, followed by two lighter, high-rep sets of your first lift.
After those two sets, select a weight that is heavier but still manageable. Perform three reps, and if you can complete four or more reps, increase the weight and try a second set.
Keep adding weight until you determine the maximum weight that still allows for a good form. Repeat with other multi-joint exercises, remembering to always start with a warm-up.
- Week 1-4: Unilateral Strength Training
Unilateral strength training increases our overall strength one side at a time.
While it seems counterproductive to only focus on one side, it is a great way to increase strength quickly. Research shows that a single limb working alone requires more effort to move a certain amount of weight. This utilizes more muscle fibers and increases the number of growth-prone fast-twitch fibers. It also helps correct any muscular weakness.
Additionally, unilateral work provides core training, which is an advantage for building strength. The imbalance in weight distribution forces our core to work overtime to stabilize the torso. A stronger core means more effective and injury-free resistance training.
- Week 5-8: Low- and High-Rep Training
It is a fact that if we want to increase our strength, we have to lift heavy weights. This means that to become stronger, we should be experiencing muscle failure at around seven reps. However, a low-rep routine benefits from the addition of high-rep sets.
To begin this portion of the program, start with heavy sets of 5 reps on basic lifts. Finish with a lighter set of 30 reps per exercise. That ensures an additional spike in growth hormone levels that’ll boost strength and endurance.
There should be a 2-3 minute rest between each set. The final set should be four straight sets of 20 reps focusing on abs.
We have to ensure that we use a heavier weight on the final high-rep set to make the last 5-6 reps challenging. That will induce an optimal muscular and hormonal response.
- Week 9-12: Maxing Out
The final four weeks of this program are designed to max out our strength levels. We can achieve that by gradually decreasing the volume while increasing the weight.
To begin, we’ll start week 9 with seven reps of seven sets. Each week, the number of sets and reps goes down – five of five, four of four. During week 12, we’ll perform three reps of three sets on all exercises. That will also act as an indicator of our improvement throughout the program.
Lastly, we’ll test our 3RM in week 13. Repeating what we did in Week 0, we will perform our 3RM on the same five multi-joint lifts to test our improvement. Ideally, we should have a 25% improvement in all five lifts.
This program’s results maximize if we adhere strictly to the workout plan, get enough rest, and maintain a clean and healthy diet. Also, we can always do the program again if we want to gain even more strength and increase our 3RM.
Total Resistance Exercise (TRX)
TRX, short for Total Resistance Exercise, is a form of resistance training that requires the use of one’s body weight, straps, and gravity. As stated by former United States Navy SEAL and creator, Randy Hetrick, TRX increases functionality for powerlifting and weightlifting. It also simultaneously improves metabolic conditioning, mobility, stability, and overall strength.
With TRX, we will use straps to recreate the resistance found in more traditional forms of resistance training. To begin, the TRX straps must be anchored to any secure area such as a door frame. We then use our feet or hands to hold onto the straps. Essentially, a part of our body will be suspended over the ground.
This program does not use conventional weights or barbells. However, it still provides enough resistance to strengthen and tone our bodies. It is a great addition to any existing fitness routine, as it is easily adjustable to meet our needs.
With TRX, we can perform typical resistance exercise like rows, presses, and pulls, all by using the straps. Although we may not build as much muscle in comparison to traditional resistance training, the straps encourage balance and control, unlike any other exercise.
Due to the unstable nature of TRX, our core will be fully engaged to stabilize our body. So, a proper dynamic warm-up that includes mobility drills should precede any TRX workout. It is recommended that we can hold a strong, solid plank as a foundation for this type of resistance training. Beginners should focus on strengthening their core before progressing to more challenging exercises.
We can perform TRX workouts in two different ways:
Time-based TRX exercises are generally performed for 30-60 seconds in a circuit of five exercises. There is little or no rest at all in between exercises. Once all five exercises are complete, the entire circuit should be repeated a total of three times.
Rep-based TRX exercises follow a traditional resistance training model that uses reps and sets. It consists of 10-12 reps of 3 sets that we should perform two to three times per week. We can increase or decrease sets according to our level of fitness and goals.
TRX is ideal for those who do not have access to regular resistance training equipment, those in rehab, or anyone who wants to improve their powerlifting records. What’s more, the bands are portable and easy to travel with – roll them up and take them anywhere with you.
The Bottom Line
These three resistance training programs help increase our strength and overall fitness. However, just like with all resistance training plans, we ought to gradually increase the weight.
Additionally, a proper diet and recovery should be incorporated and prioritized just as much as the workout itself. Resistance training, when done correctly and safely, can empower us and improve our lives.