Resistance training, also known as strength training or weight training, is exercise that uses resistance to cause a muscular contraction. The resistance can come from free weights like barbells and dumbbells, weight machines, resistance bands, or your body weight.
Resistance training has heaps of benefits for your health, physical fitness, and appearance. It can build muscular strength, increase power, improve bone density, boost your metabolism, enhance mobility and balance, and burn kilojoules. Although often associated with bodybuilders and athletes, the benefits of resistance training apply to people of all ages and fitness levels.
This comprehensive guide explains everything you need to know about resistance training, including:
Benefits of Resistance Training
Builds Muscle – Resistance training is the most effective way to build lean muscle mass. The mechanical load imposed by lifting weights triggers muscular growth and increases protein synthesis. Increased musculature leads to a more toned and sculpted figure.
Increases Bone Density – The mechanical loading of resistance training boosts bone mineral density, reducing the risk of osteoporosis and fractures.
Burns Fat – Muscle is metabolically active and burns more kilojoules around the clock. Resistance exercises can increase resting metabolic rate, therefore supporting fat loss efforts.
Improves Strength – Progressive resistance training dramatically improves muscular strength, allowing you to lift heavier weights over time. This makes everyday tasks easier.
Enhances Athletic Performance – Strength lays the foundation for improved speed, power, balance, and agility – all vital for sports performance.
Supports Mobility and Function – Stronger muscles improve posture, gait, and daily function, reducing injury risk. This helps maintain mobility and vitality with age.
Elevates Mood and Confidence – Resistance training boosts the production of endorphins and other neurotransmitters that lift mood and enhance well-being. Plus, feeling strong and fit can boost self-confidence.
To understand how resistance training builds muscle and strength, it helps to review some basic muscle physiology:
Muscle Fibres – Skeletal muscles are made of bundles of muscle fibres. Each fibre is a single muscle cell. There are two main types: slow twitch (Type I) and fast twitch (Type II).
Motor Units – Each muscle fibre that a motor neuron controls forms the basis of a motor unit. As the need for force increases, motor units are recruited in order of size.
Muscle Growth – Muscle fibres grow and enlarge due to increased protein synthesis when they undergo hypertrophy. Resistance training produces bigger muscles in this way.
Hyperplasia – Hyperplasia is an increase in muscle fibres from repeated muscle damage and repair. Though debated, most experts believe hypertrophy is responsible for most muscular gains.
Understanding these basics allows you to design a resistance training program that optimally stresses the muscles to induce adaptation and growth.
Resistance Training Methods
There are several methods and techniques commonly used in resistance training programs:
Free weights like barbells and dumbbells allow motion in all planes of movement. Examples include:
- Barbell Lifts – squat, deadlift, bench press, shoulder press.
- Dumbbell Lifts – chest press, shoulder raises, bicep curls.
Weight machines guide motion along a fixed path, isolating specific muscles. Some common machines include:
- Chest press, lateral raise, leg extension, leg curl, and calf raise.
- Machines with weight stacks, cables, or resistance bands that you can adjust.
Your body provides resistance during exercises like push-ups, pull-ups, squats, lunges, and planks. Adding variations changes the intensity.
Flexible bands provide portable resistance. You can do many exercises for the upper and lower body with them. Bands allow for incremental increases in resistance.
Suspension trainers use straps and your body weight to perform rows, presses and other movements. You can adjust the difficulty by changing your body position.
Resistance Training Variables
To design an effective resistance training program, you need to consider several variables. These include:
This is the amount of weight or resistance that determines the force generated by your muscles. You measure load as a percentage of your 1 rep max (1RM) or the most you can lift once. A higher load equals greater intensity.
Reps are how many times you lift and lower a weight per set. Typical ranges are 1-5 reps for strength, 8-12 reps for muscle, and 15-20 for endurance. More reps increase volume.
Sets are how many times you do a sequence of repetitions. 2-4 sets per exercise is common. More sets increase overall volume.
Resting between sets allows partial recovery to maintain performance. Shorter rest periods of 30-90 seconds increases metabolic stress. Longer rests of 2-5 minutes let you recover better for heavy lifting.
Tempo controls the speed of each rep. A typical tempo is 2/0/1/0 – 2 seconds lowering, no pause, 1 second lifting the weight, and no hold at the top. Slower tempos increase time under tension.
Do exercises from largest muscle groups to smallest. Compound exercises come before isolation moves. Putting heavy exercises first when your muscles are fresh maximises performance.
Pick exercises that best match your goals. Compound moves like squats and rows are ace for overall muscle building. Isolation exercises emphasise specific muscles.
Resistance Training Principles
To boost your strength and muscle gains, you need to follow some key training principles. These principles drive optimal adaptation:
This means gradually increasing resistance over time to stress your muscles beyond their current state. This is the driving force behind improvements in muscular power and hypertrophy.
Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands (SAID Principle)
Your body adapts specifically to the type of training stimulus you apply. To improve strength, lift heavy weights. For endurance, use lighter weights and higher reps.
Changing your program regularly stops your muscles from getting used to the same routine. Mix up the exercises, intensity, volume, and rest periods to keep your muscles on their toes.
Muscles grow and strengthen during rest, not just during training. Give 48-72 hours between working the same muscles for proper recovery. Get enough kip to help muscle repair.
Following these tried-and-tested training principles gives the best signal to your muscles to adapt and become bigger, stronger, and more defined.
Resistance Training Programs
There are heaps of resistance training programs and splits to choose from. Some of the most effective include:
Three days per week, working all major muscle groups each session. Allows greater frequency and recovery time. Best for beginners.
Four days per week, two upper body and two lower. Maximises focus on muscle groups while allowing plenty of recovery time.
Six days per week, separating push (chest, shoulders, triceps), pull (back, biceps), and leg muscles. High frequency and volume for advanced lifters.
Body Part Split
5-6 days per week with dedicated days for each major body part – chest, back, shoulders, legs, arms. Highest training volume but needs ample recovery time.
The ideal program depends on your training level, recovery capacity, schedule, and goals. It’s best to change your program every 6-12 weeks to keep making gains.
Designing Your Resistance Training Routine
Follow these steps to design a complete resistance training routine tailored to you:
- Set Your Goals – What exactly are you aiming to achieve? Build muscle? Lose fat? Improve strength? Combination? Your goals determine your program design.
- Pick Your Split – Choose your days per week training, a full body or split workout based on your schedule, recovery, and goals.
- Select Exercises – Pick compound and isolation exercises that target the muscles you want to train each session.
- Determine Sets, Reps and Load – Choose reps in strength, hypertrophy or endurance ranges based on your goals. Increase load as you become stronger.
- Allow for Progression – Plan for progressive overload by adding weight, reps, and sets over time as you grow stronger.
- Get Adequate Rest – Take at least 1 full rest day between working the same major muscle groups. Get enough kip for recovery.
- Prioritise Proper Form – Master exercise technique, move through a full range of motion, and avoid injury. Quality over quantity.
Following an evidence-based, periodised training routine is key to maximising gains in muscle and strength over time. Be patient, consistent, and focused on progress.
Nutrition for Building Muscle
Proper exercise nutrition is as important as your training routine when building muscle. Follow these diet tips:
- Calorie Surplus – Eat slightly more calories than you burn to gain muscle. Aim for a 300-500 calorie surplus.
- Protein Intake – Eat 0.5 – Maximise muscle protein synthesis by consuming 1 gram of protein per kilo of body weight daily.
- Carb Timing – Have a carb-rich meal or snack before and after training to promote muscle growth and replenish glycogen.
- Healthy Fats – Include fatty fish, nuts, seeds, and avocado. Fats provide calories and aid hormone production.
- Hydration – Drink plenty of water before, during, and after exercise. Dehydration hampers performance and muscle growth.
- Micronutrients – Eat plenty of colourful fruits, veggies and whole grains. Vitamins and minerals support recovery.
Without proper nutrition, your results from resistance training will suffer. Fuel your body to see maximum gains.
Sample Beginner Resistance Training Routine
Here is a 3-day full-body beginner resistance training routine:
First Day Workout
- Barbell Back Squat – 3 sets x 8-12 reps
- Bench Press – 3 sets x 8-12 reps
- Seated Cable Row – 3 sets x 10-12 reps
- Shoulder Press – 3 sets x 10-12 reps
- Bicep Curls – 2 sets x 10-12 reps
2nd Day Workout
- Deadlift – 3 sets x 6-8 reps
- Lat Pulldown – 3 sets x 10-12 reps
- Dumbbell Walking Lunge – 3 sets x 10-12 reps
- Triceps Pushdown – 2 sets x 10-12 reps
- Calf Raises – 2 sets x 15-20 reps
3rd Day Workout
- Barbell Hip Thrust – 3 sets x 12-15 reps
- Incline Dumbbell Bench Press – 3 sets x 10-12 reps
- Cable Crossover – 2 sets x 12-15 reps
- Lateral Dumbbell Raise – 2 sets x 12-15 reps
- Plank – 3 sets x 30-60 seconds
To improve your fitness, do this routine 3 days per week, resting at least a day between sessions. As you become stronger, progressively add weight to challenge yourself. After several weeks, you can also switch exercises to provide variation.
Safety and Injury Prevention
To prevent injuries while resistance training, follow these tips:
- Screen for pre-existing conditions that may predispose you to injury.
- Maintain proper form – move through a full range of motion in a controlled manner.
- Breathe – don’t hold your breath; exhale on exertion.
- Use conservative exercise progressions and overload gradually.
- Know when to stop – listen to your body and avoid training through pain.
- Vary your program to avoid overuse injuries.
- Allow for adequate rest between workouts and consume a muscle-building diet.
- Ensure quality footwear and equipment to minimise risk.
- Warm up thoroughly and cool down with light activity.
Prioritising education, smart program design, form, and recovery will help keep injuries at bay. Seek guidance from a qualified trainer if needed.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1. What benefits does resistance training offer?
Some of the main benefits resistance training provides include increased muscle size, strength, bone density, resting metabolic rate, mobility and balance, fat loss, and athletic performance.
Q2. What equipment do I need to start resistance training?
You can do effective resistance training with resistance bands, weight machines, free weights like barbells and dumbbells, or even your body weight. Having basic equipment at home or access to a gym gives you more training variety.
Q3. How often should I resistance train?
Most experts recommend resistance training for each muscle group 2-3 times weekly. Many effective programs are based on training 3-6 days weekly, with full body workouts or a split routine, depending on your recovery capacity and schedule.
Q4. What are some tips for preventing injury in resistance training?
Injury prevention tips include practising proper exercise form, gradually progressing overload, providing adequate rest between workouts, ensuring proper equipment, warming up and cooling down, and avoiding training through pain and discomfort.
Q5. How do I build muscle with resistance training?
To maximise muscle growth with resistance training, lift moderately heavy weights (70-85% 1RM) for sets in the 8-12 rep range. Focus on compound exercises and progressively overload by adding weight, reps, and sets over time as you become stronger.
Resistance training offers heaps of benefits for health, fitness, physique, and performance for all populations. As long as you follow the instructions and techniques outlined in this manual, your ability to gain strength and muscle mass will be maximised. Therefore, be consistent, train smart, fuel your body, and watch your transformation.
We hope you enjoyed this comprehensive guide on resistance training. No matter whether you are a beginner or an advanced lifter, you can benefit from the science-based methods and techniques we shared with you. Resistance training is not only good for your muscles, but also for your overall health and well-being. If you have any questions or feedback, please chuck a comment below or contact us at Movement District. We would love to hear from you and help you smash your fitness goals.