Beginners Guide to Resistance Training
What is Resistance Training?
Although it might sound a bit technical, ‘Resistance Training’ is just another name for exercising your muscles using an opposing force i.e. dumbbells, resistance bands, or even simply your own body weight.
Resistance training, toning, strength training and weight training are one and the same activity; they require the use of resistance to increase muscle strength and size.
So how does it work? During resistance training muscle fibres are broken down, which leads to the body repairing them, resulting in your muscles growing stronger.
Not only does this help you to build strength, it helps to tone and sculpt your body shape (don't worry, you have to go a long way with a lot of hard work to look like a weight trainer!)
Muscle is also a metabolically active tissue - the more muscle you have as a proportion of your body weight, the more calories you'll burn at rest. Great news for those of us who are trying to lose or maintain weight.
If you're looking for some specific info on resistance training, you can jump straight to any of the topics we cover here:
- What are the different types of resistance training?
- How many calories does this type of training burn?
- How do I get started?
- Resistance training workout plans
- What are the health benefits of resistance training?
What are the Different Types of Resistance Training?
As mentioned, anything that works your muscles using a resisting force is classed as 'resistance training'. This can take many forms - some of which need a bit of equipment, and some of which don't:
Your Body Weight
Sit ups, squats, push ups, leg raises and planks are all examples of resistance training. These types of strength exercise require only you, and a little bit of space to workout in.
Small and portable bits of kit which provide resistance when stretched. They come as rubber bands or tubes, sometimes with handles and attachments, sometimes as a continuous ring. They don't take up much space and are easy to use wherever you are.
Including dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, medicine balls, weighted bars... in fact anything that has a bit of heft to make your muscles work a bit. In gyms you might see sandbags, tyres, rubber cylinders with handles... at home you can use bottles of water, cans of beans, or even sacks of potatoes!
These are contraptions you'll generally see in the gym, and we'd advise having a member of staff show you how each one works. They use either weights or hydraulics to provide resistance for your strength training.
Suspension Training Equipment
Looking a bit like sturdy straps, they use gravity and your body weight to provide resistance for a good strength workout. There are exercises for the whole body. You'll see these in gyms attached to frames, and you can get them for home to hook over doors etc (another great portable option).
How Many Calories Does it Burn?
As resistance training is more about strengthening and building your muscles rather than getting your heart rate up (although you will increase your heart rate a little while working out), it's a lower calorie burn activity than cardio such as running, cycling, aerobics etc.
However, don't let this put you off as there are many benefits to resistance training, not least of which is increasing the amount of muscle you have - which helps you to burn more calories overall, even at rest.
As a general rule, an average woman* will burn 50-100 calories for 10 minutes of strength training, depending on the level of resistance/effort... Toning exerises such as sit ups, squats and leg raises burn 53 cals per 10 minutes, moderate training with weights 66 cals per 10 mins, and suspension training around 99 cals per 10 mins.
An average man* will burn between 55-110 calories for 10 minutes training along a similar scale.
The tables below show how many calories you'll burn with the different types of resistance exercises, for 10 and 30 minutes.
*Based on an average woman of 5'5", 11st and aged 40, and an average man of 5'10", 13st, aged 40.
To get the best out of resistance training, it's something you need to do regularly. It doesn't have to be every day (in fact it's good to have rest days in between), but a little and often is better than a big workout then nothing for a few weeks...
Contrary to popular belief, this type of training shouldn't hurt - you may feel a little stiff in the muscles the day afterwards, but it shouldn't be enough to impact your day (especially if you warm up and cool down properly).
So you want to choose a plan that is accessible and easy to follow, without requiring a huge time commitment. Our personal trainer's Home Workout Plan is a great place to start.
If you are completely new to resistance training, or have any injuries or disabilities that this type of exercise may affect, you should consider getting some advice and instruction from one of the following:
- Your Doctor – if you have any health complaints
- A Fitness Instructor
- A Personal Trainer
- Your Physiotherapist
Planning and Progressing Your Training Program
- Warm up with 5-10 minutes of cardiovascular exercise such as walking, jogging, cycling or skipping - gradually increasing in intensity.
- For the most effective total body workouts, include exercises that work all of your muscle groups- i.e. legs, back, chest, shoulders arms and core.
- Make sure that opposite muscle groups get worked equally i.e. back and chest, both arms, both legs, quadriceps and hamstrings (the muscles in the front and back of the upper leg).
- Start your program with compound exercises that work more than one muscle at once - i.e. a medicine ball squat works the core, legs and buttocks at the same time.
- Plan to complete exercises that only work one muscle at the end of the programme i.e. the Bicep Curl.
- Cool down with another 5-10 minutes of cardiovascular activity, slowly decreasing in intensity.
- You should take the time to stretch the muscles you've been working, holding the stretches so you can feel them, but they don't hurt, for around 30 seconds each.
Sets and Repetitions
To get the most out of your resistance workout it's important to ensure that you are working out at the right intensity. Check out the guide below to work out how many sets and repetitions of each exercise you should be completing to achieve your aim.
A Repetition (rep) is one complete movement of a certain exercise.
A Set is a number of reps performed in sequence, without a rest.
Example Exercise: Bicep Curls
- Sets: 2
- Reps: 15
- Rest period: 30 seconds
This means that you should complete 15 bicep curls, rest for 30 seconds then complete another 15 bicep curls.
You can do this either with both arms at the same time, or one at a time (two sets with each arm).
Decide what your aim is and then follow the sets/reps guide below...
- Weight Loss and Muscle Endurance - Follow these guidelines if you want to burn more calories and increase your overall muscle strength to help with weight loss, alongside a calorie controlled diet
- Increase Muscle Tone - If you want more muscle definition then this is the level that you should be working at
- Build Muscle Strength and Size - If you want to really build your muscles and improve your strength for short bursts of heavy activity then these are the exercise ranges that you should be adhering to
As a guide, you are using the correct resistance/weight if the last rep is tough enough that you can only just complete it without losing your technique.
If you know that you could do another 5 more then the weight is too light or you aren't using enough resistance! Conversely, if you have to use momentum to get through the set then the resistance/weight is too heavy.
As a general rule try to exercise in time with your breathing - i.e. with a Shoulder Press breathe out as you lift the weights and breathe in as you lower them. If you can’t complete the exercise without holding your breath then you're using too much resistance/weight.
If you want to achieve results you should challenge yourself, gradually. As your body adapts to meet the challenge that you set for yourself the exercises will get easier. This is the time to change something.
If you stay in your comfort zone with the same work-out for months on end you won't see the results you want to... But remember, this is because the work you're doing means you're getting stronger and more toned.
So how do you gradually increase the challenge? There are a few aspects of a resistance workout that you can change to ensure your body is getting the most out of your resistance workouts, you should only change one variable at a time:
- Sets - Increase the number of sets that you are completing.
- Rest - Decrease the rest period in between sets.
- Reps - Increase the number of repetitions you do of each exercise.
- Resistance - Increase the resistance level or use heavier weights.
- Variation - Mix it up a bit so your body isn't getting into a fixed routine - instead of completing one exercise at a time, why not try a circuit? Complete one set of each exercise then start at the beginning again for the second set.
Resistance Training Workouts
What are the Benefits of Resistance Training?
Resistance training can be used to achieve a variety of beneficial results and most individuals would benefit from 1 – 3 resistance workouts a week, in conjunction with regular aerobic exercise. Assuming most of us aren’t planning to compete in any body building contests in the near future, we'll concentrate on the more functional benefits of resistance training...
- Improved Body Shape - Increased muscle tone is best achieved by completing a combination of resistance and aerobic workouts.
- Increased Muscle Strength - As well as making your body look good, resistance training can be used to increase muscle strength for more functional reasons i.e. improved posture, digging the garden or carrying the shopping etc…
- Increased Muscle Power - More advanced resistance training programmes that include performing exercises with increased momentum will improve muscle power. i.e. for throwing a netball or kicking a football or swinging a golf club.
- Increased Metabolic Rate - Muscle tissue is metabolically active and the more of it you have the more calories you will burn - even at rest! Making losing and maintaining a healthy weight much easier.
- Improved Bone Health - Regularly participating in resistance based exercise helps to maintain peak bone mass and avoid the onset of osteoporosis. From the age of 30, bone mass starts to decline, resistance training can help to maintain bone density and delay this degenerative process.
You can track your training, with the Weight Loss Resources exercise diary and database. You can see how many calories you burn and how many you consume. Try it free for 24 hours.