resistance exercise with dumbbell
Everything You Need to Know About Resistance Training

If you want a firm and shapely body resistance training is the answer. Here's personal trainer Nicola Glanville's introduction to resistance training exercise.

Resistance Training Beginners Guide

What is Resistance Training?

Firstly let’s get rid of some of the mystique surrounding resistance training. Even the name sounds technical! ‘Resistance Training’ is another name for exercising your muscles using an opposing force i.e. dumb bells or resistance bands.

In the old days it used to be called ‘Weight Training’, but this phrase invoked images of huge sweaty men with bulging biceps and wasn’t very popular with women. So the language has changed but the activity remains the same.

Resistance training, toning and weight training are one and the same activity; they require the use of resistance to increase muscle size and strength. The most well known equipment used for Resistance Training is ‘weights’, or more specifically dumb bells or barbells.

During resistance training exercise muscle fibres are broken down and in the days following the work-out the fibres repair and grow stronger to meet the demands that have been placed on it. Therefore rest days are as important as the exercise itself.

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 that the majority of readers aren’t competing in any body building events in the near future I will concentrate on the more functional benefits of resistance training.

Improved Body Shape

Firm, sculpted muscles are the highly sought after aim of men and women alike. Visible muscle tone is not only a sign of health and fitness; it has become recognised as an attractive attribute that we associate with the wealth and success of the rich and famous. 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. Women have a greater risk of developing osteoporosis and from the age of 40 can expect to lose approximately 0.5 – 1% of their bone mass per year. Post menopause this increases to a 2% reduction in bone density per year. Resistance Training can help to maintain bone density and delay this degenerative process.

Getting Started

Possibly the most important thing to get started with resistance training is building your motivation to exercise. A one-off session here and there of any activity isn't going to do a lot of good.

So 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 a newbie to Resistance Training, you may want to 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 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 the major muscle groups i.e. legs, back, chest, shoulders arms and core.
  • A workout should be balanced so that opposite muscle groups get worked equally i.e. back and chest, quadriceps and hamstrings (the muscles in the front and back of the upper leg). If you neglect a muscle group whilst working the opposite muscle group you risk causing muscular imbalances within the body that could lead to postural problems or injury.
  • Start your program with exercises that work groups of muscles. i.e. the medicine ball squat works the core and the legs. The legs consist of many muscles: hamstrings, quadriceps, calves, glutes (bum muscles) etc. This type of exercise is called a compound exercise because it works many muscles.
  • Plan to complete exercises that only work one muscle at the end of the programme i.e. the Bicep Curl.
  • Warm down with another 10 minutes of cardiovascular activity slowly increasing in intensity.

Sets and Repetitions

To get the most out of your resistance program it is 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.

  • Repetitions (reps): one complete movement of a certain exercise.
  • Sets: 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.

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:

  • Sets: 2 – 3
  • Reps: 15
  • Rest period: 30 - 60 seconds

Increase muscle tone

If you want more muscle definition then this is the level that you should be working at.

  • Sets: 3 - 4
  • Reps: 12
  • Rest period: 1 - 2 mins

Increased muscle strength

If you need to improve your strength for short bursts of heavy activity then these are the exercise ranges that you should be adhering to. Maybe your job involves some heavy lifting.

  • Sets: 4 - 6
  • Reps: 5
  • Rest period: 3 - 5 mins

How Heavy?

As a guide, you are using the correct weight if the last rep is so tough 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! Conversely, if you have to use momentum to get through the set then the weight is too heavy.

How Fast?

As a general rule try to exercise in time with your breathing i.e. with the Shoulder Press breathe out as you lift the weights and breathe in as you lower them. If you can’t lift the weights without holding your breath then they are too heavy.


If you want to achieve results it is imperative that you challenge yourself. 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 remain in your comfort zone with the same work-out for months on end you will not get results.

Below is a list of variables that you could alter to ensure you’re your body is getting the most out of your resistance workouts.

Note: Only change 1 variable at a time.

  • Sets: Increase the number of sets that you are completing to the top end for your aim.
  • Rest period: Decrease the rest period in between sets to the lower end for your aim.
  • Weight: Increase the resistance with heavier weights.
  • 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 with the first exercise and complete the second set of each exercise.

Resistance Training Exercises & Equipment

Below is a list of types of equipment and exercises that you can try to kick-start your resistance programme. Technique is everything, so take your time, persevere and the results will follow.

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