One of the most frequently asked questions I receive from people looking to better their health and lose weight is “How can I burn more fat and keep it off?” Well, that is the magic question, isn’t it! The entire health industry revolves around this question and the possible best answer in one way or another. Unfortunately, a great deal of the health and fitness industry is more focused on making money than giving you the straightforward truth. I believe that is why most people are confused about what exactly resistance training is, and how to implement it correctly into their fitness goals.
So what exactly is resistance training? First, the fitness industry loves giving it many different names in order to make you think it is something new that you need to try, and then pay them for it! Of course, all this does is add to the confusion. The simple answer is that resistance training is basically what everyone knows as weight training. Here is the technical definition:
Resistance training is any exercise that causes the muscles to contract against an external resistance with the expectation of increases in strength, tone, mass, and/or endurance.
The external resistance can come from numerous sources such as:
- Body Weight
- Resistance Bands
- Weight Machines
Resistance Training Doesn’t Mean Big Hulking Muscles!
Many of you may be thinking, “Here comes another article on how to get those massive biceps and that V-shaped body builder’s body.” Nothing could be further from the truth. It is true that resistance training can be utilized to build muscle mass. However, most people looking to lose weight and burn fat need to understand that resistance training is essential for everyone who wants to increase their metabolism and to maintain a healthier lifestyle. Almost any time I broach the subject of resistance training with female clients, the common response is, “I don’t want to have hulking muscles and look like a body builder.” I want to make it very clear for the female readers that this just is not the case! You will not end up looking like a body builder or lose those womanly curves by performing resistance training. And, as a matter of fact, the training may help give you those womanly curves you so desire.
So How Does Resistance Training Work?
Resistance training works by causing microscopic damage or tears to the muscle cells, which in turn are quickly repaired by the body to help the muscles regenerate and grow stronger. The breakdown of the muscle fiber is called catabolism and the repair and re-growth of the muscle tissue is called anabolism. You're probably familiar with the term “anabolic” when used with steroids. Anabolic means to grow, and that's exactly what happens after you break down the muscle fibers with resistance exercise. In fact, many biological processes of growth in the body require some breakdown, or catabolism, prior to re-growth.
Remember: It’s Not Just About Looks
Resistance training is also essential if you want to prevent common diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, weakening of your bones (osteoporosis), limited range of motion, aches and pains, and muscle wasting as you grow older.
An article in Preventative Medicine indicates:
Research demonstrates that resistance exercise training has profound effects on the musculoskeletal system, contributes to the maintenance of functional abilities, and prevents osteoporosis, sarcopenia, lower-back pain, and other disabilities. More recent seminal research demonstrates that resistance training may positively affect risk factors such as insulin resistance, resting metabolic rate, glucose metabolism, blood pressure, body fat, and gastrointestinal transit time, which are associated with diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
How to Get Started
In order to increase fat metabolism, you want to have denser, leaner muscle, which is what you get when you incorporate resistance training into your exercise routine. With that being said, you do not want to rely on resistance training alone. We always recommend that individuals also perform cardiovascular training, such as running, jogging, aerobics, bike riding, etc., into their fitness routine. For most individuals, performing resistance training for 20 to 30 minutes two to three times a week and mixing in cardiovascular training two to three times a week is usually the program we recommend. You can also incorporate cardiovascular training with resistance training. You can do this by performing cardiovascular training first, as you can kill two birds with one stone by also having it act as your warmup. We mention warming up prior to resistance training because it is vital to understand in order to avoid injury. Most people who injure themselves while performing resistance training have not properly warmed up, use poor form, or are pushing their body beyond its capabilities. It is vital that you warm up for at least 10-15 minutes prior to resistance training and, of course, stretch after your warm up. Stretching or performing resistance training with unprepared muscles could result in injury.
Here is one of the basic routines I suggest for people just starting out:
- Chest: dumbbell press, dumbbell flies, chest press, cable flies (crossovers).
- Shoulders: side lateral raise, front raise, upright row.
- Back: bent-over-row, cable row, pull-down.
- Arms: biceps curls, triceps kickbacks, triceps press-downs on pull-down machine.
- Abs: crunches, knee-drop crunches for the oblique muscles on the side of the abdomen (drop the knees to one side and crunch up).
- Legs: Weighted squats, air squats (simply squatting without weight) leg extensions, and curls on the machines, leg press on the machine.
Repetitions for men: 8-12, 2-3 sets of each exercise.
Repetitions for women: 10-15, 2-3 sets of each exercise.
Resistance Training Not Just For the Young
Recent research indicates older individuals can also greatly benefit from resistance training.
In older persons with and without cardiovascular disease, muscular strength and endurance contribute to functional independence and quality of life, while reducing disability. Aging skeletal muscle responds to progressive overload through resistance training. In men and women, strength improves through neuromuscular adaptation, muscle fiber hypertrophy, and increased muscle oxidative capacity. The increase in muscle oxidative capacity is due to the combination of strength development and aerobic exercise often used in resistance-type circuit training. Even in the oldest persons, resistance training significantly increases strength and gait velocity, improves balance and coordination, extends walking endurance, and enhances stair-climbing power.
The Importance of Resistance Training for Self Sufficiency
I convey this simple message to all my self sufficiency, survivalists and prepper followers. How are you going to be self sufficient if you cannot squat down, tend to your garden, or haul a bucket of water up the hill to your house without the strength and conditioning to do so? Our ancestors' resistance training didn't happen in a gym, it was accomplished by daily life tasks. Everyday they had to hunt, gather, maintain/build their shelter and they spent a lot of time in the form of play. Where do you think things like dancing and wrestling came from?
Only the most stringent of our "off the grid" brothers and sisters can say they get their resistance training type of exercise from their daily life activities. Even then, a lot of them have modern machines and tools that greatly reduce the effort put out, when compared to our hunter/gatherer ancestors.
So make sure you incorporate some type of resistance training exercise in your life 2-3 times a week, and I guarantee your health will be the better for it.
Weil, Richard MEd. “Resistance Training.” medicine health. Web. 26 FEB 2012.
Wilkes, Emilie, et al. “Blunting of insulin inhibition of proteolysis in legs of older subjects may contribute to age related sarcopenia.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 90.5 (Sep 2009):1343.
Williams, Mark A., Kerry J. Stewart. “Impact of Strength and Resistance Training on Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors and Outcomes in Older Adults.” Clinics Geriatric Medicine 25.4 (Nov 2009):703-714.
Winett, RA, Carpinelli, RN. “Potential health-related benefits of resistance training.” Preventative Medicine 33 (2001):503-513.