Last week, we outlined a strategy to add resistance training to your fitness plan so that you can maximize the health benefits of exercise.
This week, we add some Tips to guide you as well as some sample workouts to get you started.
Remember, if you need personalized support consider doing a TARGET Fitness Plan
TIPS for Resistance Training
Treat each set as though it’s the only set of the day.
Perform as many good quality reps as possible for each set you do, and don’t worry about how many sets you have left.
Progress by adding resistance (weight, band tension, or increase the rep range for bodyweight exercises) once you can exceed your rep range (i.e. 15 reps) on any of your sets.
Variance on reps
The rep range is a guideline, and sometimes you’ll be slightly above or below. That’s ok! For example, if your program calls for 3 sets of 10-15 reps, you may perform 14, 10, and then only 7 reps because your muscles have become fatigued. Don’t worry about it! If you complete less than 6, consider lowering the resistance.
In weight training, take 1 second to lift the weight and 2-3 seconds to lower it back down. We encourage this tempo as a baseline to help master technique, improve stability, keep good tension on the muscles, and prevent the risk of injury from an uncontrolled movement. If you aren’t weight training, treat whatever type of resistance you are using in the same way (i.e. pull the band in 1 second and lower it in 2-3 seconds).
Breathe out on the exertion phase (i.e. lifting the weight) and in on the recovery phase (i.e. lowering the weight down)
Mind Muscle Connection
Make sure you can feel the muscles you are trying to work.
Start with a warm-up
Warming up is essential because it can improve performance and reduce the risk of injury. Start with 5-10 minutes of light aerobic activity (such as steady cycling or walking) and then perform a few dynamic stretches like 10 arm swings and 10 leg swings. More advanced warm-ups are encouraged later on, but this is a great start.
How much weight to use?
Use a weight that causes you to achieve failure (or close) roughly within your rep range—getting the right weight often takes some trial and error.
When to change it up?
Change it up if you aren’t progressing or if you are getting bored. However, it is good to spend at least a few weeks on the same program to give your body time to progress your exercises.
Track your progress
Make sure you write down the date, how much resistance you used, and how many reps you performed. This way, you know if you’re progressing and when to increase your resistance.
Some pain is good!
Resistance training is not easy, and it requires a little bit of pain tolerance, but it has to be the right kind of pain. When you lift, your muscles will start to feel a burning sensation as they temporarily accumulate with lactic acid and other metabolites. This feeling is normal during resistance training and should start subsiding shortly after completing your set. In addition to this, your muscles may swell up a little during training - this is normal and occurs from increased blood flow. Another sensation you may experience is delayed onset muscle soreness (or DOMS) due to acute inflammation. The body attempts to heal the microtears in the muscles acquired through strenuous training. If you have DOMS, you will feel pain or stiffness in the muscles when you contract, move, or stretch them. DOMS doesn’t always occur after training and usually occurs less as you become more adapted to your workouts.
Some pain is not good!
Pain in the joints or sharp pain in your muscles is a concern both if it occurs suddenly or after exercise. If this happens or you are unsure whether exercise is safe for you, consult with your doctor or an exercise professional. Although resistance training is typically relatively safe, training with poor technique or weights that are too heavy for you can result in pain and injury.
Good form is critical
Although it is important to train hard, it is more important to learn how to perform each exercise correctly with a full range of motion (ROM) to stay safe and maximize your training. Ensure you have good form for every rep, and get professional instruction from an exercise professional if necessary. Always learn proper technique before pushing yourself on an exercise.
If you can’t meet with an exercise professional, there are many excellent YouTube channels with videos on exercise techniques. Here are a few of these resources:
High reps with relatively light weight
High reps and low reps can both be beneficial for improving muscular strength and hypertrophy (muscle growth), according to a study in 2010 by Stuart Phillips at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. As muscles approach failure, more muscle fibres are recruited to help overcome the resistance. This recruitment response is why lighter weights can be used to drive similar strength and hypertrophy adaptations to heavier weights (which recruit more muscle fibres straight away).
It should be noted that training to failure is still challenging and that training to failure with high reps (i.e. 20 or 30) may be more challenging for some people than training with a more traditional number of reps (around 10) because the set takes longer to perform and metabolites continue to accumulate in the muscles.
Don’t overthink it!
A 2020 study published at the Federal University of São Carlos in Brazil compared three different training programs amongst a group of 60-70 year old adults. One group trained to failure, one group just shy of failure, and one group with a fixed amount of reps (10 reps). The fixed rep group did less than a third of the failure group’s total work, yet all groups had similar increases in strength and functional performance (walking speed and getting out of a chair).
When you are starting resistance training, the bottom line is that showing up to do the workout matters more than the degree of effort and numbers of reps.
Although trained lifters need to push themselves to drive adaptation, newer lifters can get away with just performing the exercises with reasonable effort.
See our selection of beginner workout programs for those with different levels of fitness and equipment availability. We recommend these full-body workouts 2-3 times per week with at least one day of recovery in between sessions.
Need help starting resistance training?
Get a personalized fitness plan to help you get started, progress or improve your enjoyment of physical activity
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NEXT Week - Functional Movement
Dr. Brendan Byrne