Back to Basics: Tips for Successful Resistance Training

Resistance training offers a very important way of maintaining, and even improving our muscle mass and strength which tends to decrease with aging. It also helps to promote our general health and well-being and enhances our exercise performance.

Whether you are new to resistance training, haven’t done it for some time, or even if you are a seasoned pro looking for a refresher, this useful article provides handy tips for successful resistance training.

  • Ensure you have proper guidance in developing an individualized program that is right for your abilities, enjoyment and mindful of any health or injury limitations. If you have not undertaken a weight training program before, seek professional advice before starting. Membership of a local gym or personal training studio will provide some level of supervision, advice and safety, as well as access to a larger range of machines. This will also increase the scope of the exercises that can be included in your resistance training program. A qualified personal trainer will better be able to assist you in your initial session(s) and to get you underway. However, individualized personal training will come at an additional cost of between $60 and up to $120/hour.
  • Always warm up prior to undertaking a weights program. Begin with a walk or slow jog, or perform your activity at a lower intensity for the first 5 to 10 minutes of your workout. If you start your physical activity while cold, you are more likely to be injured. Stretching is best done after the warm-up and as part of the cool-down phase after exercise. When your muscles are warm, they are more pliable so as to increase the range of movement. Stretching is important for injury prevention and joint flexibility, and maximizing exercise performance.
  • At the start of any weights program obtain some initial instruction on the correct ‘form’ for each exercise. This not only ensures the exercise is doing what it was designed to do, but using good form also reduces the chance of injury. Perform your exercises in front of a mirror to check your exercise form is correct, or ask a trainer or partner to provide feedback.
  • If you are a beginner, it is often advisable to start with specifically designed pin loaded machines if these are available. These machines have the advantage of being highly specific, isolating the muscle to be worked and supporting the other muscles. Whilst these machines might look intimidating, they have the advantage that the weight or resistance applied can be easily changed. Most also have the added advantage that a trainer is not required to ‘spot’ you to ensure your safety. As you become more experienced however, barbells and dumbbells, called free weights, are often preferred, as these also engage the muscles that stabilize the joint. As these movements are not restricted to one plane, joint stabilization becomes an important component of the exercise.
  • When starting your program, begin with a weight that enables you to complete the required number of repetitions for each exercise, without compromising form or with undue fatigue. The focus must be on good exercise form, rather ensuring the weight lifted is near maximal.
  • All joints have different muscles that work in opposing directions, such as flexion and extension. An example is the biceps, which flexes the elbow, and its antagonist muscle, the triceps, which extends the elbow. When designing a program, it is important to ensure that muscle strength and the range of movement are kept in balance. Part of an initial individual assessment should determine the strength, postural and flexibility priorities of any exercise program. Many weights programs often neglect the stabilizing muscles of the upper back, spine, and shoulder joints.
  • Work through your resistance program. Allow yourself a brief rest of 30-60 seconds between each exercise. On completion of each exercise, record the weight lifted and the actual number of repetitions you have completed on your program card. At the initial session aim to perform one set of each exercise and focus on becoming familiar with the correct exercise form. At the next session, which should be approximately 48 hours later, perform two sets of each exercise, using the same weight or resistance as the initial session. Allow 60 to 90 seconds rest between each set and again focus on performing each exercise with good form. For the third session, complete the target 3 sets of each exercise. For subsequent sessions slowly begin to increase the weight so that the last few repetitions of each set of each exercise are near maximal. Ensure you continue to maintain correct form for each exercise while slowly increasing the weight lifted.
  • To increase your strength you must progressively overload your muscles by increasing the resistance they are required to work against. As soon as you accomplish the specific goal for each exercise (e.g. 3 sets of 12 reps), you should increase your weights.
  • Ensure you provide adequate opportunity for rest, regeneration and growth for your muscles. Don’t work the same muscle group two days in a row. You will achieve better results if you allow your muscles to fully recover between workouts.
  • You should aim to strength train 2 to 4 times a week. By alternating the days on which you strength train with your aerobic exercise, this will provide you with a well-balanced exercise program.
  • A weights program can be conducted at a gym or it can be designed so it can be completed at home with minimal equipment and expense. A pair of variable dumbbells with up to 20 kg of weights, 2-3 therabands (these consist of a length of rubber tubing of varying thickness), a fitball (Swiss ball) and a basic horizontal bench or equivalent, is all that is required to undertake the home resistance training program outlined further on. Make it a habit and part of your lifestyle. Significant improvements in strength can be achieved within 6 weeks and these benefits can be maintained even with 1 to 2 sessions per week.
  • On completion of your weights session also perform a brief cool down of 5-10 mins walking and stretches to assist your recovery.

Last Reviewed 13/Mar/2014


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Whilst wielding a couple of dumbbells in a gym class in 2003, Kate experienced an epiphany around the lack of accepted best practice guidelines when it came to staying well and avoiding disease. Kate realized that she had no chance of slowing her own aging process unless she became better educated about her options.

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