This article from our colleagues at Unified Healthcare Group looks at the world of resistance exercise. Considered to be an important, but often overlooked, component of a well-rounded fitness program, the article discusses exactly how ‘resistance exercise’ or ‘resistance training’ is actually defined, and covers the different types of exercises that can be involved, and the benefits it can deliver to the tens of thousands of Australians who undertake this type of exercise within their regular lifestyle routines…
What is resistance exercise?
Resistance exercises or ‘strength sessions’ involve contracting your muscles against a resisting force such as a dumbbell, a rubber band, or your own body weight.
An interesting aspect of skeletal muscle is its adaptability. If a muscle is stressed (within tolerable limits), it adapts and improves its function. Resistance exercise increases muscle strength by pitting the muscles against an opposing force, such as your body weight or a dumbbell, thereby stressing it. The muscle cells adapt to the extra workload by enlarging (hypertrophy) and recruiting greater numbers of nerve cells to aid contraction.
Larger muscles allow you to accommodate an increased load. This is the foundation of resistance exercise programs, called progressive overload. As your muscles adapt to an increased workload, a greater stress (eg: weight) is required for further adaptation. Likewise, if a muscle receives less stress than it’s used to, it atrophies (becomes smaller).
Types of resistance exercise
Resistance sessions usually involve a number of different exercises targeting different muscle groups. These exercises sessions may include:
- Weight lifting (eg: bench press, bicep curls, hamstring curls)
- Body weight training (eg: push-ups, dips, pull-ups, lunges)
- Using a partner to resist movements
- Using an elastic band as resistance
- Heavy lifting (eg: moving furniture, gardening)
It is important to pay attention to safety and good form (posture and technique) to reduce the risk of injury. Undertaking some form of bodyweight training that builds a foundation of strength, and strengthens the deeper stabilising muscles, before moving to formal resistance training using weights, could be beneficial. Basic safety principles for resistance training include:
- Only use safe and well-maintained equipment. Faulty equipment will significantly increase your risk of injury.
- Warm up and cool down thoroughly. Incorporate slow, sustained stretches.
- Don’t forget to breathe – exhale at the point of greatest exertion rather than holding your breath.
- Control the weights at all times – don’t throw them up and down or use momentum to ‘swing’ the weights through their range of motion.
- Make sure you use correct lifting technique. If you are unsure, consult with a fitness professional.
- Ensure you move the weight through your joint’s full range of motion. This not only works the muscle fully, but reduces the risk of joint injury.
- Work out with a partner, especially if you are using heavy weights.
- Balance your training so that you are working muscles on the front and rear of the body. An imbalance in strength between muscle groups can lead to injury.
- Make sure you train the deep stabilising muscles appropriately. These include the rotator cuff in the shoulder and the deep stabilisers of the low back and neck.
The benefits of resistance training
- Improved physical performance, including: strength, power, speed, agility, flexibility, local muscular endurance and sports specific abilities
- Increased strength of tendons and ligaments
- Increased bone density
- Reduced body fat and increased lean body mass (muscle mass)
- Potentially decreased resting systolic and diastolic blood pressure
- Positive changes in blood cholesterol
- Improved glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity
- Improved strength, balance, and functional ability in older adults
- Increased Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR)
- Postural correctness
- Improved self esteem
- Rehabilitation (increase strength of an injured body part, or prevention of an injury).
How often should I do resistance training?
Resistance training should be included in an overall exercise program (also involving aerobic training and an active lifestyle). Each muscle group only requires one resistance training session per week to become stronger. Therefore, if you are doing a full-body resistance session, once a week is all you need. These sessions may involve more than one exercise for each of the larger muscles (legs, back and chest).
However, many people do more than one resistance session per week to try to maximise results. It is a balancing act trying to maximise the frequency of sessions for better results, but allowing enough rest between sessions for muscles to recover. After a resistance session of high intensity, each muscle group requires at least 48 hours to recover (maybe more, if beginning or after a very intense session). Without enough rest, muscles will not recover in time for the following session, and it will be counter-productive (over-training).
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