Resistance training. We could write an entire book on this one subject. In fact, you can find shelves full of books at Barnes & Noble that argue their referenced approach to resistance training as the end-all-be-all method. The truth is, they’re all effective and incorporating each of them at different points in your training “career” can be ideal.
Benefits of Resistance Training
At the most basic level, you can think of resistance training like this – you’re working your muscles against resistance (your own body weight or an external load provided by a resistance band, dumbbell, kettlebell, etc.) in an effort to increase power, strength, build muscle, increase endurance, improve performance, and more.
And of course, to make things more confusing, each of those goals (power, strength, muscle, etc.) can be accomplished with a variety of different approaches to strength training. Again, you’ll find shelves full of books, each arguing their method as the best. We won’t worry about that right now.
There’s a long list of benefits resistance training provides, but here are the crucial points that we feel are relevant:
Resistance Training And Muscle Mass
As we age, muscle mass loss is inevitable without regular strength training workouts. Muscle tissue is not easy tissue to gain back. This is especially true for women who naturally have low amounts of testosterone compared to men. Protecting the muscle you have already have is one of the most important considerations of any well-rounded fitness program.
Why is having more muscle so important?
If you begin losing muscle mass, your strength will decrease, meaning everyday activities – including those outdoor activities you want to take part in – will become harder and harder.
Plus, muscle plays a major role in burning fat.
While exercise does burn calories, you only workout a few hours per week. To increase fat burning you need to increase your metabolism, specifically your Resting Metabolic Rate. Those who have a higher degree of muscle mass burn more calories even when they’re at rest.¹ As a person ages, metabolism naturally slows down, leading to gradual weight gain. Muscle is a great way to counterbalance the body’s natural slowdown and the earlier a person starts, the easier it will be to maintain that muscle over time.
Many people complain that the reason they’re gaining weight into the 40’s and 50’s is due to a ‘slow metabolism.’ In reality, that slow metabolism is happening (partly) because they are losing muscle. The muscle gains you achieve with a proper strength training program can help reverse this process and actually INCREASE metabolism!
Will resistance training make me big & bulky?
The fact is, it’s not easy to add large amounts of muscle to our bodies. Adding large amounts of muscle requires very specific training and nutrition protocols, and in most cases, performance-enhancing drugs… this is especially true for women.
Look at it this way: one pound of muscle is about the size of your hand when you make a fist. Distributed across your body, it is nearly unnoticeable.
Adding 5-10 pounds of muscle will dramatically improve your shape (in a great way), health and performance.
Resistance Training And Bone Health
As a person grows older, bone loss is inevitable, especially for women after menopause.² This can lead bones to break more easily, feelings of fatigue and weakness, and reduced tolerance to physical activity. Weight-bearing exercises strengthen bones, helping minimize natural bone loss and reducing the risk of injury.³
While other outdoor activities may be weight-bearing in nature and still help with bone strength and formation, no other exercise is more weight-bearing than strength training.
Since you’ll be supporting more weight than just your body weight, you can really take your bone health to the next level. One study published in the journal of Medicine and Science in Sports And Exercise illustrated that strength training is superior in terms of combating osteoporosis compared to aerobic activity only.4
This can prevent stress fractures or bone breaks down the road, both of which could become very serious if you are into your 60’s and 70’s.
Resistance Training And Disease Prevention
Strength training has been shown to provide a number of health benefits, including a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.5
A Tufts University study even found that participants in a strength training program were able to see a marked reduction in arthritis pain. In fact, the study found that the end result was better than that received from medications.
Strength training can also improve a person’s mental health by reducing depression and improving sleep quality.
Resistance Training And Insulin Sensitivity
Finally, the last nice thing about strength training that you must note is its impact on insulin sensitivity.
Your insulin sensitivity level is one of the key factors determining your risk of diabetes and metabolic syndrome, a condition that’s starting to impact more and more females.
A regular strength training workout routine will help to keep your tissue cells more responsive to insulin. Should you consume carbohydrates in your diet, your body will be able to better utilize those carbohydrates, directing them towards the muscle cells rather than the body fat cells as was noted in a study published in the Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise journal.6
This helps keep you leaner as well since you’ll have a reduced rate of converting those carbohydrates into body fat stores.
It appears the primary reason for this is due to the increased lean muscle tissue development, which then increases the insulin sensitivity level.
Resistance Training Will Make You Strong & Help You Slim Down
All the above reasons are super-important; they’re all about a healthier, better quality of life – longevity. However, we understand that a big reason you might be interested in this subject is that you want to make a physical transformation. Well, strength training is going to play a major role in that, too! You can think of strength training as your “tool” to build and sculpt your strong, slim body. By the way, strength training is far more effective than cardio training for building “the body of your dreams” – more on that in a bit…
Resistance Training Methods
Traditionally, the cornerstone of most resistance training programs has been performing exercises in a straight-set format – perform a specified number or reps for a given exercise, rest for 30 seconds to a few minutes, and then repeat before moving on to the next exercise. Fat loss and endurance programs typically prescribe shorter rest periods, while strength and power programs prescribe longer rest periods.
So, what’s the problem with this format?
Well, there really isn’t one if you look at it from a stimulus:response standpoint. In other words, does it produce results? YES!
However, this approach to resistance training can get boring very quickly for many of us; and for most, that means the end of the program. BIG problem! The other issue is the amount of time a traditional style workout can take.
For example, in most health clubs you’ll typically see someone perform 3 – 4 sets of 10 reps for an exercise; let’s use barbell lunges as an example. You pump out your 10 reps, go to the water fountain, chat with some friends, check Facebook, and then go back back to the bar to pump out set number two. By the time you’re done with your fourth set, it’s taken you almost 10 minutes to complete only one exercise. It’s no wonder people are spending 90 minutes to 2 hours in the gym!
A much more effective and time-efficient approach to ordering your exercises may be utilizing the alternating set format. Here you’ll perform one exercise, rest for a short period of time, then perform another non-competing exercise, rest for a short period of time, and so forth.
Alternating sets allows you to work different areas of your body when you would otherwise be resting with the straight-set format. Plus, by working another area of your body with a non-competing exercise you allow your body to recover from the previous exercise(s). The result is improved training economy and density: more work accomplished in less time, the cornerstone of any sound fat loss program.
There are a number of different ways to perform alternating sets:
- Supersets: Alternate between 2 different non-competing exercises (e.g. upper body and lower body such as pushups and lunges, or upper body push and upper body pull such as chest press and rows)
- Trisets: Alternate between 3 different exercises (e.g. push, pull, and lower body such as pushups, rows, and lunges, or upper body, lower body, “core” such as chin-up, deadlift, plank)
- Circuits: Alternate between four or more different exercises.
Here’s an example workout consisting of alternating sets:
1A) Resistance Band Romanian Deadlifts
Perform 8-10 reps of each exercise 4 times through
2A) KB Goblet Squats
2B) Suspension Trainer Rows
Perform 6-8 reps of each exercise 4 times through
3A) Dumbbell Curl + Overhead Press
3B) Ab Wheel Rollouts
Perform 10-12 reps of each exercise 3 times through
High-Intensity Interval Training
High-intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is an exercise strategy that employs an intense bout of exercise followed by a brief rest. HIIT protocols use a variety of work to rest ratios (e.g.., 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off like the classic Tabata protocol, or 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off, or 15 seconds on, 45 seconds off, and an almost endless list of other interval variations). They generally consist of 5 – 10 cycles per circuit and workouts consist of 4 – 6 circuits lasting 20 – 30 minutes (not including warm-up and cool-down), although there are even benefits to performing just 1 circuit for a quick 5-minute or so workout.
HIIT workouts were originally performed as a cardiovascular training method (sprint workouts for example), but have become more popular in the past decade as a method of resistance training – generally referred to as metabolic resistance training (MRT).
HIIT workouts, especially MRT workouts are incredibly effective for our busy Members at The Transformation Club seeking a body transformation with just a few short workouts per week. The results we’ve seen have been amazing!
HIIT accomplishes this in the following ways:
- Creates the Optimal Hormonal Environment for Fat Loss: HIIT puts your body in a “fight or flight” mode.* As a result, your body releases certain hormones that directly mobilize stored fat to be burned off as energy during exercise.
- Burn a TON of calories both during and after exercise: Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC), otherwise known as post-workout “AFTER-BURN” is a measurably increased rate of oxygen intake after strenuous activity. This after-burn creates an elevated metabolic rate for 24-48 hours after exercise where fat is the primary fuel source. In other words, you burn more fat while you’re resting!
- Increased glycogen storage: HIIT training rapidly reduces glycogen (stored sugar in the muscle cells) during training. With proper post-workout refueling your muscle cells “learn” to store more sugar, thus preventing that unwanted sugar-to-fat conversion. Carbs aren’t the enemy when they have a place to go other than your butt and gut.
“It Really, Really Works!”
Steven Boutcher, a scientist at the University of South Wales, did a study on high-intensity interval training and found that more fat is lost during shorter, maximum intensity intervals than during slower and longer workout periods.
Two groups of obese women were divided into two groups with identical diets but different exercise protocols for fifteen weeks.
The first group exercised three times each week for twenty minutes. Their high-intensity workouts consisted of intervals with eight seconds of max-effort and twelve seconds of recovery.
The second group also exercised three times each week, but for forty minutes, and the intensity was steadier.
The results? In spite of the second group’s longer exercise periods, the first group saw a higher loss of body fat, especially in the belly, thighs, and hips.
We now know that you can get even better body shaping results when you perform HIIT using multi-joint strength training exercises like squats, deadlifts, rows, presses, etc – a.k.a. Metabolic Resistance Training. It’s also a lot more fun!
So, what’s an example of a HIIT circuit? Here’s one of our favorites. It’s a 6-exercise circuit:
- Alternating Kettlebell Snatch
- KB Goblet Squats
- Suspension Trainer Rows
- Resistance Band Romanian Deadlifts
You will alternate between 30 seconds of work and 15 seconds of rest for all 6 exercises followed by 1-minute rest. Perform this circuit 2 – 6 times depending on your fitness level and the time you have available.
Final Thoughts on Resistance Training Methods
At the end of the day (as they say), all three methods and the practically countless versions of each will produce a result. What matters most is:
- Finding the method(s) that you enjoy and will stick to
- Varying the methods to avoid plateaus and reap the benefits each provides.
HAVE FAITH & TAKE ACTION,
- “Weight Loss.” Metabolism and Weight Loss: How You Burn Calories. N.p., 6 Oct. 2011. Web. 06 May 2014.
- “Aging Changes in the Bones – Muscles – Joints: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia.” U.S National Library of Medicine. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 3 Sept. 2012. Web. 09 May 2014.
- “Build Up Your Bones! | NIH MedlinePlus the Magazine.” U.S National Library of Medicine. U.S. National Library of Medicine, Winter 2012. Web. 09 May 2014.
- Layne, JE. & Nelson, ME. (1999). The effects of progressive resistance training on bone density: A review. Medicine and Science in Sports And Exercise. 31(1):25-30.
- “Why Strength Training?” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 24 Feb. 2011. Web. 09 May 2014.
- Ivy, JL. & Sherman, W.M. & Miller, W.J. (1984). Effect of strength training on glucose tolerance and post-glucose insulin response. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 16(6):539-543.