Your Personal Trainer : What is Resistance Training and Where Does It Fit into Your Exercise Program?

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By Olivia C. Rossi, RN, MSN

Resistance training, also known as strength training or weight training, is one of the components of a balanced exercise program that I discussed in my September 9th article.  It is an important part of every health and fitness program and provides health and functional benefits, particularly for women.  “Strength training can lead to improvement in overall health and well-being including increased muscle strength and lean body mass, decreased body fat, decreased risk of injury, improved joint function, increased bone density, improved cardiac function and an increase in good (HDL) cholesterol.” (Kettles, Cole, Wright,  Women’s Health and Fitness Guide)  It is important and beneficial for all ages, especially post-menopausal women who may experience a more rapid decline in bone density.

Those are some of the reasons why we do it but, based on some questions I received last week, there seems to be some confusion as to how we do it and exactly what it is.  By way of definition, strength training is the use of some type of resistance to build strength, endurance and size of skeletal muscles.  There are many ways to do strength training including the use of free weights, resistance bands or tubing, weight machines and even your own body weight as in doing a lunge or something as familiar to all of us as standing up from a sitting position.   But how and where does the resistance training component of an exercise program fit in?  Let me give you the guidelines recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine and then expand on that by outlining a sample workout plan.  I will then focus on some general principles and “how-to’s” of a resistance training regime.

The recommended frequency for doing resistance training is 2-to-3 days per week on non-consecutive days.  The reason for skipping a day is to allow your muscles to rest.   For example, if your exercise program includes a 30-minute walk everyday, the days for you to do your resistance training could be either Monday-Wednesday-Friday or Tuesday-Thursday, probably best done after your walk followed by your cool-down stretches.  By the way, always remember to do your warm-ups for 5-to-10 minutes before you start your exercises for the day.  The purpose of warm-ups is to get your muscles, joints and heart prepared for what you are going to do.  If you are going for a brisk walk, start your walk slower, say “half-time” for about 5-minutes, add some shoulder rolls, arms circles or even walking in place before you go out, then pick up your pace, go for your brisk walk, do your resistance training and then your cool-down stretches.

So let’s get to the “how-to’s” of resistance training.  The regime you do will depend on your goals but for basic fitness it is recommended that you do one set consisting of 10-15 repetitions.  For instance if you are doing  biceps curls to increase the strength of your upper arms, you would use a weight that you could do between 10-15 lifts or what are called “reps” in weight training language.  As I said, doing it one time or performing “one set” is fine for basic fitness and certainly when you are getting started.  You should start with light weights and progress slowly, increasing  weight as the exercise gets easier for you.  For example, if you choose a 5-lb dumbell and find that you cannot finish 10-repetitions, then the weight is too heavy and you may need to drop down to a 3-lb dumbell.  Conversely, if you are using that 5-lb dumbell and you can do 15-repetitions easily and could keep going, you could move up to a 7-lb or higher weight dumbell.

As for the types of weight/resistance/strength training exercises to do, that again depends on your goals and it is obviously difficult for me to give you specific exercises online as there are many aspects to weight training that I cannot cover in this context.  However, a good general approach to target areas is to include both upper and lower body exercises and those that will help to strengthen the abdominal and back muscles.  When resistance training is included in your exercise program, it can help you do the activities of your daily life more easily, to be more physically active, to feel more self-confident and to do some of those things you love to do everyday such as picking up your baby, your grandchild or even your great grandchild!  I’d like to leave you this week with a quote that made me smile:

If you’ve lost strength, you can regain it.  If your energy has sagged, you can raise it.  If you’ve lost muscle and gained fat, you can reverse it.  If you’ve become flabby, you can get trim.  If you feel older than you like, you can feel younger, stronger and more vigorous–perhaps better than you’ve ever felt in your entire life.  Strength training, we have learned, is a fountain of youth.   Miriam E. Nelson, PhD, author of Stong Women Stay Young

Yours in fitness,

Olivia C. Rossi, RN, MSN
Certified Clinical Specialist, ACSM
Certified Personal Trainer, ACSM