The Many Benefits Of Resistance Training
In this guide we will discuss what resistance training is, its benefits, and some ways to perform resistance training.
Table of Contents:
- What is Resistance Training
- The Goals of Resistance Training
- The Benefits of Resistance Training
- Who Should Perform Resistance Training?
- The Mental Benefits of Resistance Training
What is Resistance Training
For the purpose of this article, we will define resistance training as a form of exercise in which one or more muscles are contracted against an external load or resistance. This could be in the form of lifting weights, moving your body against gravity, using resistance bands or even picking up household objects like small children. Resistance training comes in all different shapes and sizes including:
- Calisthenics/ bodyweight training
- Functional patterns
- Plyometric/athletic training
- Olympic Weightlifting
The Goals of Resistance Training
In my opinion the goal of resistance training should be to induce physical adaptations in your body. This is largely what differentiates resistance training from other forms of exercise. The goal of resistance training should not be to get a great “pump”, burn a ton of calories, feel sore the next day, or work up a sweat. While these effects all may occur throughout a workout, they do not indicate whether or not it was a good workout. The goal of every workout within resistance training should be to progress. Be that from rep-to-rep, day-to-day, or year-to-year.
Stimulus + Recovery = Adaptation
This is the golden rule when it comes to resistance training. We create stimulus in our body/muscles by performing some form of resistance training. If our body has the ability to recover from this stimulus through adequate nutrition and rest it will then have the opportunity to create an adaptation to this stimulus. Depending on the type of training that we perform we can create different adaptations in our body which will result in increased performance. Here are a few types of adaptations that can occur in our body:
- Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy - This is often referred to as cellular swelling. When muscles increase in size and weight due to increased storage of glucose and water in the muscle cell.
- Myofibrillar Hypertrophy - This is the increased amount of proteins and actual contractile tissue within the muscle cell.
- Increasing mitochondrial density- Through more aerobic style training we can increase the amount of mitochondria in our cells, inducing an effect similar to cardiovascular training.
- Myonuclear Hypertrophy - Increasing the number of nuclei in our muscle cells. Muscle-cells are one of the only types of cells in our body that contain multiple nuclei. The nucleus is analogous to the brain of the cell, more nuclei in the cell allows for more let’s say control/coordination when contracting the muscle fibers
- Joint Elasticity - Joints or tendons are the pieces of tissue which connect your muscles to your bones. Joints act in a very similar manner to a spring, in which they absorb and release force into the respective muscle. We can train our joints to be more or less elastic depending on our training goals. More elastic joints will be more “loose”, resulting in more tension being placed on the muscle The less elastic a joint is, the stiffer it will be, resulting in a more spring-like/bouncy effect. Stiff joints are beneficial for athletes looking to produce as much power as possible, but are also much more prone to injury.
- Improved Motor Recruitment/Coordination - It’s important to note that our nervous system/brain can also be trained. This is the equivalent to the “skill” required to perform the exercise. But this is also very important for strength and power athletes who need to be able to maximally recruit their muscle fibers as efficiently as possible.
For the purpose of this article, I will not be going into how to create the stimulus required to induce each one of these adaptations, but here’s the big picture: Various forms of resistance training will allow us to produce these adaptations in our body. This will result in lasting improvements in our body’s performance over time that we will not necessarily be able to achieve through many other forms of exercise.
The variety of adaptations we can produce is part of the reason that resistance training is such a great form of exercise because it offers so many means of progression. You can increase the weight/resistance, the number of reps/sets you perform, or even perform a more difficult variation of the exercise, ect.. There are very few, if any forms of exercise that allow for so many ways of progressing.
Exercises like swimming, running, climbing, ect. have a limit at which point progressing becomes very difficult. While we can always increase the amount of time/distance that we perform the exercise for, eventually we are going to run out of both time and energy. We can always continue to work to improve our performance within these types of exercises, but as our ability to progress and thereby create new stimulus decreases, so will our body’s rate of adaptation.
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The Benefits of Resistance Training
I am honestly willing to argue that resistance training is the best form of exercise on the planet. Here are just some of the benefits:
- Improved hormonal health
- Increased insulin sensitivity
- Increased strength
- Increased bone density
- Improved mobility
- Improved balance/coordination
- Increased metabolic rate
- Improved stamina
- Improved blood flow
- Increased muscle size
- Increased Injury prevention
- Reduced joint pain
And the benefits go on…
Read More: 3 Natural Steroid Alternatives
So why is resistance training so beneficial compared to other forms of exercise?
In my opinion, because it is so efficient and versatile. Not only can resistance training be done just about anywhere, but we can use it to achieve so many different results through these various adaptations. Additionally, few forms of exercise have as linear of a progression as resistance training can. While progress within resistance training itself is not always constant/linear, but there is almost always a logical next step to take to continue to progress.
Who should perform resistance training?
Literally everyone. If you are intent on improving your current state of health, be that mentally or physically, resistance training is for you. Men or women, young or old, strong or weak, everyone can benefit from resistance training. I mean after all resistance training is just about improving your body’s performance. While we often associate the word performance with athleticism or car engines it is defined as, “the action or process of carrying out or accomplishing an action, task, or function” (Oxford Languages). Whether this means being able to run a five minute mile or walk up your staircase pain-free is completely up to you and your individual goals.
Here are two saying’s that you’ve likely heard, but I’d like to draw your attention to:
“If you don’t use it, you lose it”
“Movement is medicine”
As we age we often become more sedentary and do not use our muscles to the extent that we used to. Over time if your muscles aren’t used to their capacity they will start to atrophy or break down in our body. Any form of movement is going to benefit us, especially with the very sedentary lifestyles that many of us live today. Walking, yoga, dance, cycling, you name it… but here’s why resistance training in my opinion is the king (or queen) of all exercises.
Analogy Time: Have you ever played or watched a game of baseball/softball? If so, you may have seen the players warm up before batting by putting a “doughnut” onto the end of the bat and taking a couple swings. The doughnut is just a weight added onto the bat to make the bat heavier. And now you’re thinking, why would you want to make the bat heavier?
The idea is that when the players step up to the plate and take off the doughnut, the bat will now be lighter and they’ll be able to swing faster and with more power. Whether or not this works in actuality is a subject of debate, but what I and anyone else who’s used this warm-up technique can tell you, is swinging the bat after removing the doughnut feels somewhat effortless.
What does this have to do with resistance training?
Well, besides the fact that adding a doughnut to a baseball bat is in it of itself a method of resistance training, a lot. Resistance training is focused around increasing the capacity of our muscles, joints and even nervous system. By training our muscles/joints to be able to handle heavier loads, things that may have once been challenging to us become easy. I gave the example before of being able to walk up your steps.
While most people don’t view walking up stairs as the equivalent to a lunge or step-up, in reality it is not much different. Over time, as we can increase the amount of weight/resistance in which you can perform a lunge with, those stairs become much less daunting. The same applies to improving your balance and coordination.
If you can easily perform a squat while balancing on a bosu ball, it’s going to be effortless when you go to squat on a solid surface. And you can always take it a step further by adding weight or resistance while performing the exercise on an unstable surface.
What about improving my mobility?
Here’s a better question... Why are you immobile in the first place?
Have you ever accidentally touched a burning hot object and without even thinking about it, you immediately pulled your hand away? This is a type of reflex that has evolved in our nervous system to protect our body from further damage.
A very similar thing occurs when we put our muscles/joints into their fully lengthened/stretched position while under load. The “stretch reflex” occurs when we reach our end-range of motion and your nervous system reacts by automatically inducing a strong contraction from the respective muscle fibers to move them away from that end range of motion or the “danger zone”. This is our body’s protection mechanism for our muscles/joints. Without this stretch reflex, we would exceed our muscles/joints range of motion and people’s limbs would likely be popping out all willy nilly in the weight room.
It is for this same reason that we experience “tight” muscles. These “tight” muscles are our nervous system/brain’s way of limiting our range of motion because it perceives danger in that position. In reality, these muscles more often than not, are not actually “tight”, rather they are weak. Our muscles do not currently have the ability to contract through that range of motion, so our nervous system is doing its job in protecting us, by not allowing us to access it. Remember that old saying, “If you don’t use it, you lose it”.
There are two types of range of motion that I will address:
- Active range of motion - This is the range of motion in which your muscles can actively contract.
- Passive range of motion - This is the range of motion past where your muscles can contract, typically achieved by using an external force like gravity to “pull yourself” into this range of motion.
To improve our mobility we want to decrease the difference between our active and passive range of motions.
Stretching uses passive methods of improving our mobility by pulling ourselves into a given position. This provides temporary increases in our range of motion by desensitizing our nervous system. Desensitizing our nervous system is like the real life equivalent of your mom holding your hand as a kid and her telling you it’s okay, as the doctor stabs you with a needle.
Stretching tells your nervous system that it can now access this range of motion, but if you do not perform some sort of active/contractile movement through this range of motion, it will soon revert to back to its “tight” state. This is because stretching on its own does not create any physical stimulus in your body and therefore does not result in any adaptations being produced.
I mean think about it… how can stretching possibly increase the length of your muscles? Your muscles are fixed, attached at either ends to your joints which then attach to bones. The only way your muscles could actually increase in length is if the distance between those two bones increased.
It might be easier to think of your muscles like a piece of rope. You can maximally stretch the piece of rope or you can shorten it, but once you try to actually increase the rope’s maximal length, it’s just going to tear.
Personally, I prefer to just skip stretching all together and knock out two birds with one stone. How do you do this? Ah, yes resistance training, now you’re catching on.
By performing resistance training movements in these fully lengthened positions you will increase your muscle’s capacity to contract and produce force in these positions, while also over time giving your nervous system the “green light” to allow you to access this range of motion.
Performing a few second (isometric) holds in these fully stretched positions during these exercises has been shown to be very effective at improving mobility. If you are looking for more information on this subject I highly recommend checking out Coach Eugene Teo’s website www.ganbarumethod.com in which he has a number of amazing in-depth lectures on the subject.
*Note- I am not saying that stretching or other passive modalities are useless and they likely have a time and place in which they can/should be used, but they are not my preferred method to increase mobility. I am personally biased as at one point in my life I spent 1-2 hours daily stretching in order to improve my flexibility, but the results never lasted and I was constantly “tight”. It was not until I actually started performing resistance training movements in these lengthened positions that I was able to make lasting mobility improvements.
Tips to Making Your Resistance Training Effective
- Find your tribe - If you have certain goals/aspirations within your training goals then you would likely want to choose the form of resistance training that best targets these goals. For example, if your goal was to increase your strength as much as possible then powerlifting would be your best option. If you want to build as much muscle as possible you would likely be better suited to choose bodybuilding.
If you don’t have a preference then try them all out and see which one you enjoy the most. Resistance training like any form of exercise can be social! Try and find a partner to work out with or join a gym with a great crowd that you actually enjoy going to. This will make you all the more likely to continue to train in the long run
- Find exercises that fit - For some reason in the fitness industry I find people trying to customize everything to better fit their needs except the exercises they use. We see all the time companies offering customized meal plans, protein powders or other supplements, or workouts designed specifically for your “body type” which for the most part are pretty much all scams.
But for some reason, everyone that enters the gym is supposed to squat, bench, and deadlift because they are the “holy trinity” of exercises.
The most important difference between you and the person lifting next to you is your actual anatomical structure. Not everyone has the structure or mobility to perform a barbell squat or deadlift from off of the floor and for some people flat benching is a sub-par exercise for your chest. Find exercises that suit your structure and I promise you that you will get results faster and your joints will thank you for it.
I highly recommend checking out @n1training/n1education for more information on adjusting exercises to better fit your structure.
Preference - You may have noticed a slight trend in the last two points, but we are all biased people. It is very difficult to instill habits in the long-term if you dread doing the activity itself. Like I said before, there is no reason that you have to barbell squat, bench or deadlift, but if you enjoy doing them, by all means go for it!
The same thing goes for machines vs. free weights vs. cables vs. bodyweight exercises, they are all tools that we can use to accomplish a given goal. But pick the right tool for the job, find whatever form of resistance training best suits you and your current lifestyle. Find a diet that allows you to consume foods that you enjoy, while still consuming adequate nutrients. This will make your life way more enjoyable and make it much easier to continue these habits in the long-term.
- Train close to failure - It’s important when performing resistance training that we consistently approach near-failure within the given exercise. You don’t have to go all out, but if you are not pushing yourself and your limits, your body will have no reason to adapt. Think about it, if you are trying to improve your mile time, walking four laps around the track isn’t going to help. To the same point, if at one point your best mile time was 10 minutes, but you have now brought it down to 7 minutes, running a 10 minute mile is now going to have a marginal, if any, effect on improving your mile time. We need to continually push ourselves to make new adaptations.
- Track your progress - Because there are so many ways to progress within resistance training it’s very important to track your progress, so we can attain measurable results. Things like the weight you lifted, # or reps/sets performed, your perceived difficulty of the exercise, and whether or not you went to failure in the exercise are all small variables that will amount to big changes over time. By tracking these things we can make sure that we are continually improving in these aspects. There are a ton of training today apps that make it very easy to track your progress.
The Mental Benefits of Resistance Training
Last, but not least, I want to address the mental benefits of resistance training. In my opinion, this may actually be the most beneficial part of resistance training. While exercise and resistance training in general can be great as a form of stress relief in addition to having many other cognitive benefits, this is not what I will be addressing here…
We are likely all reading this article because we have a desire to improve, whatever that reason may be. But if we’re being honest, for many of us it is because we are not confident in our body’s ability and/or our appearance. Which is perfectly fine, I mean is it not better that we acknowledge our own insecurities and actively work on improving them?
At the same time, we must balance these ideals. It’s so easy to get caught in that black hole, racing to the finish line for those 16” arms, bubble butt, to be pain-free or whatever your goal may be. But when your goals are the only thing in sight, you miss out on everything happening around you. Making long-term improvements in our body is a slow process. And while we can do everything in our power to optimize this process to speed it up, it’s never going to happen overnight. But isn’t that part of the fun of it?
If I could give you a pill that would immediately transform your body into the body of your dreams, would you take it? I think most of us at some point or another would say yes to this. I mean let’s be honest, it’d be pretty great to sit on the couch all day, eating potato chips and look like Thor. But by taking this “shortcut”, you miss out on the journey. And in my opinion this is the most important part, it’s not only the physical improvements that result from resistance training, but the lessons and personal growth that come along with it.
The gym is often viewed as a means to an end to improve your physique, but it’s also a perfect metaphor for life. It’s the sets and reps, the time and effort that we put into things that allow us to actively grow as a human and isn’t that what life is all about?. Because at the end of the day, it’s just another battle, you vs. yourself, except this time you get to decide who wins...
If you would like to check out a resistance training program that is designed by professionals in the field then make sure to check out UMZUfit.
My goal in writing this article, as always, is to provide you with logically-based principles that you can use to form your own conclusions regarding any information you may come across within the fitness industry. I really hope you found this article interesting and applicable to your own life and with any luck I will have transferred a bit of my passion for resistance training to you :). If you have anything to add to this article, or any comments or criticism feel free to reach me on our facebook groups (The Thermo Diet Community Group, The UMZU Community Group) or on Instagram @tylerwoodward__. And please feel free to share this article with anyone that might be interested.
Thanks for reading!
Until next time… be good