Your complete resistance training guide: Benefits, exercises + tips

Resistance training has been doing the rounds for a while now. Whether you’re sweating through a home workout, getting busy with circuit training or strengthening and lengthening in a Barre or Pilates class, everyone seems to love talking about the benefits of resistance training. But it’s certainly not a fad.

If you’ve gawped at the technical speak, its meaning flying straight over your scrunchie-topped head, then you’re in the right place. We’re going to break down what resistance training is, why you should be doing more of it and how to make it work at home or as a beginner. Ready to level up your fit nous? Thought so. Scroll on.

What is resistance training?

Let’s start at the beginning: what the fudge does resistance training actually mean?

‘Resistance training is a term used when exercising your muscles using an opposing force, for example, dumbbells, resistance bands, gym machines or even simply your own bodyweight,’ explains Maria Eleftheriou, personal trainer and Head of Barre at London studio, PSYCLE.

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10 benefits of resistance training

Between yelling at you to complete another set, no doubt your trainer or instructor is also talking about all the benefits to be reaped from consistent training. Because it’s hard to hear over all that music and er, sweat, we asked Chiara Lewis, founder and trainer at Total Body Studio, to lay out some of the gold at the end of the resistance rainbow.

  1. Improved muscle strength, enhancing everyday tasks performance
  2. Maintenance of stability, flexibility, mobility and balance which can help you to remain independent as you age
  3. Improved posture counteracting the negative effects of a “sedentary lifestyle”
  4. Increased muscle-to-fat ratio: as you gain muscle, your body burns more calories at rest
  5. Burning more calories at rest can help keep your metabolism efficient and healthy as you age
  6. Science proves that regular resistance training combined with cardiovascular exercise helps reduce (and in some cases prevent) cognitive decline
  7. Greater stamina: as you grow stronger, you won’t get tired as easily
  8. Decreased risk of injury
  9. Increased bone density and strength and reduced risk of osteoporosis
  10. Improved sense of wellbeing, resistance training boosts your self-confidence, improves your body image, your mood and energy level
  11. Improved sleep

What are examples of resistance training?

Anything that requires you to move against resistance (and remember that includes your own body weight) counts as resistance training. Some workouts might be totally resistance training based, others might be hybrid workouts. For example, if you’re completing a weighted set followed by a cardio activity, your weighted set would be your resistance training.

Annalisa Tamborini, a co-founder of the Powerful Grace Club, lays out some examples of what resistance training could look like in your fitness routine:

  • Free weights: dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells
  • Weight machines: devices that have adjustable seats with handles attached either to weights or hydraulics
  • Balls: medicine balls or weighted balls
  • Resistance bands: these provide continuous resistance throughout a movement
  • Your own body weight: Squats, push-ups and chin-ups

    What is the difference between resistance and strength training?

    ‘Resistance training, toning, strength training and weight training all fall under one umbrella – they require the use of resistance to increase muscle strength and size – ideally through progressive overload,’ explains Eleftheriou.

    ‘However, if we are to put the two into separate categories, resistance training generally means that you’re building muscle by using resistance, which can come from your own body weight, from free weights, or from using machines. This is usually done using lower weights and performing higher reps.’

    ‘Strength training is generally when you lift heavy weights at low reps, with a focus on getting stronger and potentially building more muscle mass.’

    Want to get more granular? Yumi Nutrition’s Kate Whapples, a strength and conditioning coach has the 411 on what exactly strength training is and how it differs, too.

    ‘Strength training is a method of training that helps you increase your muscular strength and build muscle mass and can use many different types of training, one of which might be resistance training,’ she explains.

    ‘The goal of strength training is to provide a stimulus to the body that requires an adaption response – for this to be achieved you need to follow a structured training program usually designed by a professional strength and conditioning coach.’

    If you’re here but actually think you should be learning more about strength training for beginners or starting a beginner’s strength training programme we’ve got you covered there as well.

    Is there anyone who should avoid resistance training?

    Sadly, there’s not a free pass when it comes to resistance training being for everyone. There are some people who should give the practice a fairly wide berth or chat with their GP or Osteopath at length before diving in.

    ‘If done correctly, resistance training can be done by most, if not all, participants. However, if you have an injury or an illness or are not 100% sure, you will most definitely need to consult your GP to discuss,’ advises Myprotein PT, Chris Appleton.

    Similarly, if you have a chronic health condition, are prenatal or postpartum, have a heart-related illness or experience hypertension, you will need to speak with a medical professional about whether it’s a suitable way for you to exercise.

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    How should beginners start resistance training?

    For all you green fitties raring to start resistance training, take it slowly and build up as you get stronger, say the experts.

    ‘I always stay start with your body weight as the element of resistance. Master the conventional lifts and perfect your form before even thinking about adding weight,’ advises FLEX Chelsea trainer Tash Lankester.

    ‘For example, look at how to perfect your squat, deadlift, lunge and push up, once you are confident with being able to perform these easily for many reps, you can slowly start adding some weight and progress from there, making sure you keep adding more and more weight.’

    Keeping things simple will serve you far better in the long run. It’ll help protect your body from injury, build up your confidence safely and help your body (and memory) become familiar with the exercises.

    ‘Starting from the basics is paramount,’ says Lewis. ‘Shift your focus to good technique and put your mind to the muscle. Real results come from good form and slowly building up resistance and complexity.’

    Another option to consider is taking some time with a professional, either in a class or 1:1 setting. They can help you zero in on the perfect form and get your technique down pat every time. Love that.

    After a while, you can start incorporating progressive overload, whereby you increase the amount of resistance you work with. When you do this, it’s a good idea to consider a workout split, like a push-pull workout routine.

    Keen to build muscle through resistance training? Creatine is the most-researched fitness supplement on the market, and has been proven to increase muscle growth in females.

    How can someone do resistance training at home?

    Fortunately, resistance training at home is very achievable. Because of its diversity, you’re able to pick and choose what works for you at home and what doesn’t.

    If you’re slightly short on home gym equipment, then bodyweight strength training might be the route you take. Or, if you’re shacked up with some free weights, kettlebell exercises might be more your style.

    ‘When it comes to resistance training from home, you can use regular household items around the house e.g. suitcases/backpacks filled with books for squats and deadlifts, bottles of water for lateral raises and bicep curls – get creative!’ says Lankester.

    ‘You can also use chairs and sofas to increase elevation, this increases resistance in bodyweight exercises, for example, rear foot elevated split squats.’

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    Because we’re us, we’ve got loads of workouts and training plans to get you on your way. From a 28-day fitness challenge with Alice Liveing that’ll help get you familiar with the basics of weight training to a veritable treasure chest of home workouts, you’ll be spoiled for choice.

    Do Pilates and Barre count as resistance training?

    Hands up all you low-impact lovers out there. Let’s look into if your regular Pilates or Barre workouts count as part of your resistance training routine, too.

    ‘Pilates and Barre are amazing workouts for functional resistance training,’ explains Lewis. ‘You typically work with your body weight in every class and sometimes add small weights or resistance bands to increase muscle contractions and add more resistance.

    ‘Unlike the traditional strength training that focuses on isolating one muscle at a time, these forms of training incorporate whole-body movements, requiring you to work on coordination, balance and control in addition to muscle contractions, similarly to how you move in real-life situations.’

    ‘This includes equalising the strength between your right side of your body and your left side and, very importantly, strengthening your back body to match the strength of your front body, which tends to be much stronger.’

    So, not only do they count as a form of resistance training, they’re an amazing form of it, too? Amazing news. Just make sure to really focus on engaging the correct muscles and don’t let dominant ones take over due to poor form.

    Now that all the chat’s outta the way, get into 36 of the best Pilates YouTube workouts or learn everything there is to know about Barre. Spoiler, it’s way harder than the pretty name would suggest. *Sweats in anticipation*.

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