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last updated October 13, 2021

What Is Resistance Training and How Do You Start?

by Rob Arthur

Resistance training is one of our most powerful tools for looking and feeling awesome.

In this article, we’ll cover what resistance training is, explore its benefits, and then talk about how you can start.

If you have any questions at the end, feel free to leave a comment 🙂

What is resistance training?

Resistance training is exercise providing progressive overload to stimulate muscles to grow stronger and/or bigger (1).

Some use the terms strength training or weight training interchangeably with resistance training (2).

However, you might consider strength training and weight training specific types of resistance training.

For example, one might train differently depending on whether they are training for strength or for size (3).

Similarly, weight training is only one way to provide muscles with progressive overload.

For instance, elastic bands, bodyweight exercises, Pilates, and yoga can serve as resistance training (4,5,6,7,8,9).

Of course, you’ll want to pick a modality that aligns with your specific needs, preferences, and goals.

Each modality is a different tool in the tool box, and we’ve all got different training jobs to do.

Let’s now dive into why you might want to start resistance training.

The benefits of resistance training

Building muscle is often one of the first things that comes to mind when we think about the benefits of resistance training.

What many of us don’t understand, however, is just how beneficial muscle mass is.

Before getting into the other benefits of resistance training, let’s talk about the benefits of muscle mass specifically.

Importance of muscle mass

Some are starting to consider muscle mass a vital sign, as low muscle mass is linked to a variety of worse clinical outcomes (10).

Those outcomes include surgical complications, longer hospital stays, and shorter survival.

Low muscle mass can reflect health problems outside of a clinical context as well.

For instance, it’s associated with increased risk of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes (11).

Low muscle mass also increases risk for cancer recurrence, mortality, surgical complications, and treatment-related toxicities (12).

There’s even evidence that it might increase risk of cardiovascular disease (13).

Yet, building muscle isn’t the only way resistance training can affect your body composition.

Resistance training and fat loss

For example, resistance training appears to help promote fat loss, including visceral fat (14).

On a related note, when losing weight, resistance training can help make sure you’re losing fat and not muscle (15).

That said, the benefits of resistance training extend beyond losing fat and building muscle.

Resistance training and general health

Resistance training is a powerful tool for building and maintaining bone health (16).

Additionally, it might help improve blood lipids and inflammation (17), blood sugar and insulin levels (18), and blood pressure (19).

Resistance training may be effective for managing chronic pain, such as fibromyalgia or lower back pain (20,21).

It’s associated with reduced risk of death, particularly when combined with aerobic training (22).

Resistance training may even help you sleep better (23).

Finally, there are the mental health benefits.

These include reduced symptoms of depression (24), alleviating anxiety (25), protecting cognition (26), and preventing memory decline (27).

Put simply, resistance training has the potential to improve your quality of life in a variety of ways (28).

Let’s now talk about how you can start seeing these benefits yourself.

How to start resistance training

It’s generally recommended that resistance training be performed two or more days a week (29).

This can be easier when you have a plan or program to follow.

So, let’s explore some options you might consider.

If you’re into lifting weights, an established, proven barbell routine might be a good option.

For example, Starting Strength, Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1, and StrongLifts 5×5 are all popular barbell routines.

On the other hand, you might have limited access to equipment or prefer the simplicity of bodyweight training.

In that case, consider something like GMB FitnessConvict Conditioning, or one of the r/bodyweightfitness/ routines.

If you thrive in a group setting, you might look into local group fitness classes.

Working out with a friend might be a good idea if you want some company or competition.

If you’re new to resistance training, consider working with a personal trainer or strength coach.

Seek out a professional who will emphasize quality movement, safety, and appropriate progression.

Ideally, you’ll work with somebody with a track record of long-term, injury-free clients.

Of course, this might be a considerable investment of time and money.

Doing so, however, could spare you a costly injury or slow progress.

Whatever you do, find a routine that fits your needs, preferences, and goals .

This might help you stay consistent.

After all, any exercise program is only beneficial if you actually do it.

What to do now

First, start by reflecting on your goals.

That is, what outcomes are you looking for?

Are you looking for strength, for size, or just to feel better?

Do you prefer training alone or with others?

What kind of time constraints do you have?

Next, consider your options (see above for examples) and pick whatever appeals to you the most.

Give whatever resistance training routine you choose a month or so of consistent effort.

Keep track of how it affects how you look, feel, and perform.

Can you handle more weight, sets, or repetitions?

What changes are you noticing in your sleep, mood, and focus?

Finally, are you enjoying yourself?

Life’s too short to slog through workouts you hate.

Remember also that your value as a person is not dependent on how much you can lift.

It’s not dependent on your size or body composition.

You have more to offer than your strength, size, or physical appearance.

Finding an approach that works for you may take some time and effort.

You are worth that time.

You are worth that effort.

Start where you are.

Do what you can.

You’ve got this.


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