Resistance training is also known as weight or strength training. It involves moving parts of your body against some kind of resistance, like weights, resistance bands, weight machines, or even your own body weight.
Why should you do resistance training?
Resistance training helps to build stronger muscles. It also strengthens your bones and joints, reducing your chance of injury, improving your balance, posture and can even boost your metabolism.
Incorporating resistance training into your exercise routine is very important, especially as you age. From around your 40’s you begin to lose muscle mass and strength in a process known as age related sarcopenia. Muscles shrink. fat accumulates. At 50 physically inactive people will lose 1-2% of their muscle mass each year and 10% or more per decade. Strength declines twice as fast as muscle mass and power declines even faster than strength. Even if you are active, you’ll still have some muscle loss. The more muscle mass you have at your peak, the more you will have left as age takes its toll. Research also shows that you can add size and strength at any age and that the less you have pushed yourself to get where you are now the more potential you have to improve.
The primary treatment for sarcopenia is exercise, specifically, resistance training.
So how do you build muscle?
When you exercise, as long as it requires effort and the effort produces fatigue and you feel those fatigued muscles then you will end up with stronger and better developed muscles. Challenging your muscles in a workout creates micro-tears and to put it simply unleashes a cascade of chemical signals and responses. One of those signals activates satellite cells on the outside of the muscle fibres. These satellite cells attempt to repair the micro damage by joining together and, as a result, increase the size of the muscle fibre. Resistance training also stimulates your body to release growth hormone from your pituitary gland. How much is released depends on the intensity of the exercise you’ve done. Growth hormone in turn triggers your metabolism and helps turn amino acids into protein to grow or “bulk” up your muscles.
It is worth noting that men and women build muscles differently due to the role testosterone plays in muscle development. While both sexes have testosterone in their bodies, men have more of this hormone. However, studies have shown that both men and women have similar responses to strength training.
What exercise qualifies as resistance training?
- body weight exercises, like pushups, squats, and lunges
- movements performed with resistance bands
- workouts with free weights, or even objects like cans of baked beans
- workouts with stationary weight machines, like a leg curl machine
How much should I lift?
When you lift you should aim to lift a weight that’s heavy enough to challenge yourself. A good guide is to select a weight that tires your muscles after 12 to 15 reps. Even a single set of 12 reps with a heavy enough weight can help build your muscles versus 3 sets at a lighter weight.
Resistance training tips:
- Warm up for 5-10 minutes to help you improve blood flow and prime the muscles- a walk or simple repetitive movements similar to the movements you are about to do are best.
- Start light, even 1-1.5kg weights if you need to. You may even try going through the motions of strength training with no weight, since you’re still lifting the weight of your arms and legs. You want to start with a weight that you can lift 10 to 15 times with proper form. Begin with 1 or 2 sets of 10 to 15 repetitions, and slowly progress to 3 sets.
- Increase your weight gradually. When you can easily do the recommended number of sets and reps, increase the weight by 10- 20%. Remember, if you don’t challenge your muscles, you won’t see gains. Aim to lift a weight that tires your muscles after 12-15 reps.
- Lift your weights using controlled movement- try not to swing wildly or use momentum and remember that correct alignment will limit injuries.
- Keep breathing during your workout. Generally breathe out on exertion, as you lift or push a weight. Breathe in as you relax.
- Don’t worry about soreness and a bit of muscle fatigue that lasts a few days. This is known as DOMS. But if you’re feeling very sore and exhausted, you may be doing too much.
- Incorporate cardio into your exercise routine. Aerobic exercise, like running, or tennis, can help build muscle if performed at the right intensity, duration, and frequency.
- Eat a healthy diet that has a good dose of protein. These foods will fuel your workouts and help build muscle through certain amino acids like leucine. Animal sources have the most protein, but vegetable sources are also sufficient.
Always remember to talk to your doctor or physio before starting a new workout routine. This is especially relevant if you have a health condition. They will have recommendations for exercise modifications that can help you use resistance to build strength but without compromising your particular issues.