July 15, 2024

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The Benefits, the Science and Getting Started

The Benefits, the Science and Getting Started

If you’re looking to build more muscle, achieve your first pull up or advance your weight-loss efforts, there’s no doubt that you will have come across the term ‘resistance training’. But what does it actually mean? And can you do it using just your bodyweight or do you need loads of expensive and fancy kit to get started? Well, if you only learn one thing about resistance training today make it this: there are few types of movement that provide more benefits than resistance training.

Below, we’ll delve into how resistance training builds muscle, the benefits of doing it, how to get started and how to perform it safely and correctly so that you can get started on some of our best workouts.

young male cross trainer preparing barbell in gym

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What Is Resistance Training?

The phrase resistance training is used an umbrella term for all exercise that requires the body to resist weight in a variety of forms. This weight could be in the form of bodyweight, free weights, machines, resistance bands or even a couple of cans of tinned beans, if that’s all you have to hand.

The science is certainly overwhelming in the support of resistance training, with a leading article published by Sports Medicine reporting it is ‘the most effective method available for maintaining and increasing lean-body mass and improving muscular strength and endurance.’

How Does Resistance Training Build Muscle?

‘The act of resistance training, itself, doesn’t ensure optimal gains in muscle strength and performance. Thus, resistance-training programs [sic] need to be individualised’ says an article published by Science in Sports & Exercise. So your training programme must be adjusted to suit your individual needs, capabilities and goals in order to build muscle.

Resistance training builds muscle through the principal of progressive overload. This means that in order to gain muscle, resistance training activities need to be completed to the point of being challenging for your muscles, while maintaining good technique. Once your muscles adapt to that challenge, you should be making regular adjustments to your ‘training variables’. That could mean adjusting weight, reps, sets, rest time or range of movement in order to continue challenging the muscles.

young athletic man training with resistance bands at home

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What actually happens to your muscles is explained in a review published by the Journal of Applied Physiology. According to the review, resistance training breaks down the muscle, and when muscles break down, they will build back larger, as long as you eat enough protein to help them repair.

Resistance Training Examples

A non-exhaustive list of resistance training exercises includes:

As previously mentioned, this is a far from exhaustive list, and resistance training is in no way confined to just lifting weights. Anything that your body is made to resist, even its own weight against gravity, can be a form of resistance training.

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What Are the Benefits of Resistance Training?

If you’re not already convinced, here are 10 science-backed reasons to get lifting. Sports therapist and owner of Validus Sports Injury Clinic, Daine McKibben Rice has also shared his thoughts on why resistance training should be a staple in your programme.

1/ Increased Muscle Mass

It’s no secret that resistance training will build muscle mass, especially when focussing on hypertrophy training. As supported in research published by the International Journal of Environmental Research of Public Health, muscle gain will occur when the mechanism of building muscle exceeds the break down of muscle, resulting in a positive balance. Meaning, in combination with enough protein in your diet, resistance exercise will help you build muscle.

arnold schwarzenegger

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2/ Increased Muscular Strength

By consistently completing resistance training exercises, you will see improvements in your strength. Not only will this give you a boost when being able to drop for 10 press ups, but this will carry over into other areas of your life. The increase in maximum strength resistance training provides is contingent upon a host of physical adaptations, and, according to an article published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, is best developed in the rep and set ranges of one-to six reps and three-to-six sets per session.

3/ Improved Mental Health

There is no better feeling than seeing the numbers increase on your lifts. It’s not all about the way resistance training changes what we see in the mirror according to a review published in Current Sports Medicine Reports. The mental health benefits of resistance training for adults include improvements in:

  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Cognitive abilities in older adults
  • Self-esteem
  • Pain alleviation in people with osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, and low back issues

Along with the science which supports its benefit, Rice also sings the praises of resistance training for it’s psychological benefits in relation to pain management. ‘It not only allows our bodies to adapt physiologically, but also psychologically,’ says Rice.

happy athletic man stretching his leg while crouching outdoors

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4/ Reduced Body Fat

The question on everyone’s lips: do you lose weight with resistance training? Well, with respect to abdominal fat, research published in the Journal of Applied Physiology revealed significant reductions in abdominal fat resulting from resistance training in older men. Another study published by Sports Medicine (Auckland, N.Z.) mentioned that the mechanism for this reduction in abdominal fat was the result of:

  • An increased resting metabolic rate – an increase in how much energy we burn at rest.
  • Improved insulin sensitivity – this effects how we process glucose and turn it to energy.
  • Enhanced sympathetic activity – this can cause an increase in heart rate.

The main driver of weight loss is an energy deficit, however adding resistance training to your programme could support your weight loss goals due to the above contributions to that mechanism.

5/ Muscle Retention During Weight Loss

During weight loss, it’s important to hang onto the precious muscle we’ve worked hard to build, and resistance training can help you do exactly that when lowering your calorie intake. According to a review published in the Journal of Advanced Nutrition several studies have found that a progressive resistance training programme when in a calorie deficit reduced the weight-loss associated loss of muscle mass. Adding new meaning to the phrase ‘use it or lose it’.

6/ Prevention of Age Related Muscle Loss & Illnesses

Rice has helped a wealth of clients, of all ages. A particular problem affecting those who are getting older is Sarcopenia. ‘Sarcopenia (muscle loss), can begin to happen as early as 40 years old. It can be more prevalent with a lack of resistance training and other factors. Our muscles are vitally important in maintaining our hormonal, glucose and inflammatory levels. Without muscles, or even a lack of muscle mass, our system can begin to decline and various pathologies can follow. This can have a serious impact on our health and contribute to things such as cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes and even dementia.’

cross training

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7/ Improved Bone Density

Resistance training could benefit your bone density. We get it, increased bone density may not be up there with your top goals, but it’s an additional perk of resistance training. According to Rice, ‘The effect of resistance training on bone is a great example of the benefits it can have on our bodies. It appears to provide the greatest osteogenic effect (increase in bone mineral density). Because it is living tissue, it has the ability to remodel and adapt to the mechanical stress from resistance training, thus reducing the risk of osteoporosis.’

8/ Injury Prevention & Support

Rice explained that not only can the effect of resistance training on bone density stave off osteoporosis, but it can also help prevent fractures. ‘Although research on the direct effect of resistance training on injury rate is limited,’ says Rice, ‘the physiological adaptations to bone, muscle, tendons and ligaments of those individuals who participate in resistance training compared to those who don’t, can’t be debated. Studies that are available, have reported an increase in both the size and strength of both tendons and ligaments.’

Rice adds that resistance training can also be beneficial during rehabilitation of injuries. ‘When we get injured, our bodies can become rewired and almost accustomed to certain positions being ‘painful’. So it’s important to re-educate our bodies that these positions are ‘okay’ to move into. This is where resistance training is hugely beneficial.’

lift weights

9/ Improved Cardiovascular Health

A 2011 literature review published by the Journal of Obesity concluded that, ‘resistance training is at least as effective as aerobic endurance training in reducing some major cardiovascular disease risk factors’ The findings related to cardiovascular benefits of resistance training included:

  • Improved body composition
  • Mobilisation of abdominal fat
  • Reduced resting blood pressure
  • Improved lipoprotein-lipid profiles
  • Enhanced glycemic control

It’s clear to see that resistance training has a huge host of positive effects, and in the respect of cardiovascular health, perhaps just as effective as a long run.

10/ Reduced Likelihood of Diabetes

As we know, type 2 diabetes can affects many people and numerous research studies have concluded resistance training could be an effective course of prevention. A review article, published by the Journal of Ageing Research, reported how resistance training may be an effective intervention for middle-aged and older adults to counteract age-associated declines in insulin sensitivity and to prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes. This may be due to the association of abdominal fat and insulin resistance.


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How to Get Started: Resistance Training for Beginners

After reading the benefits, we’re sure you’re rushing to dust off your dumbbells. Here are four key exercises you can try in order to get started on your resistance-training journey. Choose weights that will challenge you and try to complete three-to-four sets and six-to-12 reps of each exercise.

goblet squat

Hold your dumbbell or kettlebell close to your chest. Sink your hips back and descend into a squat. Your elbows should come in between your knees at the bottom. Drive back up, tensing your glutes at the top. Repeat.

press up

Begin in the high-plank position with your hands a little wider than your shoulders. Focus on keeping your shoulders away from your ears with your core engaged and your entire body locked. Lower your chest towards the ground with your elbows below your shoulders, creating an arrow shape with your body. Explosively push the floor away from you until you fully extend your arms. Repeat. If you’re not ready for a full press-up, instead perform them on your knees or a hands elevated press-up.

    db dumbbell deadlift

    Hold your dumbbells at your sides and with a flat back, hinge down and touch them to the ground. Engage your lats and stand upright, ‘pushing the ground away’ with your feet, squeezing your glutes at the top. Your arms should be hanging straight throughout this movement, think of them as hooks.

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    Hinge at the hips until your chest is parallel to the floor, dumbbells hanging at your shins. Maintaining a flat back, row both dumbbells towards your torso, squeeze your shoulder blades together and lower under control to the start before repeating. Control the dumbbells and avoid moving your torso.


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    10 Resistance Training Workouts

    Now you’ve mastered the moves, try these 10 resistance-training workouts and programmes suitable for all levels:

    1. Welcome to Week One of Your New Three-Day Full-Body Dumbbell Plan
    2. Experience Full-Body Gains With our Three-Day Dumbbell Plan
    3. The Men’s Health Dumbbell Club: Your New Three-Day Full-Body Muscle Plan
    4. The Men’s Health Dumbbell Club – Your Weekly Workout Plan For a Fitter, Stronger Body
    5. This 15-Minute Dumbbell Arm Workout Is Designed to Build Muscle, Fast
    6. Challenge Yourself With This 5-Move, Full-Body Dumbbell Workout
    7. Blast Calories in This 4-Move, Full-body Dumbbell Workout
    8. Blast Your Entire Body With Just Two Dumbbells
    9. It Only takes Two Dumbbells, Three Moves and 15 Minutes For a Massive Full-Body Burn
    10. This Total-Body Dumbbell Workout is Scientifically Proven to Crush Calories