Resistance Training For Health And Fitness

Resistance training is a form of physical activity that is designed to improve muscular fitness by exercising a muscle or a muscle group against external resistance. There are many positive health outcomes of resistance training


As we age we tend to lose lean muscle mass, which is a condition known as Sarcopenia. Resistance training helps maintain and combat the loss of muscle mass by increasing muscular fitness. This form of training can also prevent osteoporosis by augmenting bone mineral density. What’s more? Regular resistance training can decrease the risk of heart disease by lowering body fat, decreasing blood pressure, improving cholesterol, and lowering the stress placed on the heart while lifting a particular load. Improving muscular fitness is very important for enhancing quality of life.


Resistance training can be accomplished with traditional free weights and dumbbells, weight machines, body weight, elastic tubing, medicine balls, or even common household products like milk jugs filled with sand or soup cans. The choice to incorporate a certain type of resistance depends on level of physical fitness, how familiar a person is with specific exercise movements, and individual goals. For example, low fit individuals can focus primarily on machine-based exercises as they have been regarded as safer to use compared to more complex free weight exercises. The incorporation of free weight movements can be performed as a person increases his or her muscular fitness. For example, advanced individuals can perform multiple sets and heavier resistances using multiple-joint exercises, such as squats and deadlifts. Whichever form of resistance is chosen, multiple-joint, large muscle group exercises should be performed before single-joint, smaller group exercises.


The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends that a strength training program should be performed a minimum of two non-consecutive days each week, with one set of 8 to 12 repetitions for healthy adults or 10 to 15 repetitions for older and frail individuals. Eight to 10 exercises should be performed that target the major muscle groups. Examples of typical resistance exercises that can be performed using free-weights, machines, or body weight for the major muscle groups are:


  • Chest Supine Bench Press
  • Back Bent-over Barbell Rows
  • Shoulders Dumbbell Lateral Raise
  • Biceps Barbell/Dumbbell Curls
  • Triceps Dumbbell Kickbacks
  • Abdomen Weighted Crunches
  • Quadriceps Back Squats
  • Hamstrings Stiff-leg Deadlifts


  • Seated Chest Press
  • Lat Pulldown
  • Shoulder Press
  • Cable Curls Pressdowns
  • Seated “Abs” Machine
  • Leg Extension
  • Leg Curls

Body Weight

  • Push-ups
  • Pull-ups
  • Arm Circles
  • Reverse Grip Pull-ups Dips
  • Crunches,
  • Prone Planks
  • Body Weight Lunges
  • Hip-ups

ACSM stresses the importance of progressing resistance training programs to meet specific resistance training goals. Progression in resistance training is defined as “the act of moving forward or advancing toward a specific goal over time until the target goal has been achieved.” This can occur with specific trainable characteristics of muscular fitness, such as strength, power, hypertrophy, and local muscular endurance. These four factors will improve with almost any properly designed resistance training program, but will be fully enhanced by properly modifying the LOAD , VOLUME, REST PERIOD between sets, and the FREQUENCY of each workout. . . . .

  • The load is the amount of weight lifted in a given set, which is based on a percentage of the 1-repetition maximum (1RM)
  • The volume is the total number of exercises, repetitions, and sets that are performed in a given exercise session
  • Rest period is the time period between each set and exercise
  • Frequency refers to the number of exercise sessions per week

How to manipulate each of these for the optimal enhancement of strength, power, hypertrophy, or muscular endurance is described below.

MUSCULAR STRENGTH is the ability of a muscle or muscle group to exert a maximal external force.

  • Load: 60-70% 1RM for novice to intermediate; 80-100% for advanced
  • Volume: 1-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions for novice to intermediate; 2-6 sets
  • of 1-8 repetitions for advanced
  • Rest period: 2-3 min for higher intense exercises that use heavier loads; 1-2 minutes between the lower intense exercises with light loads

MUSCULAR POWER is defined as the optimal amount of work performed in a given time period. Muscular power is the highest power output attainable during a particular movement, and is required in activities of daily living, sport, and work.

  • Load: 30-60% 1RM for upper body exercises; 0-60% 1RM for lower body exercises
  • Volume: 1-3 sets of 3-6 repetitions per exercise
  • Rest period: 2-3 min for higher intense exercises that use heavier loads; 1-2 minutes between the lower intense exercises with light loads

MUSCULAR HYPERTROPHY is the enhancement of muscle size.

  • Load: 70-85% 1RM for novice to intermediate; 70-100% for advanced
  • Volume: 1-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions for novice to intermediate; 3-6 sets of 1-12 repetitions for advanced
  • Rest period: 2-3 min for higher intense exercises that use heavier loads; 1-2 minutes between the lower intense exercises with light loads

MUSCULAR ENDURANCE is the ability of a muscle or a muscle group to repeatedly exert a submaximal resistance.

  • Load: lower than 70% of 1RM
  • Volume: 2-4 sets of 10-25 repetitions
  • Rest period: 30 seconds to 1-minute between each set


For all the above, it is recommended that novice individuals train the entire body 2-3 days per week. Intermediate individuals should train 3 days if using a total-body workouts or 4 days if using an upper/lower body split routine, training each major muscle group twice per week. Advanced lifters can train 4-6 days per week, training each major muscle group once to twice per week. At this level, muscle group split routines of one to three muscle groups trained per workout are common since this would allow a higher volume per muscle group. Elite weightlifters and body- builders may benefit from using very high frequencies such as, two workouts per day for 4-5 days per week.


To reduce the risk of overtraining, a dramatic increase in volume should be avoided. It is recommended that a 2-10% increase in the load be applied when the individual can comfortably perform the current workload for one to two repetitions over the desired number on two consecutive training sessions.

Republished with permission of the American College of Sports Medicine. Copyright © 2015 American College of Sports Medicine.

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