If you’re absolutely new to the fitness world, you might be unfamiliar with the term “resistance training.” I’m afraid you’re in for a (possibly disappointing) surprise — what we’re really talking about here is weight lifting. The point of the exercise is to increase the strength of your muscles by subjecting them to resistance, and the tried-and-true way to do that is with weights.
Deciding that it’s high time you started doing some resistance work doesn’t mean that you’re destined to become a hulking, bodybuilding bulldozer made of muscle. In fact, many experts have verified that muscle strength and muscle size are not nearly as related as you might think. You can do a lot of great work to make yourself stronger and leaner without bulking up. Of course, if you really would like to get huge, strength training is perfect for you!
The Role Of Cardio
Another unfounded stereotype about strength training is that its devotees send all of their workout time in the weight room. While it’s true that some individuals might get a little too intimate with the weightlifting bench, a proper fitness routine includes resistance work as just one part of a well-rounded exercise plan. Resistance training and cardio need to work together if you’re going to get the best results.
Cardiovascular exercise improves your stamina and endurance, which can be extremely important when you’re doing challenging resistance work. It also increases blood flow throughout your body, particularly to your muscles. Obviously, you’ll be needing that extra burst of oxygen and nutrients when you’re straining to lift heavy weights!
If your goals are slanted heavily towards muscle-building, you might be leery about cardio exercise. I’ve read the same worrisome articles you have about how extended cardiovascular exertion alters your body’s growth hormones and slows down or reverses the process of muscle growth. That doesn’t mean that all cardio is your enemy; it’s the endless workouts you have to avoid. Try short, intense cardio workouts like wind sprints, hill climbing, or interval training.
Longer Workouts Aren’t Better Workouts
Besides leaving room in your workout schedule for a regular dose of cardio, you may get better results if you make a conscious effort to minimize your time lifting weights. Hormones play an important role here, too. Basically, as soon as you start working out, your endocrine system goes into “panic mode” and floods your body with performance-enhancing hormones like testosterone. While that initial burst lasts, your resistance-fighting capabilities will be superb, and you’ll lift weights like a man or woman possessed.
If you push yourself to stay in the weight room for hours on end, you’ll naturally run into a case of diminishing returns. As you exhaust different muscle groups, you’ll be capable of doing less and less if you try to soldier on. Thanks to the hormonal surge described above, the point of diminishing returns is probably a lot closer to the start of your workout than you think!
I know that few people have the free time to schedule their whole day around their fitness plans. Still, breaking up your strength training into many smaller sessions with plenty of time in between them is the best way to maximize the results you get out of your efforts. Many professionals recommend doing no more than five different lifts (and no more than five reps on each lift) in a single workout. Your schedule may not accommodate multiple resistance workouts in a day, but it’s still helpful to keep individual workouts brief.
Concentrate On Form First
I may have put the cart a little before the horse by diving into scheduling and other advanced concerns. When you’re first starting out with resistance training, your number one priority has to be mastering proper form. This is especially true for traditional free weights, but it applies to alternative resistance methods like using Nautilus machines or doing plyometrics, too.
Until you have your form down pat, you run the risk of injuring yourself every time you work out. This is especially true once you start using weights that are close to (or right at) your physical limits. You shouldn’t challenge yourself in this way (or waste your time thinking about pace and speed) until you know you’re doing each exercise properly.
Break Out The Notebook
Taking notes is an integral part of effective strength training, believe it or not. Unlike cardio workouts where the main goal is to maintain a steady level of exertion over a given amount of time, your goals in strength training are going to be constantly evolving. You need to track your progress carefully in order to keep moving forward.
The basic information you need to keep track of is how much resistance you’re using for each exercise you’re regularly performing. This means logging what weights you use and how many reps you complete in every workout. If you take this information down consistently, you’ll be able to push yourself and maintain continuous improvement.
The benefits of resistance training
There are literally hundreds of different resistance workouts out there waiting for you. Building a routine that works for you will take a fair amount of experimentation and trial-and-error. Hopefully, the information I’ve shared here will remain applicable no matter what form of strength training you choose to focus on.