Resistance training is any exercise that causes the muscles to contract against an external resistance with the expectation of increases in muscle strength, mass, and/or endurance. The external resistance can be dumbbells, rubber exercise tubing, body weight, or any other object that causes the muscles to contract.
Ageing will result in a loss of lean muscle mass, which is a condition known as sarcopenia. This condition occurs due to various reasons, but primarily due to an increase in inactivity. Resistance training helps maintain and combat the loss of muscle mass by increasing activity levels with a focus on developing the health of the muscle.
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. Resistance training can also improve bone health, aid in improving posture, create more energy and endurance while performing daily tasks, and create an overall improvement in quality of life.
Types of Resistance Training
Body Weight: This method of resistance training utilises the weight of an individual’s own body and generally encourages movements performed against gravity, I.e. the squat or push-up. This form of training is beneficial to all individuals and should be encouraged to be a starting point when beginning a resistance training program. It is a widely-held belief in the health and fitness field that all individuals should have a capacity to lift their own body weight through a variety of movements in order to have a good quality of life.
Machine-based: This method requires the use of specialised resistance training machines which are generally designed to perform a specific movement, and therefore isolate the contraction of a specific muscle or muscle group, I.e. leg extension and Pec deck machines. This method is beneficial to individuals who do not have the experience or strength to perform body weight or free weight exercises with the correct technique. Machine-based training carries a very low injury risk, as the individual is well supported and the machine dictates the movement pattern. A disadvantage of machine-based training will be that it does not allow for more functional movement patterns. Secondly, the machines can only be adjusted to the dimensions of the individual to a certain extent, and therefore can lead to incorrect set-up and technique while performing the exercise. Machines are also not suitable for children as the machine is designed for use by adults.
Free Weight: This method of training is most commonly utilised and involves the use of dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, and other weighted-equipment. The benefit of free weight training is that it allows for increased resistance to that of body weight training, as well as more functional movement patterns to that of machine-based training. However, free weight training holds the highest risk of injury if the individual is not familiar with correct lifting techniques.
Determining the Type of Resistance Training
In order to determine the most appropriate type of resistance training to utilise, the following aspects must be considered:
- The conditioning status of the individual. The more inactive individual will require more introductory machine-based and body weight type exercises. If an individual has a history of injury, particularly back and neck injury, then free weight activity should be avoided initially.
- The experience of the individual related to resistance training. If the individual has been taught resistance training techniques, then they can perform free weight exercises. If they have not, they will need to be taught technique firstly for machine-based exercises, then body weight exercises, then attempt the same body weight exercises with added resistance
- The goal of the individual. If an individual is looking to increase their muscle mass and size, then body weight training, and to an extent, machine-based training will not be suitable.
Ultimately, every individual should aim to progress from machine-based and body weight exercises onto free weight exercises, as this method of training, although carrying a higher potential for injury, does result in the highest level of adaptations in terms of muscle strength, mass and endurance.