X-PERT Blog: Don’t weight to start resistance training
Matt Whitaker – Researcher and Trainer in Public Health
The UK physical activity guidelines endorse that both adults (19 to 64 years) and older adults (65+ years) should “undertake physical activity to improve muscle strength on at least two days a week.” This blog focuses on this specific recommendation. For a basic overview on physical activity as a whole please see our previous blog here.
Definition and types
Resistance training is a form of exercise that aims to improve: posture, muscular strength, size, endurance and function. The resistance is any force that makes a movement harder to complete.
Resistance training can be sub-categorised into two types: isotonic and isometric.
Isotonic resistance movements see your body physically moving to push or pull against an opposing force. These movements involve the lengthening (eccentric) and shortening (concentric) of the working muscle. Examples include: body weight exercises such as press ups, pull ups and dips; free weight exercises using barbells, dumbbells and kettlebells and the use of fixed gym weight equipment. Isotonic movements are usually repeated for a number of sets and repetitions within each set, tailored to the individual’s goals.
Isometric is a form of exercise that recruits muscles to employ tension without the lengthening and shortening of the muscle, initiating a stagnant means of placing demand on the muscle(s). Examples include: wall sits, planks and glute bridges. Isometric movements are usually performed for a set period of time. For example one may hold a plank for 30 seconds and then repeat this multiple times.
Resistance training has a magnitude of benefits that encompass overall health management.
When one performs resistance movements, muscles contract. These contractions persist following completion of the training session; some research argues for up to 16 hours. When muscles are contracting the density and thus capacity of GLUT-4 is enhanced. GLUT-4 facilitates the passive diffusion of glucose into the cells through the use of insulin. Whilst ever its function is enhanced glucose can enter the cell without the need for as much insulin i.e. muscles contracting can temporarily improve insulin sensitivity. This leads to reduced insulin levels and heightened glycaemic control and blood flow.
Resistance training also seems to play a role in reducing levels of the harmful visceral fat- mostly sorted around central organs- potentially inhibiting their functionality. If visceral fat is reduced around the pancreas this can improve beta cell functionality and thus insulin secretion- particularly important for those with prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes. If visceral fat is reduced around the liver there will be less need to push excess triglycerides (fat) into the blood, reducing circulating triglycerides which will favourably impact ones cholesterol carrier profile. This will ultimately reduce risk of cardiovascular related complications (more information here).
Sustained resistance training can lead to improved: muscular hypertrophy (growth); power; functional strength and movement; posture, flexibility and balance; pain management and the health of ones bones and joints. These benefits combined with increased circulating levels of growth hormone/insulin-like growth factor (essential for the maintenance of skeletal muscle and function) lead to more muscle mass which requires more energy to maintain. Practically speaking this means resistance training can lead to increments in ones metabolic rate i.e. the amount of calories needed to sustain life or may help preserve metabolic rate, which will in-turn aids in weight management.
Lastly, as with most forms of exercise, resistance training may help improve sleep quality and/or quality and may assist in stress management.
Myths associated with resistance training
There are unfortunately a number of completely unjustifiable myths that accompany resistance training, including:
- Bulking up – Adding significant size to one’s structure takes more than undertaking basic resistance type moves. Diet is a massive factor, as is a tailored programme that supports continued progressive overload. This is infamously a concern expressed by females interested in resistance training. It is worth noting that high levels of oestrogen and low levels of testosterone make it extremely challenging for women to become overly muscular. Excessive hypertrophy is rarely seen but muscular definition and tone improve.
- Protein powders. The majority of commercialised protein powders use either whey or casein protein which is effectively isolated milk protein. There is no benefit of these powders above a dietary means of attaining protein from good quality sources e.g. milk, eggs, meat and fish. For some with particularly low protein intakes the powders may have use but none that cannot be achieved through consumption of real food.
- Do isolative movements with high repetitions. When performing resistance training, particularly if new to this form of exercise it is wise to do compound movements that use multiple muscle groups rather than trying to isolate individual muscles which is not a time efficient means of reaping the benefits of resistance training.
- Gym membership. This is not necessary at all- resistant movements can be performed in the comfort of your own home. At a later date we will release a blog giving practical examples of exercises that can be performed at home. Additionally we regularly publish these on our social media pages (Twitter and Facebook).
- Stunted growth. There is no published evidence that supports this claim, if performed with proper form resistance movements can strengthen bones, joints and growth plates not damage them and thus potentially impair growth.
When doing resistance movements it is important to implement several considerations, including: progression; warm up; range of motion, and momentum (or lack of).
If the same type of movement is repeated without increments in weight, repetitions or range of movement then the muscles capacity to progress will plateau. This is why it is important to continually progress and push yourself whether this be performing more repetitions or adding some added resistance e.g. one may start squatting down using their body weight as a resistance, when this becomes easier try doing the same movement with a backpack on, overtime weight may be added to the backpack.
If doing resistance movements it may be wise to warm up using dynamic (moving), not static stretching and rather than performing aerobic exercise to warm up use the resistance movement you are planning to do but with a reduced resistance.
Do not let momentum carry the movement, instead consciously allow your muscles to do the work. To help initiate this method you could try pause movements e.g. if doing a body weight squat stop at the bottom of the movement for a count of one before pushing back up.
Resistance training’s health benefits exceed above and beyond increasing muscle size and strength. This type of exercise has a role to play in the prevention and management of many long-term metabolic and cardiovascular complications in addition to a range of other benefits.
Any questions, feedback and/or suggestions would be most welcomed, as is any request for the research supporting this blog. Please email me at Matthew.Whitaker@xperthealth.org.uk