Don’t weight to start resistance training
Author: Matt Whitaker, Digital Health Lead/13 September 2018
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 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. Isotonic movements are repeated for a number of sets and repetitions within each set. These are tailored to each individual’s goals. Examples include:
body weight exercises such as press ups.
pull ups and dips.
free weight exercises using barbells.
dumbbells and kettlebells.
the use of fixed gym weight equipment.
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). Isometric movements are performed for a set period of time. For example one may hold a plank for 30 seconds and then repeat this multiple times. Examples include:
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 capacity of GLUT-4 is enhanced. GLUT-4 facilitates the passive diffusion of glucose into the cells through the use of insulin. This means glucose can enter the cell without the need for as much insulin. This means 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. If visceral fat is reduced around the liver there will be less need to push excess triglycerides (fat) into the blood. This will reduce 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. Also 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. This requires more energy to maintain.
Practically speaking this means resistance training can lead to increments in ones metabolic rate. This is 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.
Bulking up. Adding significant size to one’s structure takes more than undertaking basic resistance type moves. Diet is a massive factor. Excessive hypertrophy is rarely seen but muscular definition and tone improve.
Protein powders. The majority of commercialised protein powders use 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.
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.
Gym membership. This is not necessary. You can do resistant movements from home.
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. Thus potentially impair growth.
When doing resistance movements it is important to implement several considerations. Progression, warm up, range of motion, and momentum (or lack of).
It is important to continually progress and push yourself. Whether this be performing more repetitions or adding some added resistance
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.
Resistance training 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.