Author: Richard Weil, MEd, CDE
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
- What is resistance exercise?
- What are types of resistance exercise?
- What is progressive overload?
- What is volitional fatigue?
- What are sets and repetitions (reps)?
- How many sets should I do?
- How do I go about lifting for strength?
- How do I go about lifting for tone and endurance?
- How many days should I lift?
- How do I know how much weight to lift?
- How much do I increase?
- Free weights vs. machines
- How important is the order in which I perform my exercises?
- What are weight-lifting splits?
- How much should I rest between sets and between days?
- What about proper weight-lifting techniques?
- What are the benefits of weight lifting? Is it ever too late to start?
- Weight-lifting programs
Pumped any iron lately? If not, you may want to consider it. Resistance exercise is a great way to round out your aerobic workout and help you stay strong. I'll discuss the ins and outs of resistance exercise in this article and then suggest two basic training plans to get you started.
What is resistance exercise?
Resistance exercise is any exercise where muscles contract against an external resistance with the objective of increasing strength, tone, mass, and/or muscular endurance. The resistance can come from dumbbells, weight machines, elastic tubing or bands, cinder blocks, cans of soup, your own body weight (for example, pushups), or any other object that forces your muscles to contract. Results occur when you train consistently over time.
What are types of resistance exercise?
There are several types or styles of resistance exercise. Power lifting (a weight-lifting competition in which participants compete in the squat, dead lift, and bench press), Olympic weight lifting (the type you see on TV where athletes lift the weight overhead), strength training (lifting weights to get stronger), and weight lifting (the sport of lifting heavy weight, typically fewer than six repetitions). Weight lifting should not be confused with "weight training," which is the general lifting that you do at the gym. I'll discuss the basic principles of all resistance exercise in this article.
What is progressive overload?
One of the fundamentals of resistance exercise is the principle of progressive overload. Progressive overload means that you increase the workload gradually over time as your muscles accommodate to the resistance with the objective of gaining strength and/or mass. For example, suppose that you've been lifting biceps curls for two weeks with 12 pounds, 10 repetitions, and then at week three, 12 pounds is easy and you can lift more. According to the principle of progressive overload, at this point, you would increase the weight if strength improvement is your goal. Your strength will remain the same if you keep the weight the same.
What is volitional fatigue?
Another fundamental of resistance exercise is to lift each set to volitional fatigue. Volitional fatigue is the point in the set where you can't lift one more rep without cheating it up (using momentum, leaning way back, etc.). Although there isn't a large body of research to prove that lifting every set to volitional fatigue is necessary for maximal benefit, most strength and fitness professionals agree that working to exhaustion changes muscle fibers in a way that leads to significant growth.
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