What is resistance training?

Phil Goulding Phil Goulding Nuffield Health Senior Personal Trainer
Nuffield Health Senior Personal Trainer Phil Goulding explains what resistance training is, what it's good for and when to do it.

Resistance training is more commonly referred to by gym goers as weight training but the term refers to any form of exercise where you lift or pull against resistance. This could be using dumbells, a barbell, bodyweight, machines, kettlebells, powerbands or any other external resistance. Traditional resistance training uses dumbells or a barbell to perform an exercise for a specific number of repetitions with the aim of improving muscular strength, size or endurance.

What is resistance training good for?

Lifting weights has numerous benefits to the muscles and skeleton that are uniquely attributed to this form of training.

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. Improving muscular fitness is very important for enhancing quality of life.

Resistance training improves your strength and can make everyday tasks much simpler. In the form of weight training it can reduce the occurrence of sarcopenia, which is the age-related decline in muscle, and also decrease the risk of osteoporosis. Although all exercise can help with these, resistance training has been shown to be the most beneficial.

Resistance training is the main way you will build and ‘tone up’ your muscles. It is by far the best way to alter your body shape and once you are at the point that you are lean enough to see your muscles, resistance training can give you the shape of arms, legs or bum that you desire.

When should you do resistance training?

Everybody would benefit from some form of resistance training. Whether you are a young aspiring athlete, an obese middle-aged gentleman or an older lady wanting to stay active. Resistance training has unique health and fitness benefits that simply can't be achieved through any other form of exercise.

The ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) recommends that a resistance training program should be performed a minimum of two non-consecutive days each week, with one set of 8 to 12 repetitions for healthy adults or 10 to 15 repetitions for older and frail individuals. Eight to 10 different exercises should be performed that target the major muscle groups.


Example of a beginners, machine-based resistance training exercise programme

Perform one set of 15 repetitions on each machine with 45 seconds rest between each exercise.

  • Leg press
  • Seated row
  • Leg extensions
  • Leg curls
  • Lat pulldown
  • Shoulder press
  • Ab crunch
  • Back extension
  • Chest press

Last updated Monday 14 June 2021

First published on Monday 4 January 2016