Three major components of a sound exercise program are the following: cardiovascular conditioning (aerobic activity such as walking, cycling and jogging), flexibility (stretching all major muscle groups), and resistance training. Often referred to as strength training, resistance training is a type of activity in which the muscles are trained by applying resistance to a movement. Beneficial in both every day life and sport, resistance training has a direct impact on muscular strength and endurance. The following essay will discuss the basics of resistance training for healthy adults, in accordance with the current guidelines set forth by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). For the purposes of this article, “healthy” adults will refer to those who have received complete medical clearance from their physician to exercise.
Mode of Exercise
Mode simply refers to the type of resistance applied to the working muscle(s). Common selections include free weights (dumbbells, barbells), rubber bands/tubing (sometimes used in physical therapy settings), or selectorized machines (weight stack machines where a pin is inserted to select a specific amount of weight to be used with brand names such as Nautilus, Cybex, and Life Fitness). Whether using one mode of exercise or a combination of free weights, machines, and bands, each exercise chosen should be performed through a pain-free, full range of motion (ROM) unless otherwise indicated.
Sets/Reps/Number of Exercises
While the scientific literature has indicated what set and repetition ranges are ideal for both short and long-term success, it is the opinion of this author that fitness enthusiasts often excessively focus on the volume (the product of the number of sets, repetitions, and resistance selected when multiplied together) of their training. I have found great success with my clients in the very early stages of their respective training routines by simply getting them comfortable performing specific exercises with a moderate weight to a point of momentary muscular fatigue. Subsequently, we then work towards selecting a particular repetition range that is best suited for their physical condition and correlates with their respective training goals.
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) suggests performing a minimum of 8-10 exercises that train all major muscle groups of the hips, thighs, back, chest, shoulders, arms, and abdomen. One set of 8-12 repetitions performed at a moderate repetition duration (~3 seconds up and ~ 3 seconds down) remains an appropriate recommendation, although other repetition ranges and velocities may be desired based on one’s fitness goals (i.e. a collegiate athlete training for a particular sporting event could have different repetition ranges than a senior who desires an improvement in his/her bone density).
Exercises for each muscle group should be performed on 2-3 nonconsecutive days per week. Furthermore, a different exercise should be performed for the muscle group each session. For example, when engaging the muscles of the back, an initial program of two days/week of resistance training can include a pull-up variation on day one and horizontal rowing (standing if possible) on day two. Exercise sessions lasting longer than one hour correlate with higher dropout rates and are therefore, not recommended- at least initially.
Ø Allow enough time between exercises to perform the next exercise with proper form
Ø Precede each strength training workout with a warm-up that engages the larger muscle groups (i.e. 5-10 minutes of cycling, walking, rowing, or elliptical machine). Non-machine based calisthenics (i.e. jumping jacks or jumping rope) will also work, so long as the participant is adequately conditioned.
Ø Perform every phase of an exercise in a controlled manner
Ø Maintain normal breathing throughout each repetition; holding one’s breath while performing resistance training can generate increases in blood pressure and should therefore be avoided
Ø While machines and free weights are the most common forms of resistance used when strength training, do not hesitate to use household objects if 10 minutes at home is all you have to spare. Objects such as cans of soup or vegetables work well, as do suitcases, books, and laundry detergent containers.
Ø If possible, exercise with an experienced partner who maintains perfect exercise technique and is both positive and motivating. Better yet, seek out the services of a personal trainer who is certified by a nationally accredited organization such as the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) or the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).
In a perfect world, all information regarding resistance/strength training could be squeezed into one article. In future columns, I will review specific progressions in resistance training. Areas of focus will include, but not be limited to the following: making exercises more challenging, how to effectively set up a structured strength training program over specific time periods, movement and muscle symmetry, and comparing and contrasting the various modes of resistance training (i.e. machines versus free weights). As always, please consult with your physician prior to beginning an exercise program.
To your health,
Ø American College of Sports Medicine, (2002). American College of Sports Medicine Position Stand on Progression Models in Resistance Training for Healthy Adults. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise; 34(2): 364-380
Ø ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription 7th ed. 2006. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.