How to Start Resistance Training

Man using dumbbells in a fitness class
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Resistance training is a form of exercise that improves muscle strength and endurance. This is also known as strength training or weight lifting.

During a resistance training workout, you move your limbs against resistance provided by your own body weight, gravity, bands, weighted bars, or dumbbells. Some exercise machines can also be used for resistance training exercises.

What Is Resistance Training?

Any exercise where you push, pull, or otherwise try to work against some type of resistance can be considered resistance or strength training (also sometimes called weight lifting or weight training). So, what is resistance? Resistance is any force that makes the movement harder to perform.

In its simplest form, resistance can be provided by moving your body against gravity, as when doing a pushup or plank. It can also be achieved via using weighted dumbbells and doing exercises such as biceps curls, incline chest presses, and deadlifts.

You can even add resistance training to your current exercise routine by using weight machines at the gym or by incorporating additional weight training equipment such as weighted bars, resistance bands, and kettlebells.

Benefits

The benefits of resistance training are many. Research shows that they include:

  • Improved physical performance
  • Better ability to control bodily movements
  • Increased walking speeds
  • Reduced belly fat (also known as visceral fat)
  • Enhanced brain function
  • Higher self-esteem

This study further reports that resistance training offers disease and injury-related benefits as well. For instance, it can help in the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, also reducing low back pain or pain that occurs with arthritis and fibromyalgia.

 

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6 Things to Know About Resistance Training

People who participate in resistance training usually have an easier time moving through activities of daily living (ADL) because their muscles move more efficiently.

Frequently Asked Questions

There are some myths about resistance training and resistance training exercises that may keep you from starting a program. These are common questions that new exercisers ask about strength training.

Will weight lifting make you bulk up?

Resistance training exercises help the muscles look tighter and more sculpted. The only way it will make you bulk up is if you lift extremely heavy weights, such as in powerlifting and bodybuilding. The amount of definition you see will depend on the amount of fat that is covering the muscle.

How does resistance training affect your weight?

Weight training may increase your weight slightly, but muscle is more dense than fat and takes up less space. So even though your body weight may increase, your body size may actually shrink. This creates a trimmer, more tone look.

In addition, muscle helps you maintain a healthy metabolism by burning more calories than fat. So, building muscle with resistance training means that you will burn more calories all day long. This can help you lower your weight in the long run.

Can you do resistance training exercises every day?

You can lift weights every day, but you shouldn't train the same muscles every day. The muscles need time to repair and rebuild between sessions to grow and to reduce injury. One way around this is to alternate body parts. Do upper body exercises one day and lower body exercises the next.

However, if you lift heavier weights, use a lot of resistance, or work your muscles to failure, you may want to wait longer. Some studies have found that taking two to three days off between training sessions is better for letting the muscles recover in these instances.

Do you need protein supplements when weight training?

Most exercisers don't need protein powders or supplements to make the most of their resistance training program. You can get the protein you need simply from eating a healthy, nutritious diet. Protein supplementation should only be considered if your dietary protein is too low.

If you eat a primarily vegetarian diet, you may fall into this category. This is especially true if you are also active or an athlete as your protein needs will be even higher, coupled with the fact that many plant-based proteins are lacking the essential amino acids needed for muscle growth.

What's the best form of resistance training?

There is no form of strength training that is necessarily better than the others. For this reason, many exercisers combine different methods to get benefits from each. For example, they might lift weights one day and use exercise machines the next. Or they might do bodyweight exercises one day and resistance bands exercises another day.

Do I need to belong to a gym to do resistance training?

No, absolutely not! In fact, some of the best strength training routines include primarily bodyweight exercises. These are movements done against the resistance provided by your own body's weight and gravity.

For example, a push-up is a bodyweight exercise. Lunges and squats are also bodyweight exercises. The best part about doing a bodyweight exercise is that it requires no equipment, so no gym membership is required.

How to Start

There are a few different ways to start a resistance training program. You can join a gym and hire a trainer or do your own program at home. Either way, it's important to use good form. Learn to perform each movement without compromising posture or alignment.

Be sure to start slowly to avoid burnout and injury. Many exercisers begin with 2–3 pound weights or use only their body weight as resistance. Here's what a beginner resistance training program may look like:

  • Monday - upper body (chest, shoulders, upper back, and arms) - 1-2 sets of 8-10 reps
  • Tuesday - rest
  • Wednesday - lower body (legs, hips, glutes (butt), and core) - 1-2 sets of 8-10 reps
  • Thursday - rest day
  • Friday - repeat upper body resistance training workout
  • Saturday - rest day
  • Sunday - repeat lower body resistance training workout

You can start to see the benefits of resistance training by working out 2–4 days per week for just 15–20 minutes per day.

Before beginning any resistance training workout, it is important to consult with your doctor to learn whether this type of exercise is safe for you given your health and fitness level.

A Word From Verywell

Any kind of physical activity can help to boost your health. But if you are really serious about getting fit and improving your quality of life as you age, resistance training should be considered as part of a complete fitness routine.

After a few weeks of consistent workouts, you'll begin to notice that the exercises become easier. You will be able to lift heavier weights and do more repetitions without feeling so sore or fatigued.

Your body will also move more comfortably and you will be able to do activities of daily living (cleaning the house, preparing meals, etc.) with greater ease. Resistance training can also help improve joint stability and reduce injury. Give it a try and see how it makes your body feel.

Again, be sure to talk to your doctor first to make sure weight training is safe for you. And if a particular exercise doesn't feel right or you have pain, stop immediately to avoid injury.

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4 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Giechaskiel B. Recovery and adaptation after weight training sessions with different number of sets to failure. Am J Sports Sci Med. 2018;6(3):89-98. doi:10.12691/ajssm-6-3-5

  3. Samal J, Samal I. Protein supplements: pros and cons. J Diet Supp. 2018;15(3):365-71. doi:10.1080/19390211.2017.1353567

  4. Rogerson D. Vegan diets: practical advice for athletes and exercisers. J Intl Soc Sports Nutr. 2017;14(36).