What Is Resistance Training and Why Is it Important?

Group of friends doing pushups with dumbbells

Getty Images/ Thomas Barwick

Whether you’re looking to add strength training to your gym routine or thinking of working out at home, resistance training improves muscle strength and tone and protects your joints from injury. It also is a relatively accessible option that can help you reach your weight management goals as well as maintain flexibility and balance.

These benefits are important, especially as you get older. While increased strength and mobility are helpful to all ages, you want to be sure you are fighting muscle loss as you age. Read on to learn what resistance training is and how to get started. 

What Is Resistance Training?

Resistance training is a form of exercise intended to increase muscular strength and endurance. It involves exercising muscles using some form of resistance. This resistance could be weights, bands, or even your own bodyweight working against gravity.

When doing resistance training—which is sometimes called strength training or weight training—you can focus on specific results, such as joint stability, muscular endurance, increased muscle size, strength, and power.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you should do muscle-strengthening activities of moderate or greater intensity, two or more days a week. These exercises should involve all the major muscle groups. For children, the CDC recommends 3 hours of resistance training per week.

Benefits of Resistance Training

Resistance training is intended to increase muscular strength and endurance, but it has a wide variety of health benefits, too. Here are a few benefits you may experience from incorporating resistance training into your workout routine.

Boost Metabolism and Reduce Body Fat

If you have a goal to lose weight, resistance training could be helpful. Studies have found that resistance training can help boost your metabolism. In fact, one study estimated that 9 months of resistance training was enough to significantly increase your resting metabolic rate.

This means that you can significantly change your metabolism in under a year, by doing resistance training consistently. Further studies indicate that resistance training was even more effective for improving your metabolism than aerobic exercise. This fact can be especially helpful if you want to change your routine and try something new.

Keep in mind, that while studies suggest resistance training can be more effective for improving your metabolism, it doesn’t mean cardio is ineffective. Try incorporating a combination of both forms of exercise for the best results.

Increase Bone Density and Improve Balance

Your bones can benefit from resistance training, too. Studies have shown that doing resistance training consistently can maintain or increase bone mass and density. Additionally, resistance training can help improve balance and stability. This is especially important as you age.

For instance, one study on balance improvement included 50 seniors who were assigned to either a training group or a control group. Throughout the study, the training group performed leg extensions and curl exercises over a 12-week period. At the end of that time period, researchers noted that the training group had significantly improved balance compared to those in the control group.

Improve Mental Health

Your physical health is not the only reason to start working out. Healthcare providers often recommend exercise for improving mental health, too. Your mental and emotional health is vital to your quality of life and day-to-day experience.

A study based on improving the quality of life in older adults found that resistance training improved mental, emotional, social function, and physical function. Further studies have found that resistance training can help alleviate depression symptoms, even if the exercise is mild enough to have no clear improvement on physical strength.

Resistance training can also help relieve general feelings of anxiety and worry. This means that even doing a small amount of resistance training consistently can not only improve your mental and emotional health but also could act as a stress reliever.

Build Muscle Mass

For some people, their goal with resistance training may be to build muscle mass. This process is also known as muscle hypertrophy. This goal is not just for people who want to build muscle but also for older adults who want to minimize muscle loss, also known as muscle atrophy.

Regardless of your goal, resistance training is an excellent option for building muscle mass. According to studies, the best way to build muscle is to focus on mechanical tension and metabolic stress. Persistence in this type of training regimen is essential to getting results.

Improve Muscle Strength and Endurance

Improving the strength and endurance of your muscles isn’t just for show; it also can help keep your muscles healthy and improve your quality of life. Muscle strength and endurance are important in your daily life, especially as you get older.

Resistance training can help your muscles remain healthy and functional. For instance, your muscles help you do small tasks, such as lifting things, opening containers, or even being active for longer hours.

According to one study, the amount of resistance training you do is directly proportional to muscular strength and endurance. If you want to improve your strength or endurance, increase the amount of resistance training you do either by expanding how long you do it or how often.

Reduce the Risk of Sports Injuries

Resistance training workouts for children decrease rates of fracture, musculotendinous, and muscle injuries associated with playing sports. Regular resistance training may help children and adolescents avoid muscle injury when participating in athletics.

Of course, the workout routine for a child would not be the same as it would be for an adult. Consult a professional trainer when developing a workout routine for a child or adolescent.

Increase Self-Esteem

While resistance training can help you tone your muscles and even increase their size if that is your goal, it also can help you build confidence and boost your self-esteem. Researchers note that engaging in resistance training can raise self-esteem, particularly in women.

In fact, in one study of college women, researchers noted that the study participants reported feeling invigorated after a resistance training workout. They also indicated that they had improved self-concept, self-esteem, and self-efficacy, as well as improved overall mood.

How to Get Started With Resistance Training

According to the CDC, you should try to incorporate resistance training into your workouts on a consistent basis. Because you can use your bodyweight to begin or even a simple set of dumbbells, you do not have to join a gym or hire a personal trainer to get started.

But you do need to make sure you are using proper form in your workouts. Proper form can not only ensure you are getting the most from your workout, but it also can decrease your risk of injury.

If you have a medical condition or a disability—or if you are just getting starting with an exercise routine—you should talk to a healthcare provider for advice. They can provide insight into what is best for you given your medical history.

It is also important to note that you do not have to buy equipment to get started with resistance training. You can use your bodyweight to do exercises like pushups, squats, planks, and more. Or, you can use household items to add more weight like gallon jugs of water, soup cans in a canvas bag, or backpack with an unopened bag of flour.

Equipment for Resistance Training

Although equipment is not required when getting started with resistance training, here are some examples of equipment you can purchase for resistance training:

  • Barbells
  • Dumbbells
  • Kettlebells
  • Resistance bands
  • Suspension trainers
  • Pull-up bars

As for the weight you begin with, some people like to start by using their bodyweight before adding free weights or other equipment. Here are two exercises recommended by Katie Pierson, CPT, a certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor, that do not require special equipment.

Body-Weight Squat

This exercise engages your glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, calves, and core. Pierson recommends doing two to three sets, with 10 to 12 repetitions per set. Here is how you do a body-weight squat.

  • Begin with your feet slightly wider than your hips and toes slightly turned out.
  • Engage your glutes and act as if you are sitting in a chair.
  • Make sure that your knees do not go past your toes.
  • Stop at the bottom of the move with your hips slightly higher than your knees.
  • Press through your heels as you come back to a standing position.


This exercise engages your chest, triceps, and core. Pierson recommends doing two to three sets, with five to eight per set. There are different pushup variations depending on your fitness level. Pierson recommends starting on your knees if you are a beginner. Here is how to do a pushup from your knees.

  • Start on your hands and knees and walk your hands forward.
  • Stop when your abs engage, and a diagonal line forms from the back of your knees to your shoulders.
  • Place your hands slightly wider than your shoulders.
  • Lower your chest slowly toward the floor. At the bottom of the rep, your elbows should form a line with your wrists.

Safety Tips

Before starting a new workout program, always talk to a healthcare professional. They can advise you on what is right for you given your fitness level and medical history. It is also essential to stay safe and responsible when working out. Here are some tips on how to workout safely.

  • Use proper form: If you cannot use proper form, consider lowering the weight or resistance. If this is impossible or you still can’t use the appropriate form, consider talking to a professional about trying an altered form of the exercise. 
  • Exercise safely: Never use more weight or resistance than you can handle at your fitness level. Using weights that are too heavy can lead to improper form and injury. 
  • Bring water: Drinking water can help you avoid dehydration and fatigue. Not all gyms offer drinking fountains or have water options.
  • Find a workout buddy: A workout buddy can help increase motivation and accountability but can also be there to help if you injure yourself or need a spotter. 
  • Stop if you experience pain: If you feel pain or discomfort, stop working out and talk to a healthcare provider. You also should seek medical attention if you injure yourself during a workout. For example, if you injure your head, stop working out and see a healthcare provider even if you think you are OK. Concussions are dangerous and should not go untreated. 

A Word From Verywell

Resistance training provides a wealth of benefits. Aside from building muscle tone and strength, it also improves mental health, relieves stress, and increases balance. It also can help make everyday activities easier, such as carrying your groceries, climbing stair, or working in your garden. For these reasons, you should consider adding resistance training to your routine, especially if you want to boost your metabolism and increase bone density.

Just make sure you talk to a healthcare provider first. They can let you know what is right for you given your current fitness level and medical history. It also may be helpful to talk to a personal trainer for advice on proper form if you are just getting started. But you do not have to join a gym or workout with a trainer on a regular basis in order to benefit from resistance training.


6 Things to Know About Resistance Training

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How important is resistance training to health?

    Resistance training is crucial to maintaining muscle strength and endurance. It can also help to improve your mental and emotional health by alleviating feelings of depression and anxiety. Resistance training also may improve cardiovascular health, by reducing resting blood pressure. It also impacts cholesterol levels as well.

  • Can resistance training help you lose weight?

    Increasing muscle mass helps impact the number calories you burn doing everyday activities. What's more, increasing muscle mass will also increase your metabolism. A higher metabolism, or higher use of calories, will result in fewer calories being stored as fat.

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

    Resistance training can be done at home, so there is no need for a gym membership. It also does not require any special equipment—you can simply use your bodyweight and gravity. If you are planning to take up resistance training, you can make it part of your morning routine several days a week. Or, you can do resistance training exercises during commercial breaks while watching television. The key is that you are working out consistently.

  • Can you do resistance training every day?

    The CDC recommends resistance training, or strength training, at least 2 days per week—although you can work out more than 2 days if you wanted to. Just be sure to listen to your body and rest when needed.

15 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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