What is a good resistance training program?

William B. Salt II., MD
You can use either free weights or machines as long as your large muscle groups are worked beyond their usual capacity. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends resistance training two to three times a week and flexibility workouts (discussed below) two to three times a week.

To build and maintain muscle, resistance training must be intense. Arthur Jones, the founder of Nautilus exercise machines, said, "The human body is exercised best, not by the volume of work but rather by the energy put momentarily into that work. Train harder, but briefer."

The resistance exercise program that I use and recommend is the one described by Ellington Darden, Ph.D., in his book written for men, Living Longer Stronger, and for women, Body Defining. Dr. Darden's practical resistance-training program works all of the major muscle groups on the same day. You complete the entire workout in 30 minutes or less, two to three times a week. You do one set of each recommended exercise very slowly to the point at which the resistance (weight) can no longer be moved and another repetition is impossible. Another term that is used to describe this slow movement of the resistance to momentary muscular failure is "High Intensity Training."
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A good resistance training program is comprehensive and stresses all major muscles of the body. If you want to add resistance training to your workout, add 4-5 exercises that target the major muscle groups of the body.  For each exercise, perform 2-3 sets of 10-12 repetitions. After the first week, you can add a third set if you feel your body is up to it.
Start your workout with your warmup and flexibility exercises, and then proceed with your core and resistance training. If you don’t perform your cardiorespiratory training on separate days, do it after your resistance training, and cool down afterwards.

Below is a sample one day full body resistance training workout designed to provide strength gains. You would want to work in the range of 2-3 sets with 10-12 repetitions. Below is an example:

Warm up:
Foam rolling
Active stretching
Core/Balance (2 sets of 12 performed as a circuit with no rest):
Ball Crunch
Back Extensions

Resistance Training (3 sets of 10 with 1min rest between each set):
Dumbbell Lunges (legs)
Push-ups (chest)
Lat Pull Down (back)
Shoulder Press Machine  (shoulders)
Standing 2-arm Dumbbell Curl (biceps)
Cable Pressdown (triceps)

Foam rolling
Static Stretching

JC Pinzon

The ACSM suggests 2 or 3 times of resistance training per week including major muscle groups. They recommend 8 to 15 repetitions and three sets for strength and endurance. Calisthenics and some floor exercises are resistance exercises as well. You do not need a gym to work out most muscles. Machines at the gym usually work your superficial muscles while floor exercises can involve your core muscles and extremities. Squats, sit-ups and pushups are a great way to incorporate into your routines. Resistance training can also be done with rubber bands and many other devices coming out in the fitness market. Balls, Kettlebells, TRX, and other products are getting popular.

A good resistance training program is one that targets all areas of the body while following a scientific formula to get results and prevent injury. If you are looking for a premade program speak to a trainer in your area about custom designing one to fit your goals. There are also many generic programs but they may not help you reach your goals like a customized routine.

A good resistance program works all of your major and minor muscle groups and is specific to your goals. Are you trying to get leaner or bulk up? Do you have any muscle imbalances? Are you training for a specific sport or recreational activity? All of these factors should be taken into consideration when designing your program.

A personal trainer is a good resource to assist you in creating a specific program to meet your needs. Full body resistance training should be performed 2-3 days a week with at least a day of rest in between each session. Another strategy is to train 4-6 times per week alternating between upper and lower body. To keep progressing, it is important to add variations to your routine and increase the weight when your program stops challenging you.

Resistance training can be done in a variety of ways and in a variety of places. Resistance training is simply forcing the body to adapt to the load placed on it by growing stronger (in simplest terms).

Body weight based exercises are a great way to start resistance training and can help you make sure your form is correct before moving on to more complicated movements. Think of moves such as squats, lunges, pushups, sit ups, crunches, planks, and a variety of yoga postures which require you to hold your own body weight.

Free weights and resistance bands are also great choices for resistance training, as they add more resistance to the muscle, therefore forcing the muscles to adapt to the load. Again, be sure your form is on point and lift the appropriate amount of weight for your given strength to avoid injury.

As mentioned above, yoga is a great form of resistance training, but you may also want to try Pilates, Barre and Method style workouts. These will help to vary your training program, thus forcing more adaptation from the body. More adaptation results in change.

Circuit training (either with body weight or external resistance) is deemed a superior program due to the fact that you can accomplish so much in a shorter amount of time. Circuit training requires that you perform each exercise for a given time or rep set, and then move quickly to the next exercise. This eliminates down time and long rest periods, thus increasing adaptation.

Whatever program you choose, make sure that it challenges you while enabling you to stay safe.

A good resistance training program is one that follows the principle of individuality. The program should appropriately address the individuals thresholds, built based on their activity, and progress to achieving their goal. 

One effective and efficient way to build a resistance program is to design the exercises to work the entire body from head to toe. This can be accomplished by choosing total body movements or region specific moves that together work the entire body.

Variables such as sets, reps, and rest are designed for the individual and the task/activity demands. If you are just beginning a program a foundation is needed no matter what the task is. A program designed to perform enough reps with proper mechanics are needed for proper motor learning and highly recommended. Hiring a professional coach is a great strategy for building a proper resistance training program, and guiding you through progression/regression strategies.

Below is an example of a resistance program designed on total body movements. The program below incorporates various foundational movements, varying starting positions, and lifting at different heights and angles. You will notice there are different planes of motion within each move. Perform each move for 1 set, 3 reps each plane of motion.

  • (DB) 3D Common Lifting Lunge
  • (DB) 3D Balance Arm Matrix
  • Push Up Matrix at SH width 
  • (ViPR) Stand, Vertical Lifting

Jay Morgan, FAFS

A good resistance program should include machines, free weights, TRX, and basic body weight exercises, e.g., push-ups, goblet squats, or jumping jacks. In addition, incorporating movements for balance can help prevent older adults from a serious slip and fall. Remember, before you start an exercise program get clearance from your doctor. There are five components to a basic program:  a cardio warm-up, static stretching, abdominals and balance, resistance using one or more of the methods above, and a cool-down. I hope this helps and have fun!

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.