Why should you do resistance training?  Studies show that resistance training has many benefits including improving cardiorespiratory fitness, bone density, body composition, metabolism, overall fitness performance, and beneficial endocrine and serum lipid adaptations.   

Many people ask if cardio exercise of resistance training is more important.  Both are very important to overall health, however cardio exercises such as walking and running only strengthen bone mineral densities in the lower extremities of the body. Cardio is really anything that increases respiration and heart rate levels over a period of time. Resistance training certainly increases respiration and heart rate levels!  Resistance training is typically not referred to as “cardio” because the repetitions only last a few seconds, and the rest intervals in between sets allow the heart rate to slow.  A form of resistance training called circuit training (more information about circuit training below) however, has been shown to be just as effective as traditional forms of cardio exercise.

To get started on your resistance training journey let’s first talk about the acute variables that will determine the amount of stress that is placed on your body in order to reach your goals. I am going to cover three common training areas: power, strength, and stabilization. Power is typically a goal of athletes trying to increase their force and speed.  Training in the power level is also sometimes used simply to make a workout more exciting.  Strength training is used to build prime mover strength.  In the strength level there are three separate phases of training that can be used to reach a goal: strength endurance, hypertrophy, and maximal strength.  For individuals trying to lose weight, typically only strength endurance is trained for in the strength level.  If an individual has a goal of increasing lean body mass and size, hypertrophy is trained for.  If an individual is a competitive weight lifter, the maximal strength phase would be used. Stabilization training is used to build a base of muscular endurance, core and joint stability, and communication between the nervous and muscular system to help the body learn how to do certain movements.  Stabilization training is also used as a resting ground for more advanced exercisers in between periods of high intensity training.  

Onto the acute variables:
A repetition is the completion of a full movement of an exercise.  For example, doing a single push-up is considered 1 repetition.  If your goal is power you should be completing 1-10 repetitions of each exercise, strength; 1-12 repetitions, and stabilization is 12-25 repetitions. 

A set is a group of consecutive repetitions performed before resting or moving onto another exercise.  If your goal is power perform 3-6 sets, strength 2-6 sets, and stabilization 1-3 sets.

Intensity can be described as the amount of effort you put into performing an exercise compared to the maximum effort you can give.  In resistance training, the intensity or weight that you should be lifting is the heaviest amount you can safely and properly lift to be able to finish the amount of repetitions you have.  You should be fatigued by the end of the set, but still be able to finish the set.  If you were to test the maximal amount of weight you could lift in a single repetition of an exercise, you would want to be training at approximately 30-45% of 1RM or 10% of body weight in the power phase, 70-100% in the strength phase, and 40-70% in the stabilization phase.

Repetition tempo is the speed that you complete each repetition.  Power training exercises should be performed quickly and explosively, strength exercises should be performed at a medium pace (about 4sec per repetition), and stabilization training should be performed slowly (each repetition should last at least 6sec).  This variable is probably one of the most overlooked variables, and yet can be very beneficial in helping you reach your goal. 

The rest interval is the time that it will take your body to recover between each set.  In the power phase you need 3-5 minutes between sets to rest, in the strength phase you need 45second to up to 5 minutes to rest, and in the stabilization phase you need 0 seconds up to 1.5 minutes to rest.

How frequently should you do resistance training each week?  If you are a beginner or your goal is to maintain your current level of fitness it is recommended to do resistance training 1-2 times a week per body part.  If your goal is to improve strength or muscle size you should be lifting 3-5 times per week.

The duration of your training period should not exceed 60-90 minutes (excluding warm-up and cool down) not only because you will become tired, but because it can cause alterations to your hormonal levels and immune system that can have a negative effect on your training.

Next I want to better inform you about five of my favorite different resistance training systems and let you know which ones will help you best reach your goals. 

Superset:  Supersets are groups of 2 or more exercises performed back to back without rest time between them.  They include compound-sets (working opposite muscle groups), and tri-sets (three exercises used in rapid succession for the same muscle group). Using supersets can be very beneficial for improving muscular endurance and hypertrophy.

Circuit training: Performing a series of exercises with minimal rest, and then repeating desired amount of sets.  Studies have shown that circuit training can be just as effective as traditional forms of cardio exercises (treadmill, elliptical, etc.), in improving fitness levels and burning calories. Circuit training also has a greater effect on improving EPOC and strength levels.   This is a great way to get more done in less time, and is highly effective for the goal of weight loss.

Peripheral Heat Action: The Peripheral Heart Action System (PHA) is a variation of circuit training that alternates upper and lower body exercises.   It was developed by Dr. Arthur Steinhaus, and made popular by Mr. America and Mr. Universe Bob Gajda in the 1960s.  The format of the workout was designed to keep blood circulating throughout the whole body during exercise. Blood carries oxygen and nutrients to our working muscles.  Whichever muscle group is working the most will receive the most blood.  When muscles groups at opposite ends of the body are being worked backed to back, the blood will constantly circulate from head to toe. Constant circulation prevents blood from localizing in one area and building up lactic acid.  Lactic acid builds up causes us to fatigue, which in turn can lead to improper form and injury.  Because your muscles are not becoming fatigued with the alternation of different muscle groups, no rest time is required in between exercises.  This allows you to get more done in less time!  This format is great for weight loss. 

Split Routine: A split routine breaks up body parts into different training days (such as upper/lower body days and push/pull muscle group days).  This style of training works well for individuals trying to increase muscle mass and size because it allows them to perform several exercises for a particular muscle group and allows for adequate recovery time.

Horizontal Loading: This refers to performing all sets of an exercise or body part before moving onto the next one.  This style of training forces the same muscle group to work with a minimal amount of recovery, which leads to metabolic  and hypertrophy-related adaptations to occur.

Q &A:
Should you do resistance or cardio first?  It is always wise to do a quick cardio warm-up to get the blood pumping to your muscles before you do anything, but when it comes to doing the full workout it depends on your goal.  If your goal is to increase strength or muscle mass, it is best to do your resistance training first so that you get the most out of it before you are tired.  For general fitness, however, it really doesn’t matter.  Do whichever you prefer, or do cardio on your resistance training off days.

Fact or Myth: Does muscle turn into fat as you get older? No! You can think of your muscle mass as a use-it-or-lose-it case, but muscle and fat are two completely different types of tissue.  As we age our bodies naturally break down our muscle tissue, which is highly correlated with the fact that as we age we tend to move less.  If we move less (expend less energy) and still eat the same diet we always have, we will get fatter.  Resistance training will help preserve muscle and help burn off those extra calories that we still consume. 

Fact or Myth: Will resistance training make you bulky?  No!  Many women avoid resistance training because they believe that they will “bulk up”.  Bulking up requires several hours of intense training, strict dietary intake, and the correct amount of hormones (testosterone) or use of anabolic/androgenic steroids. Even men who already have closer to 90% more testosterone than women have to work hard to get big.  Rather than looking like a female body builder, by doing resistance training you’re going to take on more of an athletic and healthy look- lean (but in a toned way rather than a stick-like way).  Muscle is much smaller in size compared to fat, and will make you look and leaner and healthier. 


If your goal is to lose weight, perform 1-3 sets (usually 2+ if you’re past the beginning stages) with high repetition counts, use lighter weights (but not easy weights), perform your exercises slowly, and do resistance training at least two times per week. Perform your workouts in a circuit or PHA system.

If you want to increase lean body mass, increase the amount of sets you do, decrease the amount of reps you do, and lift heavier weights.  Perform your exercises at a medium to high pace, and train each muscle group at least 3 times per week, and allow adequate rest periods between sets for muscles to recover. Performing supersets, split routines, and using horizontal loading can be beneficial. 

Resistance training is going to make you look and feel better!