Resistance exercise doesn't mean resistance to exercise! Instead, it's a type of exercise that has gained popularity over the last decade or so as researchers discover the many benefits it has to offer. It's so mainstream at this point that the American College of Sports Medicine, the governing body for exercise in the United States, has included it in its recommendations for all Americans since 1998. In this article, all that you need to know about resistance exercise will be presented: what it is, how it works, how to prevent injury, some of the most popular resistance exercises, and a general resistance-exercise plan.
What Is Resistance Training?
Resistance training is any exercise that causes the muscles to contract against an external resistance with the expectation of increases in strength, tone, mass, and/or endurance. The external resistance can be dumbbells, rubber exercise tubing, your own body weight, bricks, bottles of water, or any other object that causes the muscles to contract.
There are several styles of resistance exercise. There is (1) Olympic lifting (where athletes lift the weight overhead like you see in the Olympics), (2) power lifting (a competition where athletes perform the squat, dead lift, and bench press), and (3) weight lifting (a sport where athletes lift heavy weights—typically fewer than six reps). When you lift weights at the gym to get stronger or bigger or more toned, you are performing resistance exercise. Occasionally you will hear the term "strength training" associated with lifting weights. Technically, it's incorrect to refer to resistance exercise as strength training. Instead, strength training would more accurately be described as resistance exercise that builds strength. In this article, the term resistance exercise will refer to the general type of weight lifting that you do in the gym to get bigger, stronger, more toned, or to increase your muscular endurance.
How Does Resistance Exercise Work?
Resistance training works by causing microscopic damage or tears to the muscle cells, which in turn are quickly repaired by the body to help the muscles regenerate and grow stronger. The breakdown of the muscle fiber is called "catabolism," and the repair and re-growth of the muscle tissue is called "anabolism." You're probably familiar with the term anabolic when used with steroids. Anabolic means to grow, and that's exactly what happens after you break down the muscle fibers with resistance exercise. In fact, many biological processes of growth in the body require some breakdown, or catabolism, prior to re-growth. For instance, bones must be broken down first before calcium and other growth factors repair the bone and make it stronger. With muscles, testosterone, insulin-like growth factor, growth hormone, protein, and other nutrients rush to the muscle after a resistance-exercise session to help repair the muscles to make them stronger. Importantly, your muscles heal and grow when you aren't working out, and so that's why it's necessary to leave time between workouts for recovery.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/24/2016
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