Updated: Oct 12, 2020
"I don't want to get in the gym, I will get too bulky". If I had a dollar for every time I have heard this I'd be on a tropical island and TRIAX Performance wouldn't exist. Well, maybe not, but the point is that I have heard these types of misconceptions surrounding resistance training a lot during my short coaching career.
"I don't want to get in the gym, I will get too bulky"
However, in reality it is actually quite difficult to "bulk up" solely from resistance training. This is because the increase in muscle mass and size that we affiliate with "bulking up" is a by-product of several factors. These include: hydration and nutrition, training load and training methods (1-3). Therefore, by simply starting a gym program and lifting weights regularly you are not magically going to become the hulk.
The aim of this article is to clear the air surrounding resistance training. By explaining what resistance training is and how it works, the different types of resistance training and how they can be used to benefit and improve your athletic performance.
What is Resistance Training?
Resistance training is defined as training designed to improve muscular fitness by exercising a muscle or muscle groups against an external resistance or weight (ie. resistance band, weight plate/dumbbell/barbell or even gravity) (1-4).
Wait a second? This sounds like the weight training I do at my local gym. Well if you had thought this you were right.
Resistance training is also commonly referred to as: weightlifting, strength and/or weight training.
While, these terms are not completely incorrect, they actually refer to different methods and phases of resistance training which we will cover in more detail later on.
HOW DOES RESISTANCE TRAINING WORK?
So, I lift some heavy weights, but what does resistance training actually do to my body? When you exercise your muscle(s) against an external resistance you are actually creating micro tears within the muscle cells (1-3). I can hear many of you asking, "why the hell would I want to micro-tear my muscles?"
"Why the hell would I want to micro-tear my muscles?"
Well, in the case of your muscles, creating micro tears is actually an incredibly important process in improving your strength. Once your muscles have been damaged (technical term = catabolism) your body works to quickly repair and regenerate the muscles (technical term = anabolism), making them grow stronger.
Each time you repeat this process and complete another resistance training session, your muscles continue to grow and repair. Over time (weeks to months), this continued growth and repair will result in an increase in the thickness of your muscle fibres (myofibrils) (1-3).
This is an important process for developing strength, as the thicker your muscle fibres are, the greater amount of total force you are able to produce (i.e. lift heavier weights more easily). Once you have developed muscular hypertrophy you can then begin to exercise against greater resistances or at higher velocities to maximise your force production (strength) and speed at which you can produce force (power) (1-3).
Note: your muscles continue to grow and repair after your workout. Therefore, it is critically important that you recover (i.e. diet, hydration and sleep) appropriately between sessions to maximise your muscle regeneration and repair. For more information on recovery strategies check out TRIAX's Top 5 ways to optimise your team's recovery process.
Why use resistance training?
The primary aim of resistance training is to increase the ability of your muscles and joints to produce force (strength) and the speed at which they can develop force (power) (1-3).
But, how does this relate to athletic performance?
Well, think about the sport you play. Do you have to run in your sport? Sprint? Jump? Tackle? Contest physically with an opponent? Each of these key athletic skills require you to have the ability to produce high levels of force, and quickly, to have the competitive edge over your opponent(s).
As an example we will look at jumping.
When jumping your lower body muscles
and joints need to be able to produce maximal amounts of force for you to jump as high as possible.
Completing regular lower body resistance training (squats, deadlifts, plyometric jumps), can help to improve your jumping performance. Training your lower body muscles against resistance increases their size and force producing capacities. This results in you being able to produce more force through these muscles and the ability to jump higher, and hopefully clear the fence (1-3).
But why can others jump or run faster than me even though I do resistance training and they don't? Great question. Unfortunately, there is an element of natural ability/genetics that distinguishes how high you can jump or fast you can run (3). However, using resistance training can help you to gain that extra 5% of jump height or speed that might be the difference between beating your opponent to the ball in a clutch moment of the game and not.
Despite the glaring benefits of engaging in resistance training, a large portion of amateur and sub-elite athletes continue to overlook this type of training within their weekly regime. Imagine being able to take your game to the next level. Jumping that little bit higher, running that bit faster or tackling that bit harder simply by adding resistance training into your weekly training schedule.
TRIAX Performance is here to help you take that next step. Check out the sections below where I will explain the three key areas of resistance training; hypertrophy, strength and power development, and how to program them into your training regime.
Before I explain how to program the different types of resistance training, you first need to understand the general prescription variables used to program all resistance training sessions. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) suggests that the following training variables need to be considered when programming any resistance training session (1, 3):
Sure the ACSM guidelines are great, but what about the exercises I am meant to be doing? I just want to get into the gym and throw some steel around! And this is a fair question. Once you understand the variables involved in designing a resistance training program the next step is to choose your exercises.
There are a 1000 ways to skin a cat when it comes to exercise selection. Such as using your own bodyweight, holding dumbbells, putting a barbell on your back, adding bands & chains, throwing medicine balls or jumping onto boxes.
However, whichever method you choose to use, you should focus on training the following movement patterns when using resistance training (1, 3, 4):
Horizontal Pull – pulling weight towards your torso (i.e. any type of row - bench/bentover/cable)
Horizontal Push – pushing weight away from your torso (i.e. bench press, push ups)
Vertical Pull – pulling weight down towards your shoulders (i.e. pull ups, lat pulldown)
Vertical Push – pushing weight up away from your shoulders (i.e. shoulder press, push press)
Hip-dominant or Pull – pulling weight towards your torso using the hips as the primary driver (i.e. deadlift, RDL, hip thrust)
Knee-dominant or Push – pushing weight upwards using the knees as the primary driver (i.e. squat, leg press, lunge)
The first area a resistance training program should focus on is hypertrophy. Hypertrophy is the technical term for increasing the thickness of your muscle fibres. Hypertrophy training involves completing high volumes of work to fatigue your muscles and cause micro-damage to stimulate the repair and growth required to increase your muscle size. Therefore, the aim of hypertrophy training is to increase muscle fibre thickness so that your muscles can generate more forceful contractions, increasing your overall force capacity (1, 2, 5).
This is a critical starting point for any resistance training program as it provides the building blocks for developing strength and power. I explain starting a resistance training program without first developing muscular hypertrophy as like trying to drive a car with a flat tyre.
It's like driving with a flat tyre ... you can take the time to re-inflate your tyre (pump your muscles up) or you can keep driving but risk damaging your car (get injured/plateau) and not reach your destination.
You can either take the time to pull over and re-inflate your tyre, or in our case use hypertrophy training to inflate (increase the size of your muscles) your tyre so you can continue on the road to strength and power.
Alternatively, you can keep driving but risk damaging your car (get injured or plateau in your training) and never end up reaching the road to strength and power (1, 2, 5).
hypertrophy training preScription
Hypertrophy training should be completed 2-3 times per week. These sessions should incorporate lower, upper and core body exercises that target the major muscles and joints in these areas (1, 5).
3-5 sets of 8-15 reps for 8-10 exercises should be completed, using low intensity loads (60-70% 1RM), brief rest periods (60s between sets and exercises) and controlled movement velocities to maximise fatigue and develop hypertrophic gains (1, 5).
Note: 1RM = 1 Rep Maximum - this is the maximum weight that an individual can lift for one repetition of an exercise. A percentage of this (i.e. 60% 1RM) or RM number (6RM = 6 rep max) are commonly used to prescribe intensity/load during resistance training.
Common training techniques used to develop muscular hypertrophy:
Supersets – performing two exercises from opposing muscle groups back to back with minimal rest between (e.g. push exercise (bench press) into pull exercise (row))
Compound Sets – performing 2-3 exercises in a row using the same muscles or muscle group without rest (e.g. shoulder press followed by lateral raise)
Drop Sets – performing a set until failure, dropping down to a lighter load and repeating until failure again. Rest between sets should only be the time it takes to reduce the weight and setup again. Therefore, it is most effective to use cables or dumbbells where change over time is less
Forced Reps – performing additional reps after you have reached muscle failure for that set/weight with the help of a spotter to incur extra muscle fatigue
Once hypertrophy has been developed, the next phase of training to focus on is developing muscular strength. The aim of strength training is to further increase the muscle fibre size and the muscles ability to apply maximum force, by increasing the signalling and recruitment of fast and slow twitch muscle fibres (1, 2, 5).
To develop these muscular adaptations, you need to exercise against maximal or near-maximal resistances (80-100% 1RM) to condition your muscles to recruit more muscles fibres and to have them contract fully to produce maximal force. As this training is completed at maximal and near-maximal intensities, lower volumes of work and longer periods of rest are required to ensure that these strength adaptations are achieved, while, also minimising your risk of injury (1-3).
STRENGTH training prescription
Strength training should be completed 2-4 times per week. These sessions should incorporate upper and lower body, multi-joint, compound lifts (squat, deadlift, bench press, row, overhead press) (1, 3).
1-3 sets of 6-12 reps for 6-10 exercises should be completed, using high intensity loads (80-100% 1RM), moderate rest periods (2-3 mins between sets & exercises) and slow to moderate movement velocities to maximise force production (1, 3).
Common training techniques used to develop muscular strength:
Accomodating Resistance – adding bands and chains to free weight exercises to provide resistance that forces the muscles to produce force at a constant speed through the entire range of motion (ROM) of the exercise
Cluster Sets – involves having a rest or pause in between reps to allow you to lift heavier weights for more reps (e.g. 10-30s pause between each rep of a set)
Isometric Training – an exercise where near-maximal muscle contraction is achieved without changing the length of the muscle (Youtube - isometric leg extension, split squat holds, isometric mid-thigh pull)
Partial ROM – Performing an exercise in a partial ROM to increase strength at a particular joint angle, often used to overcome a plateau or increase in load (e.g. 1/4 or 1/2 squat a much heavier weight before going through the full ROM)
The final area that most resistance training programs focus on is developing power. Power is developed by training the muscle fibres to fire (send neural messages) more rapidly and stimulate faster and forceful contractions. The aim of power training is to complete exercises at high-speeds and against heavy resistances to increase the velocity at which your muscles are able to produce maximal amounts of force (1, 3).
Power development is best explained by the force-velocity curve (also see our blog on speed training). At one end, we see that producing maximal force comes at the cost of movement velocity (i.e. you’re going to move slow when moving something heavy). At the other end, moving at high velocities compromises our force producing capabilities. Optimal power is achieved by finding the sweet-spot of the force-velocity curve, where the most explosive and forceful movements can be performed (see the red arrows on the curve) (3).
Therefore, power is incredibly relevant to athletic performance. A more powerful athlete is able to accelerate/sprint that bit faster, jump that bit higher and tackle that bit harder than their opponent, all of which are acts that can swing the result of a game.
POWER training prescription
Power training should be completed 2-4 times per week. These sessions should incorporate explosive movements that focus on developing force as quickly as possible, such as: jumps, throws and olympic lifts (cleans and snatches) (1, 3).
1-3 sets of 3-6 reps for 6-10 exercises should be completed, using moderate to high intensity loads (30-60% 1RM for speed/technique or 60-80% 1RM for speed-strength) and long rest periods (2-3 min between sets and exercises) to allow for recovery to optimise the speed of movement during each set (1, 3).
Common training techniques used to develop muscular power:
Complex Sets – performing two consecutive exercises with similar movement patterns. The first a strength exercise (squat) followed by an explosive exercise (depth jump) with minimal to no rest between exercises
Cluster Sets – see above description
Multi-Set or Standard Exercise Order – complete all of the sets and reps with rest for an exercise before starting the next exercise
There you have it. That's TRIAX's 101 guide to Resistance Training.
If you want to take your resistance training to the next level, check out our range of online training options!
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about the author
Strength and Conditioning Coach
M.App.Sp.Sci, ESSA L1 Sports Scientist, ASCA L1 Coach
Available for individualised online coaching
1. American College of Sports Medicine. ACSM's exercise testing and prescription. Lippincott williams & wilkins; 2017 Dec 26.
2. OpenStax, Anatomy & Physiology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 26, 2016 http://email@example.com.
3. Suchomel TJ, Nimphius S, Bellon CR, Stone MH. The importance of muscular strength: training considerations. Sports medicine. 2018 Apr 1;48(4):765-85.
4. Joyce D and Lewindon D. High-Performance Training for Sports. [electronic resource]. Human Kinetics Publishers, Inc., 2014.
5. Schoenfeld BJ. The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 2010 Oct 1;24(10):2857-72.