Lately, the terms resistance training seems to have been flying around. Whether you’ve been sweating it out in the gym, circuit training or pilates, you can’t seem to avoid it.
If you’re still confused by this phrase, don’t worry; we’ll break it down for you.
Let’s start at the beginning. What does resistance training mean? It essentially is a term used when exercising your muscles, using an opposing force. “It means any movement that causes the muscles to contract against an external resistance,” explains Nora Hameidani, the founder and creative director at Barre Effect, Dubai. “It helps maintain the vital muscle strength,” she says.
This muscle strength is crucial for us, as we tend to lose 25 per cent of our muscle fibres between the ages of 30 and 70, says Hameidani. So, to circumvent this inevitability, we could turn to resistance training.
What are the examples of resistance training?
It’s exactly as it sounds: Whatever requires you to move against resistance, which includes your body weight. This could be in the form of free weights, which are dumbbells, barbells, or kettlebells. Resistance training could also include weighted balls, or resistance bands, which provide continuous resistance throughout training.
Your own body weight also serves as resistance for the training, which involves squats, push-ups and chin-ups, explains Sarah Lindsay, an American fitness trainer and the founder of ROAR Dubai. Everyone can do resistance training, she adds; specific exercises can even benefit those who have suffered injuries too. However, it’s always safe to consult with your doctors and trainers before attempting such workouts.
Why do we need resistance training?
Yes, we know it’s a lot of sweat and tears, but the effort does pay off. Better mood, and better physical well-being, for starters.
It’s not just about bulking up, explains Hameidani. “These muscle-strengthening exercises are crucial to include in an exercise regime as they lead to better physical health. It also boosts the body’s ability to metabolise glucose, lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer,” she says.
This kind of training can increase muscular endurance, strength, and mobility. “It does not have to be high impact, which means intensive and heavy workouts, especially if you are using low to no additional resistance other than the body,” she says.
Low impact resistance training, which involves lunges, squats and resistance band exercises that maintain at least one foot on the ground, is something that you can continue at any age or fitness level, she adds. These exercises focus on increasing strength and endurance while putting less stress on your joints and connective tissues.
It is particularly helpful for pre- or post-natal women, as their muscles, and backs have been under much strain during pregnancy and after delivery. So, they need to work on their glutes or lower back slowly and strengthen their core again. However, this needs to be done slowly. Ease yourself into these routines, she says.
“You can reduce repetitions and speed to accommodate capabilities,” she adds.
The release of endorphins: The body’s natural painkillers
Moreover, building muscles improves your metabolism in the long run, so that you burn more calories at rest, explains Lindsay. “This means that you can eat more without gaining body fat even on days when you aren’t training. While you become stronger, you are also able to create more intensity in any type of training. The harder you work, the better the results,” she says.
Building muscles improves your metabolism in the long run, so that you burn more calories at rest. This means that you can eat more without gaining body fat even on days when you aren’t training. While you become stronger, you are also able to create more intensity in any type of training...
A boost in the metabolism has a powerful impact on your mood. It releases the endorphins, which are the body’s natural painkillers. “Resistance training revs up your metabolism putting you into a calorie burning zone,” says Hameidani. “Burning calories even after the workout has finished, and a high metabolism increases your energy levels throughout the day, as well putting us in a good mood thanks to endorphins or the feel-good hormone, which are produced throughout the day,” she says.
Resistance training also manages the weight and helps you build your core strength, adds Rajul Matkar, a Dubai-based specialist obstetrician and gynaecologist. It helps deal with chronic conditions, lower back pain, and arthritis, as it strengthens the muscles mass. This is crucial, as losing muscle mass is a part and package of ageing. After the age of 50, it is common for people to lose strength, stability, and gain weight. So, doing regular workouts, will not only prevent the muscle mass from decreasing, but also helps rebuild it.
Resistance training for older women
Many tend to believe that resistance training, especially weightlifting is mostly for men and younger women. However, it has some powerful benefits for older woman.
“When we are younger, resistance training conditions your body to exercise, helping you to develop a healthy lifestyle. This in turn helps prevent injuries or illnesses in the future, making the body stronger and more able to cope with stressors,” says Hameidani. As we age, we lose muscle mass and our bones become weaker. However, starting, or continuing resistance training at an older age, can improve balance and stability, she adds. This protects the body from the risk of injuries. “In addition, strong muscles lead to strong bones, which can prevent conditions such as osteoporosis or even fractures,” she says.
Resistance training converts fat to lean muscle, says Matkar. “This is particularly important for older women. We generally tend to lose muscle mass after turning 50, especially in our menopausal stage, we are at a risk for osteoporosis,” she says.
Resistance training converts fat to lean muscle. This is particularly important for older women. We generally tend to lose muscle mass after turning 50, especially in our menopausal stage, we are at a risk for osteoporosis...
On average, women lose up to 10 per cent of bone mass in the first five years after menopause, which puts them at a greater risk of developing osteoporosis. It occurs when bones lose minerals, like calcium, more quickly than the body can replace them, this causes the bones to lose density. To help retain bone density, it’s a good idea to do muscle strengthening, more specifically resistance training, once or twice a week, adds Matkar. This will help them combat weakened bones and reduce inflammation.
This kind of weight-training would involve using dumbbells, ankle, or wrist weights to create resistance.
How to safely start resistance training
Don’t go all out in the beginning; it could go disastrously wrong, as the experts explain.
“Using a resistance weight that is too challenging can lead to injuries,” says Hameidani. You need to work each side of the body evenly, as favouring one side could lead to muscular imbalances and potential injury.
Depending on the specific exercises and their intensity level, women should resistance train at least two or three times per week, she adds. You need to give your body that buffer time for recovery, not work the same muscle group two days in a row. “If you are doing a lighter, full body resistance workout then it's fine to do it more often, but again it is important to always listen to your body and rest when you need to,” she says.
Using a resistance weight that is too challenging can lead to injuries. You need to work each side of the body evenly, as favouring one side could lead to muscular imbalances and potential injury...
Compound exercises that can work more than one muscle at once, will hone your workouts. However, don’t do these on a regular basis, warns Matkar, as it could get strenuous. “Moves like push-ups and planks are not only great for your arms, but also challenge your core and posture, while body weight leg moves such as lunges and squats, not only target your leg and glute muscles but also challenge your balance, forcing you to engage your core,” adds Hameidani.
You’ll find the resistance band instructive, especially for those who are beginning resistance training. “It can easily be incorporated into upper body exercises and helps you to remain in a strong posture while you are strengthening your shoulders, arms, and back muscles,” she says.
Some resistance training exercises:
For your legs:
While lying on your side, brace your stomach.
Bend your top knee and place your top foot in front of your bottom knee.
Raise your lower leg off the floor. Do not bend backwards.
Concentrate on keeping your core engaged and feel this on the inside of your lower leg. Repeat 10 times, and switch to the other side.
Lie down on your stomach and brace the core muscles.
Raise your body up on your toes and elbows.
Lower your hips down until level with your shoulders. Squeeze your navel toward your spine. This engages the core. Make sure your hips stay low.
Hold for 30 seconds and increase the hold to two minutes as you improve. Alternatively, you can hold for 10 seconds and repeat 10 times. The plank can be modified so you put weight on your knees instead of your toes.
The wall squats
Make sure that you stand with your back up against a wall and your legs shoulder width apart. Place a medicine ball, or two rolled towels, between your knees.
Brace your core, and pull your stomach in, towards your spine.
While keeping your core engaged, slowly slide your back down the wall, until your knees are bent to approximately 60 degrees.
Restricting the bending of the knee, will decrease the pressure on your knees and still work your quads. Hold in the bent position for 10 seconds and repeat 10 times. Do two sets.
The leg raises
While you lie flat on your back, you can engage your core.
Bend one leg up at the knee and keep the other leg straight. Tighten the quad muscle of your straight leg, raise it up off the floor until your thighs are parallel. Hold this position for five seconds, and then lower your leg until it almost touches the floor. Be careful not to let your back sway up off the floor. Repeat 10 times. Do two sets, and switch to the other leg.
“Keep track of progress by increasing speed and repetitions – you will notice after just a few sessions that your strength is improving, and with that, better sleep, a lifted mood, and more energy,” says Hameidani. “Set a weekly challenge to track progress such as seeing how long you can hold a plank, for example, to help you stay motivated to fit your workouts in. Celebrate the immediate benefits while knowing how much your body will also thank you in the long term,” she says.