What are the benefits of resistance training?
Not that long ago, any form of training involving weights was largely considered for extraordinary strong men competing in sports like powerlifting and bodybuilding. The ordinary individual had no motive to engage in resistance training and many athletes believed lifting weights would actually hinder their performance. Exercise became heavily promoted to counteract health problems from a sedentary lifestyle, with aerobic training being the common form of exercise. However, in recent years, resistance training has become much more common for a variety of individuals.
There are many benefits associated with resistance training – it can increase lean muscle mass, boost resting metabolic rate, aid in fat loss, improve physical performance, raise self-esteem, promote bone development, enhance cardiovascular health, prevent type two diabetes, and ease lower back discomfort. But despite the expansive research promoting resistance training, there still are low engagement rates from certain sections of people. Myths and misinformation have led to some women, youths, and older adults failing to engage in resistance training.
Benefits for women:
Despite the benefits of resistance training, only 20% of women in the US engage in resistance training two or more times per week. Worryingly, research from Hurley et al. (2018) highlighted that for every woman using the free weights section in a gym, approximately 27 men were using the same equipment. Conversely, research from Dworkin (2003) highlighted that 70% of users of cardiovascular equipment were female.
So it appears there is a gender-based stigma to resistance training because females do not want to ‘bulk up’ or ‘put on muscle’ and perceive resistance training as a ‘manly’ activity. Also, research from Harne and Bixby (2005) found a lack of time to be the main barrier to resistance training for women. Another barrier of entry is how one is perceived by others if engaging in the activity. Historically women are not associated with having an athletic body type, training with weights, or sweating during activities. Myers and Roth (1997) found women felt uncomfortable and intimidated to train in front of others for fear of being perceived as athletic, sweaty, uncoordinated, or having a lack of knowledge. Many women interested in resistance have reported a lack of interest and encouragement among friends and family. This has caused social barriers such as exercising alone without friends or support to discourage many women to engage in resistance training.
However, women who take part in resistance training can improve their health, minimise degenerative diseases like osteoporosis, reduce injury risk and improve their athletic performance. It is important to understand that due to sex-related differences, women will typically be weaker in terms of absolute strength than males because of their lower muscle quality. Nevertheless, resistance training gains in muscle hypertrophy, strength, and power are still achievable in women who regularly participate in resistance training, even though the gains might be less than their male counterparts.
When programming resistance training programs for women involved in sport, potentially emphasising upper body development may be worthwhile since absolute strength of the upper body is weaker in females. Injury prevention needs to be accounted for in programs for women too, since female athletes are four to six times more likely than males to incur an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury. Therefore, it is important to include injury prevention exercises for areas like the knee joint in women’s resistance training programs.
Benefits for youths:
Many of the benefits associated with resistance training for adults also apply to youths. The importance of physical activity for the development of children is acknowledged by all, yet increases in waist circumference suggest youths today have more fat than previous generations. Targeting strength gains early in life can lead to greater physical fitness later in life, and early gains in strength are neuromuscular and will then become physiological after puberty.
Research has shown children show greater training-induced performance gains in motor performance skills than adolescents, supporting the concept of starting resistance training as early as possible. Faigenbaum et al. (2016) believe resistance training should be a priority early in life because strength is crucial to motor development, sporting performance, and injury prevention.
Some common myths about resistance training for children exist but are untrue if a correct and supervised program is followed. The following is a myth buster of some common notions about resistance training for youths:
- Resistance training does not stunt the growth of children – it may actually enhance bone mineral density.
- Resistance training is not unsafe for children if correctly supervised and in a safe training environment.
- You do not have to be 12 years of age to start resistance training. Typically, once children are mature to take instruction (usually around seven or eight years of age) they can start resistance training.
- Girls will not become bulky if they start resistance training. It will usually be boys during puberty who will increase in size because of increases in anabolic hormones.
Resistance training is not just for youth athletes. It is suitable for every child as a form of physical activity and can be beneficial for overweight children who struggle with aerobic activities.
American College of Sports Medicine Guidelines for Youth Progression for Resistance Training
Benefits for older adults:
Even without chronic disease or illness, the ageing process causes a variety of biological changes. Sarcopenia (loss of muscle mass) occurs in approximately 10% of adults older than 60 and 50% of adults 80 years or older. Loss of muscle mass begins to start around the age of 30 and is accelerated after the age of 60. The loss of muscle mass reduces strength levels in older adults and functionality and quality of life can become severely hindered – simple everyday tasks like going up the stairs, lifting shopping bags, opening food cans, etc. can become gruelling challenges. Resistance training programs for older adults have been shown to enhance strength, reduce muscle loss, increase mobility, prevent chronic disease, and potentially prevent premature mortality. Furthermore, resistance training can be a safe and enjoyable activity for older adults under the supervision of a qualified trainer.
Despite the benefits resistance training has for older adults, only 8.7% of over 75-year-olds in the US participate in resistance training. The low participation rates and the extensive health benefits emphasise the importance of promoting resistance training for older adults. Fragala et al. (2019) advises resistance training programs for older adults include the following:
- Individualised and periodised programs
- 2-3 sets of 1-2 multi-joint exercises per major muscle group
- 70-85% of 1RM
- 2-3 times per week
- Power exercises should also be performed with moderate intensities (40-60% 1RM) at higher velocities