10 Tips to Optimise your Resistance Training 

By David Hawkins, Physiotherapist

Resistance Training involves the application of an external force (eg weights) to the working muscles. Often the aim of resistance training is build muscle size, increase your strength and endurance, improve sporting performance and to increase bone mineral density.  In addition, resistance training is used to assist in weight loss and weight maintenance programs via enhanced caloric expenditure, both during the exercise and via an increased basal metabolic rate.   

Follow these 10 tips to optimise your Resistance Training program to improve time efficiency and results: 

  1. Sleep: Muscles don’t grow while you train, they grow while you rest.  To optimise muscle growth (hypertrophy) and to ensure you are well recovered and have ample energy for your workouts, try to get a minimum of 7 hours sleep per night.
  2. Recovery: Recovery is important between each workout to ensure you get the most out of your training to enhance your results and performance.  Recovery is also important to reduce the risk of injury.  Larger muscle groups tend to require more time to recover than smaller muscle groups, so should be trained less frequently.  Also, higher intensity workouts tend to cause more microtrauma to the muscles (essential for hypertrophy), which requires longer recovery times, too. 
  3. Protein: Protein is essential for muscle growth and repair.  Irrespective of the workout, you won’t gain muscle without the right building blocks.  Ensure you reach your dietitian-prescribed daily protein target.  
  4. Mind-muscle connectionLift with intention.  Recruit more muscle fibres and contract the target muscles by focusing your mind on their contraction and the movement.  Through mental focus and intention, greater gains in strength and muscle size can be achieved. 
  5. Time under tension:  Increasing the duration of your sets, or time under tension, may improve muscle growth.  Sets lasting 40-60 seconds are generally recommended.
  6. Frequency:  Frequency is directly linked with recovery.  If trained too frequently or too infrequently, your results will be diminished.  The general recommendation for weight loss and weight maintenance is to perform two whole-body resistance exercise sessions per week, including compound exercises targeting multiple muscles groups or joints at any given time.  These guidelines recommend your program includes approximately 10 exercises, performed for 2-4 sets of 8-12 repetitions with 60-90 seconds rest in between.  
  7. Intensity/Load: Progressive overload is essential for muscle growth, meaning your muscles need to be progressively challenged to instigate growth.  This means that in order to build bigger muscles, you need to increase your weights over time.  The goal is to train at an intensity or with loads that enable you to complete the prescribed number of repetitions in a set with perfect form and no more than two repetitions in reserve.  That is, on completion of 10 repetitions in a 10 repetition set, you could only lift that weight up to 12 times with perfect technique.  3-4 sets of 8-12 repetitions are generally recommended for muscle growth.
  8. Compound movements vs isolation techniques: Compound exercises involve 2+ joints within the movement, meaning they recruit a greater number of muscles.  This is both time efficient and energy costly.  Isolation exercises require only 1 joint to move and therefore target only one or a few muscles to perform the movement.  These exercises are performed more for aesthetic or rehabilitative purposes and tend to have less of an impact on your overall muscle mass, metabolism and energy expenditure.
  9. Structure: supersets, circuits etc.  Supersets, circuits, and other intensifying techniques help you to increase the amount of work you do in the gym within a prescribed amount of time.  This enables you to train more muscles, elevate your heart rate and burn more fuel.  
  10. Progression:  Just as loads need to be progressed, so does your program.  The human body is highly adaptive, meaning you become progressively more efficient at performing an exercise each time it is repeated.  This means that the initial benefits of an exercise are reduced over time (the laws of adaptation and diminishing returns).  Therefore, it is generally recommended that you gradually progress your weights each workout and progress your program every 8-12 weeks or more frequently if desired.   

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