Health & Wellness

An introduction to strength training

15 December 2015
Dr Craig Nossel, Head of Discovery Vitality Wellness
If you’re a sedentary type of person, you may be a bit resistant to the idea of adopting an exercise program. But never fear – if you can channel some of that resistance into a solid program of strength training, you’ll be well on your way to a stronger body and a healthier lifestyle.

How to include strength training in your exercise plan

Strength training is a general term for any sort of exercise that requires the body to work against a weight. The weight in question depends on the type of exercise you favour – some people enjoy barbells and free weights while others get their resistance “fix” from fancy machines at the gym. Elastic bands that provide continuous resistance as you move are another option.  And lastly, your own body – as it works against gravity – has weight (don’t we know it!) that can be exploited for beneficial resistance.

The benefits of strength training

Strength or resistance training offers many health benefits, which is why it is highly recommended. First, it is the only type of exercise that increases muscle strength – something that can improve your day-to-day functioning and enhance your quality of life. Second, if you “bulk up” – even a little – it will help you keep your weight down.  This is because an increase in muscle mass is associated with a corresponding increase in “resting metabolic rate” – the number of kilojoules your body burns up while you are at rest or sleeping. Third, a regular exercise programme that includes resistance training reduces the risk of diabetes and coronary heart disease, while improving balance and mobility, and slowing the age-associated loss of bone mass that can lead to osteoporosis. Finally, the extra “buff” that results from dedicated weight training will definitely do wonders for your self-esteem.

Explaining resistance training definitions

Of all the types of physical activity out there, resistance training may not strike you as an “intellectual” exercise. Still, there’s a learning curve involved in getting started, mostly because of the alphabet soup of parameters that, together, make for an effective resistance-training programme. Don’t worry – put all these letters together and they spell STRENGTH!

P is for Progressive, Plateau and Periodisation


To be effective, any resistance-training programme should be progressive, that is, should get incrementally more challenging as your level of fitness improves. This will produce continual changes in muscle strength and size.


If you keep to just one type of exercise, or pattern of training, your body will plateau– meaning you’ll stop feeling the benefits of increased muscle strength. Varying the variables such as choice of resistance exercise, order, number of sets and repetitions can keep you moving forward.


Research has shown that, within a single workout, the initial use of relatively light weights for a large number of repetitions, followed by heavier weights for fewer repetitions leads to increased muscle growth and maximal strength development.  Sports scientists call this pattern periodisation.

L is for Load

Load is just a fancy word for weight. Easy stretches with an elastic band provide a moderate load; when lifting heavy free weights, the load is greater.

V is for Volume and Variation


This is the total number of repetitions performed during a specific time period.  Volume is linked to increase in muscle size, and can be increased over the course of a week, or during an individual training session.


This is also important to resistance training. By regularly introducing new exercises, altering the exercise routine and changing the intensity of training, the muscles will be subjected to new demands causing adaptations which will improve their strength, power, speed and endurance

I is for Intensity

Intensity refers to the speed at which a lift is performed.  Resistance training is generally best performed at moderate intensity, because slow and controlled movements ensure that correct technique is maintained; it also prevents possible injury.

R is for Repetition maximum and Rest

Repetition maximum

Every form of resistance training can be characterised in terms of your personal Repetition maximum, or RM. RM refers to the number of repetitions of a given exercise that can be performed before your muscles become too tired to continue. Higher weights mean lower RM; lighter weights mean higher RM. Being aware of this makes it possible to plan a progressive and effective resistance-training regimen.


Rest intervals between sets of repetitions are an important part of successful resistance training. For best results, the length of your rest period should be linked to the type of exercise you perform, as well as other parameters.

For example, if a novice is doing a high number of repetitions of various exercises two to three days a week using relatively light weights, muscle endurance can be improved by limiting the rest periods to a minute or two between sets. On the other hand, an advanced weightlifter who is aiming for an increase in muscle size may choose the heaviest weights he can handle, four to six days a week. In this case, rest periods between sets should be longer, two to three minutes or more.

Putting it all together – safely

Resistance training provides powerful methods that can help you reach specific fitness goals, including improved muscle strength, greater endurance and an increase in muscle size.

To stay safe and get all the benefits from resistance-training, consult with a fitness instructor or coach about the right resistance-training regimen for you, and check with your doctor before starting any exercise programme.

To reach your goals, it is advisable to work with a trainer, and adopt a supervised resistance-training regimen that mixes up the above-mentioned “alphabet soup” of exercise parameters in a way that makes sense for your individual body type and level of fitness.  By starting slow, and slowly increasing your level of challenge, you’ll soon begin to feel the benefits of resistance training, while laying a strong foundation for a healthier life over the long-term.

In summary

  • Resistance training can be done with free weights, weight machines, rubber bands and even your own body weight!
  • An increase in muscle mass increases your metabolic rate, helping you manage your weight
  • An exercise programme that includes resistance training reduces the risk of diabetes and heart disease, and slows down the loss of bone mass
  • For the greatest benefits from resistance training consult with a fitness instructor to get you started.





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