When I first met Ami we had a discussion about why he wasn’t currently resistance training. He said he wasn’t sure where to get started, what exercises would be best to help him reach his goals, and that he was finding it difficult to find time between a full-time job and his duties as a husband and father.
When I finished high school way back in 99’, I was all done playing baseball but wanted to stay active and in shape. Like Ami, I had never worked out before and had no clue what to do. I was so confused about where I should start.
In today’s article, I’ll be removing confusion about how to start resistance training and discussing strategies used by Ami, myself, and others to make resistance training a consistent habit.
So, my question to you is are you ready to get started?
Table of Contents
Resistance training doesn’t need to start in the gym
You might have just said to yourself, “HUH!”
Let me explain a bit. I want you to set yourself up for success before you even begin.
Mentorship, support, progress, and accountability are four very important components to staying consistent when it comes to exercising regularly.
Offers you direction from someone who has already done what you’re trying to achieve. When I wanted to start resistance training after high school I reached out to one of my best friends who happened to be a personal trainer.
He was so diligent about getting in his workouts consistently and I knew he would be a great influence on me so I asked him if we could start working out together.
You might not have a friend that’s a personal trainer that can help you out for free but brainstorm a little bit here.
Are there any fitness bloggers that you trust? Take advantage of any free resources that they have, products, or reach out them through email and ask for a couple of tips on how to get started.
Ask a personal trainer if they wouldn’t mind getting together for a few sessions just to go over the proper technique of some of the most important exercises. If you’re having a tough time justifying any costs think about ways you can cut your expenses this month.
- Cancel cable or shrink the package that you have
- Cut out the Starbucks
- Cancel any memberships or subscriptions that you currently are not taking advantage of.
- Skip out on the happy hours or restaurant meals for a bit
- What are some other ways you could save to make your health a priority?
Is important as well. Something that I do with all of my clients before we meet is evaluate their social support network. I want to know if their friends, co-workers and work environment, and family are going to be positive influences on them as they try to create big changes in their life.
Let those closest to you know how important this is to you and that you’ll need them to be in your corner.
Just remember that when you change you’re also asking other people to change as well. You’re creating a new identity for yourself, you’re becoming a new person. The type of person that works out and takes care of their body inside and out now. This may be tough for people at first, they’re used to the old you.
- Late nights out
- Food choices
All might be changing for you now and some of those closest to you will have a tough time with it. You may find that you’ll need to spend less time with those that don’t support you and your goals and more time with the people who do.
Can either be found within the self or through others. I’ve always done will with having a coach, friend, or mentor that I have to report to weekly (if not daily).
Is there a friend of yours that wants to start working out more as well? How about reaching out to them and use each other for accountability.
For me, Ami and Matt one of the most important things for staying consistent with workouts was progress. I could actually probably do without any of the other things above but if I’m seeing progress, I’m good to go! It’s so motivating.
Some ways to measure progress:
- The scale (weekly): Hop on a scale every week on the same day and time.
- Body girth measurements: The scale only tells one side of the story. Your weight might not change but you might find that your waist is shrinking, along with some other things (no guys… not that, geeeez!) Here’s a quick little cheat sheet for how to take them. It’s a good idea to take these once a month.
- Body fat testing: You can either have a professional do this by taking skin caliper methods or try hydrostatic or a DEXA scan. Every three months is a good time-table for this.
- Before/After photos: Probably the most motivational. It’s one thing to see numbers moving up or down (based on your goals) it’s another to see it with your own eyes. Look at Ami, Nick, Matt, Brianna, and Kim. How stoked would you be to see progress like that every few months? Take pictures monthly and use apps like Diptic to place them side by side.
Some other ways to measure progress extend outside just the physical. Consider journaling daily and pay special attention to how you’re feeling daily.
- More energy
- Changes in your mood
- More enthusiastic to try new things
- Are you getting stronger in the gym? Faster on your runs?
- Are coworkers and others telling you how great you look?
- Is blood work improving?
- No more bloating after meals?
It could really be a number of positive changes that you’re seeing but you’ll never know if you’re not paying attention to them.
Ok, so the prep work is done. Let’s get into how you can start resistance training today.
What is resistance training?
What do you do when you want to know something? You google it, right?
Here’s a classic definition of resistance training.
“The use of resistance to muscular contraction to build the strength, anaerobic endurance, and size of the skeletal muscle.”
To put it in a language we can all understand, Resistance training is often called weight training or strength training but it’s training that can be done using anything from your own bodyweight to dumbbells, to milk jugs as a way to increase strength, drop body fat, and build lean muscle.
When I was on my trip around the world a few years back I stayed beast mode resistance training with bands on top of rooftops in Japan, in parks, or in my hotel room using bands, my own body weight, and even my backpack loaded with books.
The benefits of resistance training are endless but to sum it up:
- Improved muscle strength
- Improved muscle tone
- Improves body fat to weight ratios
- Improves flexibility (with the proper range of motion)
- Improves balance and coordination
- Improves posture
- Helps fight depression and anxiety
- Increases bone density and reduces the risk of osteoporosis
- Helps with productivity (see Richard Branson)
- Reduces the risk of injuries (especially in older individuals)
The list is limitless… see what I did there.
So now you know what it is and why you should be doing it. Let’s jump into some ways you can actually start incorporating it into your life.
Bodyweight resistance training
I’m a huge fan of bodyweight training.
Training with your own bodyweight is a great place to start for those of you that live a fairly sedentary life or don’t have much experience working out.
It will allow you to learn the proper mechanics and movement patterns of most exercises before you start adding any free weight.
It’s also a great way to reduce your risk of injury when you’re just starting out. There’s no sense of getting hurt if you’re trying to get into shape. Being all beat up is going to slow down the process of reaching your goals.
If a gym membership isn’t currently in your budget, if you travel often, or if you’re short on time than bodyweight resistance training might be a great option for you as well.
A few bodyweight movements to become familiar with are:
Those five exercises right there can provide you with a month worth of workouts.
Here also are some examples of 10-minute workouts that you can try as well while traveling or when in a pinch for time.
If any of the exercises seem too difficult to remember that you can always modify them.
- Push-ups can become knee, hand release, incline, or wall push-ups.
- Squats can be done on a box or using a pole
- Pullups can become assisted or inverted body weight rows.
If any of the bodyweight stuff feels too easy try this.
An important part of resistance training is progression. If you want to see progress you’re going to eventually have to make it tougher on yourself. The body is smart and adapts rather quickly.
Adding in equipment like Olympic rings, weight vests, and exercise bands will help with this.
You can also slow down the tempo at which you move. Hit the deck and give me 10 push-ups right now. Wait a few minutes but this time hit the deck and give me 10 push-ups but slow down the pace at which you move towards the ground. Try taking 3, 5, or maybe even 10 seconds to lower yourself until your chest hits the ground.
You can do this with any bodyweight exercise. Slow down your squat, pull up, and even sit-ups. I’ll be talking more about tempo along with reps and sets in a bit.
I’m a bodyweight ninja. How else can I start resistance training?
So you’re a Ninja you say… Ok, well I’ve got some goods for you then. There are a bunch of other ways you can resistance train and step up your fitness game.
A set of gymnastic rings will add difficulty to your bodyweight movements and require you to utilize smaller stabilizing muscles around larger ones.
I’ve got an entire article about how to train with gymnastics rings, how to choose your gymnastics rings, and even outlined an entire gymnastic rings workout for all levels of fitness.
The rings would be the first piece of equipment I’d add to your Limitless body arsenal. They’re super cheap, great for travel, and can be used at home.
The guys over at Gold Medal Bodies have bodyweight training and ring training down to a science. Definitely give them a look.
Resistance training with dumbbells is awesome for adding extra weight to some of the basic movements touched on earlier. I’m a huge fan because they also will force you to use smaller stabilizing muscles around the bigger ones and help to address some of those muscular imbalances you might have.
Right arm stronger than the left? Is the right leg stronger than the left? Dumbbells will allow you to bring up some of those lagging muscles because you won’t be able to compensate by using the stronger side.
Dumbbells make for easy progression because you can usually jump up in weight in small increments. Most gyms and even hotel gyms will have them and they’re an easy piece of equipment to have at home or the office for workouts when in a pinch.
A set of adjustable dumbbells can get pretty expensive but if you look around on Craigslist or Play It Again Sports you can usually get a pretty good deal on some used ones.
These suggestions should allow you to do most Dumbbell (DB) exercises based on your skill level with as little investment as possible.
- Beginner Male: 10lbs to 20lbs
- Beginner Female: 5lbs to 15lbs
- Intermediate Male: 20lbs – 30lbs
- Intermediate Female: 15lbs – 25lbs
- Advanced Male: 35lbs – Up
- Advanced Female: 25lbs – Up
Here’s an example of a Dumbbell only workout you can try:
Perform four circuits of the following exercises. Rest 1-2 minutes after each circuit.
- 20 (10/per leg) DB reverse lunges
- 12 DB overhead presses
- 20 (10/per arm) DB plank rows or bent-over DB rows
- 12 burpees
- 20 butterfly sit-ups
Bonus work: As many box jumps or broad jumps for 30 seconds as you can do. Rest 30 seconds and repeat for 5-10 sets. To make this workout easier you can lower the amount of weight that you use, do less sets, increase the rest in between sets, use your own bodyweight instead of the dumbbell for some of the movements, or take a look at the DIY workout chart for examples of exercises you feel comfortable doing.
If you’re interested in training with barbells then a gym membership or going to a Crossfit box is in your best interest. A good set of plates and bar can get pretty expensive and you may need a rack or cage in order to do barbell squats.
Craigslist will offer up some cheap used ones. If you go that route I suggest looking for a set of Olympic bumper plates. These will usually last longer, can be dropped, and as you get more skilled will allow for you to do olympic lifts 🙂 I smile because I love them.
Barbells will allow you to get the most bang for your buck. 80/20-ing the heck out of your fitness if you will.
Are some of the best exercises you can do to maximize strength, body fat loss, and muscular endurance. Sure you can do similar movements with your bodyweight or with dumbbells but it’s just not the same.
If you’re serious about getting stronger than barbells are a must. And no ladies, you will not get BULKY.
Here’s a MOSTLY barbell routine you can try:
Complete the exercise listed as A1. Rest 90 seconds and move on to A2. Rest 90 seconds and move on to A3. Complete this pattern until you have done all five exercises. That is one set. Perform four to five sets.
Bonus work for you cardio zealots: Run 200 meters. Rest 60 seconds and repeat for 4 more sets (5 total)
There are other ways that you can resistance train aside from bodyweight, dumbbells, and barbells.
- You can get a full-body resistance workout by just using kettlebells
- Combine all of the methods above for a workout. Most of the programs in the Limitless365 Fitness Program do this.
- Yoga is a great way to build strength and to understand how your body moves in different directions. If you’ve never taken Yoga before give it a shot and let me know how holding some of those poses works for ya.
- There’s also a ton of sports like rock climbing, gymnastics, Crossfit, and paddling against water that can help you resistance train.
The most important thing is to pick something that you enjoy at first so that you can build the habit. Then move on and try other methods as you develop more skills and confidence.
Reps, sets, rest, and tempo
One of the first posts that I wrote on Limitless365 had to do with the right amount of reps, sets, rest, and tempo-based on your goals. You can check out that article here but I’m about to sum it up below.
1-5 reps: Typical used for maximal strength gains. If you’re looking to pick up Oak trees and throw them at someone I would highly suggest taking this approach. 1-5 reps are usually around 85% of your 1 rep maximum (1RM) in any given lift. So a good approach before starting any training routine may be to test yourself in a few of the basic movements in order to have some (“NERD ALERT”) data to work with. If you’re a novice lifter I would not suggest training in this rep range until your form is on point, ya dig?
6-8 reps: You’ll hear a lot of 6-8 rep talk from the meat-heads at your local Globo gym. It’s a pretty standard rep range for most fellas to follow because it elicits a pretty nice balance between strength and muscular gains. 6-8 reps usually fall at about 79-84% of your 1RM. So if you have not already, think about testing those 1RM’s. Just make sure you have proper form and a partner on standby.
9-12 reps: This is the rep range that the majority of trainees use. However, they train in this range with not much intensity. By that, I mean moving weight for 12 reps when they could have done 20. This rep range will usually be around 70-78% of your 1RM.
This rep range will allow for optimal muscular development. If you are looking for serious body composition changes… aka… looking good naked then think about dabbling in this pool. With that said, don’t forget to experiment with other rep ranges. Your body will adjust very quickly and those gains will start to decrease.
13+ reps: This is usually anything under 70% of your 1RM. Most novice lifters can experience tremendous gains when working with these higher rep ranges. This is also an excellent rep range for beginners in order to develop proper form and control of the movements. Body weight movements will allow for rep ranges in the range. If you are a noob to all of this think about starting with a bodyweight routine until you develop some muscular strength, coördination, and confidence.
Note: It is not necessary to find your 1RM to work within these rep ranges. An easy rule to follow when working in each rep range is that the last rep you do (say 8) should be difficult but not the last one you could do. It should feel like you “might” be able to do one more. “Might” is the keyword here.
If you are interested in finding your one-rep max, refer to this article.
More reps=fewer sets: Your muscles need to perform a certain amount of work in order to see results. Lifting a super heavyweight 2 times for 1 set is not going to do you much good. We also do not want to make sure we do not train a muscle too much. 15 reps of a bench press done with 15 sets are just not smart. You’re most likely just over-training a muscle group. When we look back at the rep ranges provided above a good protocol to follow can be seen here.
- 1-5 reps: 4-6 sets
- 6-8 reps: 3-5 sets
- 9-12 reps: 3-4 sets
- 13+ reps: 2-3 sets (depending on training maybe 4)
These, of course, are not set (no pun intended) in stone but give you a general idea of how you can plan a workout for yourself.
How much time should I rest between exercises?
I would ask you what your superhero goal is.
- Fat loss?
- Super sexy-ness?
There are a ton of factors that come into play but let’s simplify it.
- Training for strength: usually training for strength means you are working in that 1-5 rep range. Resting 3-5 minutes after each set is ideal in order to allow for almost a full recovery.
- Strength/Lean muscle-building: the 6-8 rep range will usually call for a 2-3 minute rest interval.
- Muscle building/Sexiness: If you are looking to see major body composition changes and an overall improvement in your “Look good naked” quotient then resting 90 seconds – 2 minutes is where you’ll want to be. As you get comfortable with the exercises and your stamina improves you should be able to keep the rest between 60-90 seconds.
- Muscular endurance: 13+ reps and your rest can be anywhere from 10 seconds to 90 seconds. You can vary this depending on how much time you have for your workout that day, your current conditioning, and your goals.
More rest for bigger muscles You will find that working out the larger muscles are much more taxing than the smaller ones. Performing a back squat is significantly more difficult than doing a dumbbell curl. More rest is often needed more after working for larger muscle groups as opposed to smaller ones.
When I bring up-tempo most people look at me with a WTF face. You can achieve great results without focusing on temp but if you want to bust out of plateaus, or you have trained for many years, or want to enhance your gains and body composition then tempos should be used.
Let’s use the bench press as an example. Let’s say I want you to do the bench press exercise with a tempo of 31X1 this is an example of what a tempo may look like when training.
- The first number (3) represents the lowering or eccentric part of the movement. Think bringing the bar down to your chest while benching.
- The second number (1) represents the amount of time you pause in the stretched position. Think about when you are squatting when performing the back squat.
- The third number (X) represents the actual lift of the weight. So in the bench press, this would be how fast the bar moves from your chest to straight above you. In this case, the X means as fast as possible.
- The fourth number (1) is the amount of time you pause at the top of the movement or contracted position. In the bench press, this would be when you are holding the weight above you.
To simplify things I recommend using a tempo of 31X1 for most exercises. Tempo can be a little confusing for many. Play with it a little.
I liken breathing to a placekicker in the sport of American Football. Totally underappreciated but can make all the difference in the world.
Breathing correctly as you exercise will help with strength, endurance, performance, and focus (especially for you Crossfitters).
To sum up proper breathing real quickly you want to inhale during the negative part or lowering part of an exercise and exhale as you press out of it.
- Inhale as you lower the bar to your chest during a bench press and exhale as you press out.
- Inhale as you squat down and exhale and exhale as you extend your legs and stand up.
- Inhale as you lower yourself down from a pull-up or inverted row and exhale as you pull yourself up.
You breathe when you’re not working out. Might as well when you are.
How many days per week and how long should I resistance train for?
There are a few things to think about when you’re considering how many days per week you should resistance train.
If you’re not doing it I suggest starting slowly but at the same time making sure you stay consistent.
One of the reasons the first habits I ask most clients to practice is to move 10 minutes per day is so that you can prove to yourself that you have the ability to create time for your health. You don’t need an hour to get a great workout in. Building momentum moving forward is more important first.
Now with that said the days and how long will train depend greatly on the person, their abilities, how they recover, age, gender, a lot of things. But below is a little blueprint for various levels.
Not currently resistance training:
Start by proving to yourself you can create time for your health. 10 minutes of movement every day for 7 to 14 days and longer if you need to. You can use these 10-minute workout examples.
You already create time to resistance train:
2 to 3 days per week is a great place to start. If you’re recovering well you can try up to 4 days per week.
You could alternate resistance training days with cardio days, interval training, Yoga, or something else you enjoy that involves activity (basketball, rock climbing, Frisbee golf).
The amount of time you exercise will depend on your goals. If you’re looking to get stronger you’ll probably be resting more and taking more time in the gym. If your goal is general health, fat loss, and seeing body composition changes then your rest will be shorter. Workouts might be anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour but should really never exceed an hour.
Generally, two to three days minimum and four to five days max per week of resistance training. Remember, in order to build lean muscle and burn body fat you’ll need to rest and recover too.
An example week of training might look like this.
- Mon: Resistance training
- Tuesday: Cardio
- Wednesday: Resistance training
- Thursday: Yoga
- Friday: Resistance training
- Saturday: Trying something new and active
- Sunday: Rest
You could split your workouts up a million different ways but for most people resistance training more than three days in a row will not give them enough time to recover. Here are some other examples of ways you could split up your workouts.
I now train with weights on Monday and Tuesday. Rest on Wednesday and then get back at it on Thursdays and Fridays.
Weekends are for FUN activities like hiking, swimming, and playing volleyball with my boys.
More importantly, take a look at your own schedule and see which days and times you can dedicate.
What will fit into your lifestyle?
Other tips, tricks, and resources?
There are so many ways to resistance train and workout in general.
Here are a few resources I definitely recommend checking out if you’re interested in learning more.
There are a few free workouts already available here on the site.
- Noob Bodyweight
- Incredible Hulk Body Weight
- Fit Fast Free Guide
- 10 Minute Workouts
- 10 Bodyweight-ish workouts
- Minimalist Fitness
- Enough of the bodyweight. Give me the weights.
- The DMV workout
Just to name a few 🙂
If you’re a Crossfit fan I’d give a look to these sites that post free workouts daily for various skill levels:
Some awesome books out there include:
Some cool websites to check out:
- Strong Lifts
- Gold Medal Bodies
- Gymnastic WOD
- A Shot of Adrenaline
- Westside barbell if you want to get super strong
What about if I’m afraid of looking silly doing some of these exercises?
If you’re a little nervous about setting foot in a gym or Crossfit box you can always practice some of the exercises at home until you feel comfortable. I have a database of over 100 exercises you can try.
Videotape yourself and compare what you’re doing to the examples that I give. If you’re feeling ready try to meet with a personal trainer for a couple of sessions to assess how you move or take part in a Crossfit fundamentals class which will typically be filled with people on the level.
Lastly, make sure you’re recording all of your workouts, reps, sets, rest, and how you’re feeling in a notebook. You don’t need anything special really. It’s a grew way to hold yourself acceptable and to measure your progress.
Most importantly focus on consistency
One thing that I’d like for you to remember is that most people fail to develop healthy habits not because they don’t know what to do but instead because they can’t follow through with what they do know how to do.
This article covered the basics so that you can get started with a resistance training program regardless of whether you want to use your own bodyweight, dumbbells, barbells, or some other method or piece of equipment.
Create a new identity for yourself today.
I am no longer just _______________________ (fill in your name).
Today I am ________________________, someone who resistance trains 4 times a week every morning at 6AM (or whatever works for you).
Don’t be afraid to fail. If you haven’t resistance-trained before there is going to be a learning curve. You’re going to be sore as hell. You’re going to suck occasionally. You’re going to not be motivated all the time.
Consistency trumps intensity every time at first. Focus on just getting started now and getting it perfect later.
Now grab a buddy, throw on some good tunes, and knock out some push-ups already.
PS: Did I answer all of your questions about resistance training? If not, post to comments and I’ll make sure that I do.
What type of resistance training are you doing and what do your workouts currently look like?