All About Resistance Training

Three kettle bells lined up in a row. The closest one is pink, the second is blue and the last is green.

What is resistance training?

In simple terms, it is exercising your muscles using an opposing force such as dumbbells, resistance bands or even shopping bags. It includes any exercise that uses a force to cause muscular contractions and it’s often referred to as weight training or strength training. Often when we hear the term ‘weight training’, we imagine huge muscly men with bulging biceps. Unfortunately, this has put many women off using weights as they are too worried that they will look masculine. Yet, it is a fantastic way to tone up and get in great shape! To get into bodybuilder condition is extremely tough and you really do have to dedicate your life to it, so you do not need to worry about that! It is estimated that only 20% of women do resistance training.

What is the science behind it?

During resistance training, muscle fibres are broken down. In the days following, where you may experience muscle soreness, the fibres repair and grow stronger to meet the demands that have been placed on them. That is why rest days are so important. They allow time for the muscle fibres to repair.

What are the benefits and why should we all be doing resistance training?

Increased strength – Increasing your muscular strength can be beneficial for so many reasons, including improved posture and less risk of injury. It can help make everyday tasks a lot easier too like carrying your shopping or gardening. Life gets simpler the stronger you are. It also helps combat age-related muscle loss.

Improved bone health – When you build stronger muscles, you’re also building stronger bones, ligaments and tendons. This helps prevent the risk of osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a disease of the bones that causes them to become weak and break easily. It affects mostly older women, but prevention starts when you are younger. No matter your age, you can take steps to build bone mass and prevent bone loss. Broken bones from osteoporosis cause serious health problems and disability in older women. From the age of 30, bone mass starts to decline and from the age of 40, you can expect to lose 0.5-1% of your bone mass per year. This increases post-menopause to 2%. Resistance training can help you to maintain bone mass and delay this degenerative process.

Increased metabolic rate – Muscle burns more calories than fat, so if we increase our muscle mass this can help with weight management. The more muscle you have the faster your metabolism, so you will burn more calories even at rest.

How much resistance training should we be doing?

The Government guidelines recommend we should be completing a minimum of two resistance workouts a week, working all major muscle groups.

How do I get started?

Set yourself a goal to help maintain your motivation. Also, find a plan which works for you. Check out our beginner’s strength training session plan which targets all major muscle groups – i.e. legs, back, chest, arms, shoulders and core.

The workout is balanced to ensure all the above muscle groups are worked equally. If you neglect one muscle group you run the risk of causing muscular imbalances which can lead to pain, postural problems or injury.

How many sets and reps should I be doing?

To achieve your goal, we need to ensure you are working out at the right intensity. See below for more details:

  • Repetitions (reps) = one complete movement of the particular exercise
  • Sets = the number of reps performed in a sequence, without a rest.

Your overall goal dictates how many sets and reps you need to perform. Check out the guide below:

  • For weight loss: 3 sets, 12 – 15 reps, rest 30 – 60 seconds between sets.
  • For definition: 3-4 sets, 10 – 12 reps, rest for 1-2 minutes between sets.
  • For strength: 4-6 sets, 5 reps, rest for 3-5 minutes between sets.

How much weight should I be lifting?

Everyone has different levels of baseline strength so which weight to use depends on the individual. However, a good guide is that the last rep you perform for that set should feel so tough that you can only just complete it without losing your form. If you feel like you could do another five reps at the end then it is too light. Alternatively, if you have to let your form slip in order to lift the weight then the weight is too heavy. It is better to start out a bit too light and really focus on your form rather than beginning too heavy and getting an injury.

How can I progress the exercises?

In order to meet your goals and progress, you need to constantly be challenging yourself. As your body adapts, the exercises will begin to get easier. When this occurs, it is imperative that you progress those exercises otherwise you will always remain in your comfort zone and you will not improve or achieve your goals. See below for how you can progress your exercises:

  • Sets: increase the number of sets.
  • Rest period: decrease the length of your rest period.
  • Weight: increase the weight you are lifting.
  • Circuits / super-sets: instead of completing one exercise at a time, try a super-set, which is two exercises back to back then rest, or a circuit of multiple exercises back to back then rest.

Basic Beginners Strength Training Workout

Let’s wake those muscles up and get you moving. This workout is tailored for people who have either never really exercised or haven’t done any exercise for the past six months. Most beginner workouts will look fairly similar and this is because we need to focus on some very specific movements. I have kept it simple so it is easy to follow without over-complicating things.

I would recommend you complete this work-out two to three times per week. It is a full-body work-out focusing on all major muscle groups. There is a combination of bodyweight exercises and free weight exercises.

Pick a weight which is a little too light to begin with. I have not stated a specific weight as it will be individual to you. But, to begin with, you should easily be able to complete ten reps of the exercise.

These exercises could all be done at home with a can of beans or water bottles if you cannot manage to get to a gym or do not own dumbbells!

Make sure you complete a warm-up before you start the session and a cool-down at the end of the session!

Cardio: Treadmill, Bike, Cross trainer or rowing for 10 minutes if you have access to the gym.

If you don’t have access to a gym, try this dynamic warm-up:

Toe taps

Holding your arms our straight in-front of you, kick your left leg up as high as you can towards your right hand. Repeat for 30 seconds alternating the legs.

Side dips – touch the opposite toes

Standing with feet hip width apart, reach down with your right hand and touch your left foot. Repeat for 30 seconds, alternating sides.

Torso twists

Standing nice and tall with feet hip-width apart, slowly twist your torso round as far as you can to the right then back to the middle. Repeat for 30 seconds alternating sides.

Hip circles

Stand with feet hip-width apart, bend your knees slightly and place your hands on your hips. Slowly rotate your hips making big circles (imagine you are hula-hooping). Complete 15 seconds in one direction and 15 seconds in the other.

March on the spot

This is a pulse raiser. March on the spot with high knees for 30 seconds.

Main session

Squats/ chair squats – (lower limbs and core) – 3 sets of 10 reps

Sit nice and upright in your chair, feet shoulder-width apart. Try to stand up without using your arms. Then slowly try to sit back down. Repeat.

Progression: Rather than actually sitting back onto the chair, just tap your bottom on to the chair and stand up immediately. Alternatively, pause for five seconds just above the chair before sitting.

Progression: Once this starts to feel easy, take away the chair and perform a squat. Then, once that feels easy, add some weight.

Press-ups on knees or wall press-ups or bench press – (chest, core and arms) – 3 sets of 8-10 reps

Stand nice and tall with feet hip-width apart. Place your hands on the wall about shoulder height and just over shoulder-width apart. Lower yourself towards the wall by bending your elbows, then push yourself back, straightening your arms.

Progression: Try kneeling press-ups. Similar to the above but kneeling and lowering towards the floor. Think about engaging those core muscles!

Progression: Try a full press-up. Start in the plank position, keeping your body in a straight line. Engage your core muscles and slowly bend your elbows lowering yourself until your elbows are at 90 degrees, then push back up to that starting position. (Don’t lock out the elbows). 

Bent over rows (back, biceps & core)- 3 sets of 8-10 reps

  1. Bend your knees slightly and bring your torso forward by bending at the waist. Keep your back straight so it is almost parallel to the floor.
  2. Let the barbell hang directly in front of you.
  3. While keeping your torso stationary, breathe out and lift the barbell towards your belly button.
  4. At the top, squeeze your shoulder blades together.
  5. Inhale and slowly lower the barbell back to that starting position.

You can do this with a barbell like, or with two dumbbells (one in each hand).


Deadlifts (back, hamstrings, glutes, core) – 3 sets of 8-10 reps

This is quite a complex exercise so do ask an instructor for help if you are struggling or look up some YouTube tutorials!

  1. Feet should be about hip-width apart. Bend at the hip pushing your hips back and keeping a nice straight back.
  2. Look forward, and lower the weight towards your shins by bending at the hips. Exhale and lift the weight back up standing up nice and tall, squeeze your shoulder blades together and keep your arms straight. Squeeze your bottom muscles too.

You can do this with dumbbells or a barbell.

I always think of this as being like getting to your front door with a bag of shopping in each hand. You pop your shopping bags on the floor to get your keys out of your pocket, then you pick your shopping bags back up (and squeeze your bottom muscles) – then repeat.

Shoulder press – (shoulder and core) 3 sets of 8-10 reps

  1. Stand nice and up-right with feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Press the weight above your head focusing on one arm at a time.
  3. Then, lower the weight back to shoulder height.

If you feel a pull in your lower back, either decrease the weight or stand with your legs in a split stance (keep knees soft and put one leg slightly in front of the other).

Plank: (core) build up to a 20-second hold.

  1. Begin in a plank position, face down with your forearms and toes on the floor. Your shoulders should be directly over your elbows.
  2. Avoid tensing your neck and you should be looking at the floor.
  3. Keep your torso straight and your abdominal muscles engaged.

It is much better to keep your form and do this for a shorter period of time than try to hold it for so long that you let your form slip.


Cool-down – stretch all muscles you have worked!