What are the health benefits of fitness?
- More energy
- Better mood and better sleep
- Increased vascular health and decreased likelihood of stroke
- Increased cardiorespiratory capacity (bigger lung size)
- Brain repair
- Overall and abdominal obesity associated with increased risk of negative health results
- More lean mass = lower mortality risk
We already know that it’s a good idea to perform 2-4 sets of 8-12 repetitions (heavier weight to increase muscle strength) or 10-25 repetitions (lighter weight to increase endurance). Here are some of the common questions people have about resistance training, and evidence for best practice. 🙂
What is better – free weights or machines?
Resistance training can be done in many ways. You can use free weights, machines, or even body weight. All of these will help you increase strength and muscle mass, and there is no true difference between them. Resistance machines, however, pose a lower risk of injury. People are suggested to choose a favourite resistance type based on their preferences, because there is no difference in strength gains between free weights and machines. The only difference is that injury is more likely when using free weights, so older adults (or injured people who are more frail or at a higher risk of injury) should turn to resistance machines. Otherwise, it’s all a personal preference.
CONCLUSION: From a safety perspective, resistance machines are preferable. However, in terms of gaining strength and muscle, it is a personal preference. Free weights and machines are equally efficient when it comes to increasing strength and endurance.
Should I lift weights in stable positions or unstable positions?
Some people believe that using unstable surfaces while weight training will simultaneously train core muscles. This is NOT essential, and experts say that the best way to train core while doing resistance training is to practice unilateral presses (see the next section for more). There is a lack of evidence that balancing on an unstable surface will improve abilities or carry over to other sports. In other words, balancing on an unstable surface while doing bicep curls will improve your ability to balance on the same surface while doing bicep curls. However, training this way will NOT enhance performance in other skills, such as balancing on a snowboard. In fact, the instability will actually decrease the amount of force you can produce at one time.
CONCLUSION: Training on a stable or unstable surface will lead to the same results. There is no evidence that training on unstable surfaces will improve performance in other skills.
Bilateral or unilateral?
Unilateral exercises (exercises that involve one side of the body) do not have the counterbalance effect, which means core muscles must be activated to stabilize the torso. For instance, if you are doing a bicep curl with your right arm, your body will have the tendency to lean to the right because of the added weight. This means the oblique muscles (and other core muscles) on your left side must contract to maintain the torso’s upright position and keep your centre of mass overtop of the base of support.
CONCLUSION: Unilateral exercises will simultaneously train the core muscles, since your core muscles must be “on” to maintain an upright torso.
More resistance is better – true or false?
This is not always true. People should choose a weight that is greater than 80% of their one-repetition maximum, and then perform repetitions until momentary muscle failure (see the last section). Now, what exactly is a one-repetition maximum? The 1RM is the maximum amount of force that you can produce in one contraction. It’s the absolute upper limit – the heaviest thing you can lift in one shot. Imagine picking up the heaviest dumbbell and contracting all your muscles to lift it just once, putting it back down, and never having to do that again. That’s your 1RM, which is FAR too heavy to lift consistently when exercising. Instead, we want to go for 80% of that. For instance, if your 1RM is 200 pounds, your best resistance will be 160 pounds or more. Why 80% of that? Evidence shows that this is the ideal percentage for you to maximize strength and muscular endurance gains, while preventing injury and improving bone mineral density. We wouldn’t want you to lift something too heavy, help your muscles grow, but simultaneously harm your bones!
CONCLUSION: More resistance is not always better. People should use 80% of the maximum weight they can lift.
How quickly should I do my exercises?
No matter what, exercises should be done at a speed that allows you to maintain tension throughout the entire motion. In other words, not too quickly and not overly slow. Fast movements that are ballistic or explosive will put too much force into joints and connective tissue, which means injuries are likely. Explosive movements are NOT recommended, because they pose a high risk of injury. Explosive movements are no better than slow and controlled weight training.
CONCLUSION: Controlled movements that allow your muscles to stay tense all the way through are ideal. Explosive and rapid movements are likely to cause injury.
Should we do a certain number of repetitions or go until momentary muscle failure?
It is best to train until momentary muscle failure. This allows you to recruit all of the available motor units (motoneuron and all of the muscle cells that it innervates, or synapses onto) and muscle fibres. Training until your muscles can no longer contract is preferable. At this point, you will not be able to do any more repetitions. This method is more beneficial than performing a pre-determined number of repetitions.
CONCLUSION: Momentary muscle failure is the best method because it allows you to use all available motoneurons, muscle cells, and muscle fibres. This is better than doing a specified number of reps.
What are your favourite exercises?