Weight Lifting
Resistance Exercise

Medical Editor:

Pumped any iron lately? If not, you may want to consider it. Resistance exercise is a great way to round out your aerobic workout and help you stay strong. I'll discuss the ins and outs of resistance exercise in this article and then suggest two basic training plans to get you started.

What is resistance exercise?

Resistance exercise is any exercise where muscles contract against an external resistance with the objective of increasing strength, tone, mass, and/or muscular endurance. The resistance can come from dumbbells, weight machines, elastic tubing or bands, cinder blocks, cans of soup, your own body weight (for example, pushups), or any other object that forces your muscles to contract. Results take time, but are sure to come when you train consistently over time.

What are types of resistance exercise?

There are several types or styles of resistance exercise. Power lifting (a weight-lifting competition in which participants compete in the squat, dead lift, and bench press), Olympic weight lifting (the type you see on TV where athletes lift the weight overhead), strength training (lifting weights to get stronger), and weight lifting (the sport of lifting heavy weight, typically fewer than six repetitions). Weight lifting should not be confused with "weight training," which is the general lifting that you do at the gym for your own personal health goals. I'll discuss the basic principles of all resistance exercise in this article.

What is progressive overload?

One of the fundamentals of resistance exercise is the principle of progressive overload. Progressive overload, as the term suggests, means that you increase the workload gradually over time as your muscles accommodate to the resistance with the objective of gaining strength and/or mass. For example, suppose that you've been lifting biceps curls for two weeks with 12 pounds, 10 repetitions, and then at week three, 12 pounds is easy and you can lift more. According to the principle of progressive overload, at this point, you would increase the weight if strength improvement is your goal. Your strength will remain the same if you keep the weight the same.

What is volitional fatigue?

Another fundamental of resistance exercise is to lift each set to volitional fatigue. Volitional fatigue is the point in the set where you can't lift one more rep without cheating it up (using momentum, leaning way back, etc.). Although there isn't a large body of research to prove that lifting every set to volitional fatigue is necessary for maximal benefit, most strength and fitness professionals agree that working to exhaustion changes muscle fibers in a way that leads to significant growth.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/17/2014

Get tips on how to get the most out of your weight-lifting workout.

Secrets of Successful Weight-Lifting Workouts

6 weight-training techniques that will help you get results.

By Colette Bouchez
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD

It seems so simple: Pick up and toss around the equivalent of a couple of soup cans a few times a week, and change your body, maybe your life. This very simplicity is at the heart of weight training, which is fast becoming one of the most popular forms of exercisetoday.

The sport that was once confined to bulky bodybuilders is now being embraced by the average guy looking to drop a few pounds and beef up his physique, as well as the average gal looking to tone up and strengthen bones and muscles as she heads into middle age, experts say.

"Weight liftingnot only helps you to look better, but it can play an enormous role in your quality of life as you age -- particularly for women -- since it definitely helps increase bone density, which diminishes with age," says Cedric Bryant, vice president of scientific affairs for the American Council on Exercise (ACE).

And unlike other forms of exercise that burn calories only while you're working out, weight lifting keeps on incinerating calories for hours after you stop, experts say.

"It increases your metabolic activity for the entire day -- not only when you are challenging your muscles, but also during the repair process that occurs when you stop working out," says Alex Schroeder, an exercise physiologist and trainer at Form and Fitness, a Milwaukee, Wis., gym and rehabilitation center.

Of course, a successful weight lifting workout does involve a bit more than just moving those soup cans from the kitchen counter to the cabinet a few times a week. To help put you on the path to success, WebMD asked Bryant, Schroeder, and Mike Ryan, a weight expert from the Gold's Gym Fitness Institute for some tips on how to start a weight lifting workout and stick with it until you meet your goals.