Getting the best out of your resistance training

A guide to planning your resistance training workouts

A staple of any good gym is a selection of resistance training equipment that can be used to tone muscles, build strength, help correct muscle imbalances and align posture. You can get tremendous health and fitness benefits from a correctly prescribed resistance training program, so check-out our no-nonsense guide to resistance training.

This guide to resistance training will let you see:

  • What sort of equipment is available
  • Machines versus dumbbells – what’s best
  • What are the most suitable pieces of equipment for you
  • What sorts of sessions you should do
  • What muscles you should exercise

Equipment guide for resistance training:


Resistance training machines

Dedicated machines that are designed to exercise a specific body part or parts.

E.g. Shoulder press machine, Lat pull-down machine.

1. Simple to use, particularly if you’re new to resistance training.

2. Require less specific technique than other equipment.

3. Can be useful for less able-bodied exercisers.

4. Correct design can help exercise difficult areas, e.g. back.

1. Rarely allow for completely functional muscle training.

2. Often don’t train muscles through their complete range of movement.

3. Usually limited to main muscle groups, e.g. chest, legs, back, shoulders.

4. Generally you need a machine for each body part.


(sometimes called ‘free weights’).

Pairs of hand weights, usually on racks, with weights ranging from 1kg (2lb) up to 40kg (90lb) each.

1. Excellent for training most muscles.

2. Versatile: many different exercises can be carried out with one set of dumbbells.

3. Permit fully functional training through a muscle’s complete range of movement.

1. Require specific technique for safety and full training gains.


Pre-formed barbells

A selection of bars with permanently attached weights at each end. Usually on racks with weights ranging from 4kg (10lb) to 30kg (65lb) per barbell.

1. Benefits are similar to dumbbells.

2. Generally, greater weights can be lifted if required than with dumbbells because both arms are used at the same time.

1. Require specific technique for safety and full training gains.

2. Slightly less versatile than dumbbells as both hands need to be on the bar at any one time.


Adjustable barbells

Similar to pre-formed barbells but different value weight disks can be attached at each end.

1. As per pre-formed dumbbells.

2. Can select exact weight required for each exercise.

As per pre-formed dumbbells.


Many exercises can be carried out without equipment, solely using your own bodyweight.

E.g. press-ups, sit-ups, etc.

1. Can be carried out anywhere.

2. Often require less specific technique.

More limited range of exercises can be carried out.



Resistance training: what to look for 

With resistance training, there is no ‘best’ piece of equipment. The idea of resistance training is to exercise all the muscles that support the body and hold the skeleton together. Therefore it is important to follow an all-over body program of exercises in order to keep your body in complete postural alignment.  Consult the chart below to see the primary areas to exercise:

What muscles should I exercise for an all-over program? 

  1. Chest
  2. Upper back
  3. Shoulders
  4. Biceps (front of upper arm)
  5. Triceps (back of upper arm)
  6. Abdominals (stomach area)
  7. Obliques (sides of abdomen)
  8. Lower back
  9. Legs
  10. Core (deep postural muscles)

Training tips for resistance exercises

Similar to any training session, it is important to include a gradual warm-up at the start of your session and finish with a cool-down at the end. Both your warm-up and cool-down should be for a minimum of five minutes.
  • Starting out training
    As with anything new, it is far better in the long run to learn correct technique at the outset rather than later when bad habits will have to be ‘unlearned’. Additionally, if not executed safely, resistance training with incorrect technique carries the risk of injury, so always seek professional advice before you begin. For basic body conditioning, where you are gently introducing your body to resistance exercises, machines can be a great start. Once you have ‘kick-started’ you routine, adding dumbbell and barbell exercises will bring greater benefits.
  • Next steps for resistance exercise
    Always start with a comfortable weight, one that you can handle easily. Whenever you exercise, a weight should never be too heavy. Additionally, whilst you are learning the technique and proper execution of the exercise, it is vital that you can complete all the movements correctly so that the movement pattern becomes ‘keyed in’.
  • Progressing in resistance training
    Never sacrifice technique in order to progress. It can be tempting to compromise the correct execution of the exercise as you push harder or try for an additional repetition. Resist the temptation and let your body’s natural adaptation determine your rate of progression. 

Resistance training session ideas

  • Toning circuit
    This session is a great cardiovascular and resistance training combination that is ideal for an all-over toning program.
  1. Warm-up.
  2. Complete a set of 15-20 repetitions of up to 10 different exercises. 
  3. After finishing each exercise, move straight on to the next, with no recoveries.
  4. When the set is complete, choose a piece of CV equipment for a 5-10 minute workout.
  5. Complete a full second circuit of exercises, same repetitions, no recoveries.
  6. Cool-down and stretch.
  • Strength session
    The strength session focuses on building muscle strength and so fewer repetitions are used.
  1. Warm-up
  2. Carry out 3 sets of 10, 8 and 6 repetitions of each exercise selected, allowing 1-2 minutes recovery between sets and also between the different exercises.
  3. Cool-down and stretch.
Mix up your exercises

The key to successful and enjoyable resistance training sessions is to continually vary the exercises that you do. If you carry out the same exercises every time, your body adapts – and then plateaus. If you continually re-challenge your body with different exercises, repetitions and techniques, your training gains are far greater. Also, your program is more varied and interesting, so you never get bored either.

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