You can’t achieve a well-developed body without some resistance training, aka lifting weights. No matter what your goal is – general fitness, weight loss, muscle-building, maintenance of healthy bones, or disease prevention –  resistance training is part of a healthy workout. This doesn’t mean you have to become a bodybuilder. It just means you should incorporate anaerobic as well as aerobic exercise into your routine. Resistance training is all about focus.

The more you focus in on what you are doing, the more results you are going to get. All your attention should be zeroed in on every single second of every single repetition. Squeeze deep and see just how specific you can get with each muscle contraction or flex. I guarantee you’ll start seeing improved results from just this one adjustment.

Types of Resistance

Nowadays, there are a greater number of resistance training applications available to us than when Lou began training, and we should be trying to incorporate all of them into our training programs. Our body responds to change. So changing the type of resistance is always a good idea. Is one form of resistance training superior to the others? Yes, but not in a general sense. Each type of resistance is superior in one way or another, depending on what you’re looking to achieve as well as your body type and fitness level. The key is know what kind to use, and when to use it.

Free Weights (Dumbbells, Kettle Bells, Calisthenics)

For many exercises, machines, cables, and/or resistance bands may be the superior type of resistance. However, it is important to remember that muscles were designed to overcome the pull of gravity rather then work against machine resistance. Dumbbells, kettle bells, and your own body weight (calisthenics) should compliment your routine.

Free weights give you the freedom to isolate certain muscle groups and work the body in any number of creative ways. While many machines are designed only to fit those who represent the “average” person, free weights enable people of different heights, weights, and physical proportions – long armed, short armed, long-legged,etc. – to get a complete workout.

Still, free weights do have certain shortcomings. For example, you need to properly align your body against gravity in order to work out your back muscles with dumbbells. Your spine must be parallel to the ground. This position is very strenuous on the lumbar spine (lower back). You have to put your body in a similar position in order to work your triceps effectively using dumbbells, aka kickbacks. Therefore, using free weights for these exercises are not recommended unless you can achieve perfect form. This is where machines and cables are far more superior.

Machines and Cables

Cables and machines are designed to apply resistance to desired muscles without putting undue pressure on your spine. Examples would be cable press downs (triceps) and cable lat pull downs (back). But there are still proper alignments that need to be executed. Some machines will lock you in a position not perfectly aligned for your specific joints.

Many chiropractors will tell you that most of the muscle strains and joint injuries they see come about as the result of using machines that put unnatural stresses on the body by locking you into too rigid a position. Again, not all machines are bad; in fact some are true genius creations. You just need to know which machines are for you, and how to use them properly.

“Real” Reps

For general fitness goals, you’re going to want to do 12-15 reps of your chosen weight for three sets – to warm, to build, and to set.  Choose a weight that challenges you. Men, you should not be able to lift beyond your chosen rep count. Women, you should struggle with your last couple of reps – experiencing shaking and/or a burning sensation. If you pick a weight, complete the reps, and stop just because you reached  a designated number, YOU WILL NOT GET THE RESULTS YOU DESIRE.

You need to train to failure in order to force your muscles to change. Muscles respond to overload and protect themselves by growing back more equipped to handle the demands placed on them. If you train with anything less in mind, nothing but slight soreness will occur. For those looking to get “big,” you need to be lifting weight that causes you to fail around 4-6 reps. So, Ladies, unless you are lifting ridiculously heavy weight, you will not get “big.” It just doesn’t work that way. It’s actually very hard to put on size. If you do feel like you’ve gotten big from lifting weights, you were just swollen from the beginning stages of a new training program. The swelling will go down and everything will tighten up for you, but you have to see it through.

The Bottom Line

Understanding your own body structure and how to align it to resistance during exercise is an extremely important skill. You need to get familiar with not only your body, but how it responds to difference kinds of resistance