What is Resistance Training: A Hinge Health Guide

Learn more about resistance training, how it can benefit your whole body, and which exercises physical therapists recommend.

Published Date: May 17, 2024
woman-exircising-with-resistance-bands

What is Resistance Training: A Hinge Health Guide

Learn more about resistance training, how it can benefit your whole body, and which exercises physical therapists recommend.

Published Date: May 17, 2024
woman-exircising-with-resistance-bands

What is Resistance Training: A Hinge Health Guide

Learn more about resistance training, how it can benefit your whole body, and which exercises physical therapists recommend.

Published Date: May 17, 2024
woman-exircising-with-resistance-bands

What is Resistance Training: A Hinge Health Guide

Learn more about resistance training, how it can benefit your whole body, and which exercises physical therapists recommend.

Published Date: May 17, 2024
woman-exircising-with-resistance-bands
Table of Contents

Resistance training is an essential form of exercise for good health. Also known as strength training, resistance training improves the muscular fitness you need for lifting heavy objects, climbing stairs, and staying active as you age. It’s also an important tool for musculoskeletal pain management.

Because of its many proven benefits, the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommend that adults do resistance training at least two days a week. But that doesn’t mean you have to join a gym or hoist giant weights. You can do resistance training in your living room with little to no equipment.

“It's never too late to start resistance training,” says Vanessa Matos, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Hinge Health. Even people in their 90s can safely do resistance training exercises. In fact, a study in JAMA found that a group of seniors in their 80s and 90s who strength trained for eight weeks increased their strength by a whopping 174%, and they reported walking 48% faster.

Read on to learn more about resistance training, its benefits, and how to do it — including exercises recommended by Hinge Health physical therapists.

Our Hinge Health Experts

Vanessa Matos, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist
Dr. Matos is a Hinge Health physical therapist with a special interest in treating orthopedic injuries in athletes and patient education.
Jonathan Lee, MD, MBA
Orthopedic Surgeon and Medical Reviewer
Dr. Lee is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and an Associate Medical Director at Hinge Health.
Maureen Lu, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist and Clinical Reviewer
Dr. Lu is a Hinge Health physical therapist and board-certified orthopedic clinical specialist with over 17 years of clinical experience.

What Is Resistance Training?

“Resistance training is any exercise in which you're working against some sort of external resistance,” says Dr. Matos. “The resistance could be a band, free weights, or even your own body weight.” The goal of resistance training is to build muscle strength and endurance.

“Muscles are made up of muscle fibers,” Dr. Matos explains. “When muscles work harder than normal to overcome resistance, they recruit more muscle fibers, which causes muscles to grow.” Muscles get stronger when the body repairs and rebuilds the microscopic tears in muscle fibers that occur from resistance training. The recovery process also increases muscle mass — an important benefit since you lose muscle as you age.

Resistance training also stimulates your nervous system. “As you do resistance training, you develop stronger communication between your nervous system and your muscles, so you become more efficient at recruiting muscle fibers for more force production per muscle contraction.” In other words, these changes make everyday tasks like taking out the garbage, hoisting suitcases into overhead bins, and moving furniture easier and reduce your risk of injury.

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Mountain Climbers

Mountain Climbers

This full-body resistance exercise works the core, shoulders, chest, legs, and glutes. The motion also provides a cardio workout to benefit your heart.

How to Do It:

  • On a yoga mat, move from your hands and knees into a high plank position. With your hands in line with your shoulders, raise your hips to about shoulder height. 

  • Now lift one foot off the floor and move that knee up toward your head, allowing your knee to bend as much as needed. 

  • Keep your hips at about shoulder height and push strongly through your hands as you hold this position. 

  • Then return to the high plank position. 

  • Next, repeat with your other leg by lifting your opposite knee and moving it toward your head. 

  • Hold, and then return to the high plank position. 

  • As you do each rep, you might feel your core, shoulder, and arm muscles working.

Lunges

Lunges

This exercise strengthens the quadriceps (front of thighs), glutes, hamstrings (back of thighs), and the stabilizing muscles of the hips and core. Lunges improve functional mobility for activities like climbing stairs and navigating curbs. It’s also an excellent exercise to help you return to sports or build your resilience for activities such as hiking.  

How to Do It:

  • Start by taking a big step forward with one foot. 

  • Next, bend through your front knee while keeping most of your weight through your front heel. Your back heel can lift off the floor, coming onto your toes. 

  • Hold this position while you find your balance. 

  • Then, push through your front foot to step back into a standing position.

  • As you do each rep, you might feel your leg and hip muscles working. 

Push-Ups

Push-Ups

This is a classic bodyweight resistance exercise that works the muscles of the chest, shoulders, upper arms (triceps), and core. It builds upper body strength to make lifting and carrying easier.

How to Do It:

  • On a yoga mat, start on your hands and toes with your arms and legs straight, and your hands placed under your shoulders. Your hips should be raised to about the same height as your shoulders. 

  • Now, bend your elbows and move your chest toward the floor, stopping at a height that is comfortable yet challenging. 

  • Focus on keeping your hips from dipping toward the floor. 

  • Then, push your hands into the floor as you straighten your arms, returning to the starting position.

  • As you do each rep, you might feel your arm, core, and chest muscles working.

Superman

Superman

This exercise targets postural muscles in your back, glutes, and shoulders to strengthen your back and give you better control as you move.

How to Do It:

  • On a yoga mat, lie face down with your hands overhead and your forehead resting on the mat.

  • Slowly lift your legs, arms, and head toward the ceiling with your eyes looking down at the floor. 

  • Focus on squeezing your back and butt muscles as you hold this position.

  • Relax your body back to the starting position.

  • As you do each rep, you might feel your back, hip, and arm muscles working.

Straight Arm Pulldown

Straight Arm Pulldown

This exercise works the latissimus dorsi muscles of the back, the triceps muscles of the upper arms, and the deltoid muscles of the shoulder. Keeping these muscles strong improves your posture and the function of your arms, making tasks like reaching, lifting, and pulling easier.

How to Do It:

  • To start, you’re going to secure a resistance band by opening a door, wrapping the band around the handle, and then closing the door.  

  • Gently tug on the band to make sure the door doesn’t open toward you. 

  • Take a few steps back so the band has some tension. 

  • Your arms should be straight and raised to about chest height. 

  • Next, with your arms straight, stretch the band by moving your hands toward the floor, stopping when you reach the sides of your legs, and hold this position.  

  • Then, relax your arms up to the starting position. 

  • As you do each rep, you should feel your back, core, and arm muscles working.

Banded Bridge

Banded Bridge

This exercise strengthens the glutes and hamstrings on the back side of the body, which often get overlooked. These muscles are critical for maintaining good posture and functional mobility, like walking, running, stair climbing, and getting out of a chair.

How to Do It:

  • On a yoga mat with a looped resistance band placed above your knees, lie comfortably on your back. 

  • Your knees are bent and your feet are flat on the floor. 

  • Now, move your knees apart to stretch the band, and push through your heels to lift your hips off the floor. 

  • Focus on squeezing your glutes and holding your knees apart. 

  • Then, lower your hips back to the floor. 

  • As you do each rep, you might feel your hip, butt, and leg muscles working.

Seated Resisted Overhead Push

Seated Resisted Overhead Push

This exercise improves your ability to reach and lift objects overhead by strengthening your shoulders.

How to Do It:

  • Sit up tall with a resistance band under your feet, holding the ends in each hand near your shoulders with your elbows close to your sides.   

  • Now press your target hand up toward the ceiling by extending your arm overhead while you keep your wrist straight. 

  • Try to use your abdominals to help you avoid leaning to one side or the other as you move your arm. 

  • Then lower your hand to the starting position. 

  • As you do each rep, you might feel your shoulder, neck, and arm muscles working.

Monster Walk

Monster Walk

This dynamic exercise works the muscles of the hips and thighs for lower body strength and the core muscles for stability. It can improve athletic and everyday performance, enabling you to do activities like walking, climbing stairs, and navigating different surfaces with ease and confidence.

How to Do It:

  • Start by standing with a looped resistance band placed above your knees and your feet hip-width apart. 

  • Then, bend your knees to lower yourself into a mini squat.

  • Now, while you hold the squat position, step one foot directly out to your side, stretching the band. 

  • Slowly step your foot back before repeating with your other leg. 

  • Focus on controlling the band as you return to your squat position. 

  • As you do each rep, you might feel your thigh and butt muscles working.

These exercises use resistance bands and your body weight to build muscle and increase strength. Aim to do these exercises at least twice a week, completing eight to 12 reps of each. You should aim to use an amount of resistance that leaves you feeling fatigued during the last four to five reps. You may notice some muscle soreness after resistance training, which is normal as long as it isn’t in a joint and resolves in a few days.

The information contained in these videos is intended to be used for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice or treatment for any specific condition. Hinge Health is not your healthcare provider and is not responsible for any injury sustained or exacerbated by your use of or participation in these exercises. Please consult with your healthcare provider with any questions you may have about your medical condition or treatment.

Benefits of Resistance Training

Your muscles aren’t the only beneficiaries of resistance training. Here are more benefits u’ll get from resistance training.

  • Joint protection. “Strengthening muscles around joints improves joint stability,” says Dr. Matos. This is why resistance exercises are a key component of physical therapy.

  • Stronger bones. Muscles are attached to bones and pull on them every time you move. As your muscles become stronger, they pull harder on bones, which stimulates bones to get stronger. This helps to minimize the decline in bone density that occurs naturally with age and reduces your risk of osteoporosis, a bone-weakening condition that makes you susceptible to fractures.

  • Better metabolic health. Skeletal muscle plays a key role in keeping blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure in check — all factors that define metabolic health. The loss of muscle as you age, which can start as early as your 30s, can adversely affect these factors and contribute to diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension. However, resistance training can help stave off muscle loss and prevent disease.

  • Improved balance. Your muscles are tasked with keeping you upright, and the stronger they are, the steadier you’ll be. When healthy, active older adults did 12 weeks of lower-body resistance training, they increased their leg strength and improved their balance, according to a study in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science. Better balance can reduce your risk of falling and injuring yourself.

  • Healthier body weight. “Muscles burn more calories, so resistance training can be helpful for weight management, if that’s something you’re working on,” says Dr. Matos. The more muscle you have, the more calories you’ll burn even when sitting.

  • Pain management. When muscles are strong, they take some of the pressure off joints, which can ease pain. For example, strong leg muscles help reduce pressure on your knees. “Strength training also affects pain perception by releasing endorphins and other feel-good chemicals, which change your perception of pain,” says Dr. Matos.

  • Enhanced mental health. Resistance training offers a host of psychological benefits. It’s been shown to reduce anxiety and depression, improve body image, and increase confidence and self-efficacy, your belief in your ability to do something.

PT Tip: Have Fun

You might have heard about a lot of rules when it comes to resistance training, like don’t train on back-to-back days, do exercises in a particular order, or make sure your technique is perfect to avoid injury. But don’t let those “rules” scare you off. Resistance training doesn’t have to be so regimented. You can relax, have fun, and still get the benefits.

“Everyone's body doesn't move exactly the same way,” says Dr. Matos. So, there’s no such thing as perfect form. You want to do exercises in a way that works for you and is within your comfortable range of motion. If you can’t do eight reps, that’s okay. “What matters most is not the rep count, but how hard you're working,” Dr. Matos says.

And enjoy your training. “It can be fun to push your limits and see what you’re capable of,” says Dr. Matos. Need more motivation? Try a group fitness resistance training class. The music and socializing are a great way to up the fun factor.

How Hinge Health Can Help You

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online program.

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app when and where it works for you.

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you.

See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.

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References 

  1. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition. (2019). U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (pp. 1–118). https://health.gov/sites/default/files/2019-09/Physical_Activity_Guidelines_2nd_edition.pdf 

  2. Fiatarone, M. A., Marks, E. C., Ryan, N. D., Meredith, C. N., Lipsitz, L. A., & Evans, W. J. (1990). High-Intensity Strength Training in Nonagenarians. JAMA, 263(22), 3029. doi:10.1001/jama.1990.03440220053029

  3. Lee, I.-H., & Park, S. (2013). Balance Improvement by Strength Training for the Elderly. Journal of Physical Therapy Science, 25(12), 1591–1593. doi:10.1589/jpts.25.1591

  4. SantaBarbara, N. J., Whitworth, J. W., & Ciccolo, J. T. (2017). A Systematic Review of the Effects of Resistance Training on Body Image. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 31(10), 2880–2888. doi:10.1519/jsc.0000000000002135

  5. Gordon, B. R., McDowell, C. P., Hallgren, M., Meyer, J. D., Lyons, M., & Herring, M. P. (2018). Association of Efficacy of Resistance Exercise Training With Depressive Symptoms. JAMA Psychiatry, 75(6), 566. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2018.0572

  6. Gordon, B. R., McDowell, C. P., Lyons, M., & Herring, M. P. (2020). Resistance exercise training for anxiety and worry symptoms among young adults: a randomized controlled trial. Scientific Reports, 10(1). doi:10.1038/s41598-020-74608-6

  7. Stone, M., Stone, M., & Sands, W. (2007). Psychological aspects of resistance training. Human Kinetics. https://us.humankinetics.com/blogs/excerpt/psychological-aspects-of-resistance-training