Basic Tips for Starting a Resistance Training Program

Middle Age Woman Doing Resistance Training

DISCLAIMER: To develop an exercise program that best fits your needs, please consult with your physician. It is important to talk with your doctor before beginning any exercise program.

Starting a resistance training program can feel daunting, especially if you’ve never done it before. Whether your main goal is to lose weight, get healthier or increase your fitness level, resistance training (also called strength training) should be part of your exercise plan.

Not only does resistance training burn calories more efficiently than cardio exercise, but it also improves your metabolism, balance, coordination, and ultimately the communication that goes on inside your nervous system. For more information about the health benefits of resistance (strength) training, click here.

Getting Started with Resistance Training

When starting a strength training routine, go easy on yourself. If you do not know how to perform an exercise, look online for video tutorials or use machines that guide your movement. If using unfamiliar machines at the gym, don’t hesitate to ask a staff member or someone nearby for help.

If you have physical limitations that affect your ability to move, those can also be accommodated to match your fitness level. Meeting with an exercise physiologist can help you modify your movements to avoid illness and injuries.

Patience is another key factor to have when starting out with a strength training routine. It takes time for your muscles to grow and get stronger. Start training with a total body workout for the first three months. Gain confidence by practicing good form with light to medium weights. Then, allow for intensity to build by slowly increasing sets, reps and resistance. This is another strategy to avoid injury.

Consider these additional points when starting a resistance training program.

Large Muscle Groups First

Your body is a machine that works together, not in individual parts. Targeting larger muscles first helps smaller muscles do their job of assisting the larger ones. This prevents them from getting exhausted prematurely. Start your workout with exercises that work your chest, back, quadriceps, hamstrings and shoulders. Then, do exercises that focus on your abdominals, biceps, triceps, forearms and calf muscles.

Control and Safety

Faster is not better. Perform your movements deliberately and in a controlled manner. This helps build muscle and prevent injury.

Full Range

Always move through the full range of motion of the exercise and avoid small, jerky movements.


Exhale when you are shortening/tightening your muscles and inhale when you are releasing/relaxing your muscles. Make sure to breathe; do not hold your breath.

Number of Exercises

Choose between eight to twelve exercises, at least a single exercise for each muscle, creating a total body workout.


For larger muscles, do between two to four sets. For smaller muscles, do two to three sets.

Strength/Weight and Reps

Start with a weight that feels light to moderate. You should be able to complete eight to twelve repetitions per set. The amount of reps should produce muscle fatigue but not exhaustion. Increase weight in small increments as the reps become easier.

Frequency and Rest

Stronger, healthier muscles are best gained by training two to three times per week. Make sure you include rest periods of 36 to 48 hours between working the same muscle groups. Example: For a total body workout, train every other day or every two days.

For more tips on getting started with a resistance training program, click here for an article from the Obesity Action Coalition, Producer of the Your Weight Matters Campaign.

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