If you want to grow muscle, increase your body composition, or improve your strength, you’re probably interested in resistance training. But when it comes to building muscle, “resistance” isn’t limited to pumping iron. The sight of endless rows of squat racks, dumbbells, and kettlebells at the gym can be intimidating, but know this: There are many approaches to resistance training, many of which aren’t confined to the four walls of a gym.
For a beginner, therabands, medicine balls, and your own body weight can provide plenty of resistance (and a killer workout, no less). Once you feel comfortable with certain exercises — or need an added challenge — you can move on to that coveted barbell at the gym.
Below, you’ll learn the basics of resistance training, different ways to progress various exercises, and how to combine resistance training and the keto diet.
Every time you work out, there are tiny fibers in your muscles that tear apart. After your workout, these muscles repair, regenerate, and grow back together — larger and stronger[*]. This is also known as muscle hypertrophy (discussed further down this post).
Here’s how it works:
- When you work out, your body releases anabolic and catabolic hormones.
- Your anabolic hormones are your growth hormones, such as testosterone.
- Your catabolic hormones, like cortisol, are your breakdown hormones.
- Your anabolic hormones build muscles up, while catabolic hormones break them down.
As someone who works out, your goal should be to release enough growth (anabolic) hormones to overpower your breakdown (catabolic) hormones.
To do this, you need to introduce a stimulus (such as a resistance band, weights, or medicine ball) that challenges your body just enough that you see growth, but not so much that you can’t recover[*].
When you hear the phrase “resistance training,” you might automatically think of barbells at the gym. But that’s not the only form of resistance training available to you.
Resistance training involves forcing your muscles to push or pull against a given force. That force could be a resistance band, your own body weight (calisthenics), medicine balls, or even gravity.
How to See Results Through Resistance Training
In order to continuously see strength gains, you need to find new ways to challenge your muscles — this is what’s called “progressive overload.”
Progressive overload adds a challenging stimulus to the body, thereby preventing a plateau. In other words, continuously “progressing” the body to “overload” your muscles.
But here’s the thing: Adding weight isn’t the only way to increase resistance within a given exercise. Instead, you could get creative with your workouts, introducing a source of instability, speed work (fast cardio), increasing your reps, or decreasing the amount of rest between sets.
Here’s a real-life example of adding resistance within the same basic movement: If it’s your first day of training, perhaps all you can do is a body weight squat. Once a body weight squat becomes easy, you add a source of instability, performing a single-leg squat.
Once that gets easy, you transition to a weighted squat. Once you’re repping out squats with free weights, you could increase the weight or number of reps.
Ways to Make a Workout More Challenging
If you’re looking to increase resistance in a workout, you can always add more weight. For example, if you always grab 10-pound dumbbells at the gym, try snagging the 15-pound set instead.
That said, continuously grabbing heavier weights isn’t the only way to add resistance to your training routine.
Change the type of equipment used (e.g., TRX, battle ropes, or a stability ball) or perform the exercise on an unstable surface. This forces you to engage your stabilizer muscles (such as your core) to keep yourself from toppling over.
Another way to add instability is to switch to a single-leg exercise. Standing on one foot (as with a Bulgarian split squat) makes you unstable and increases the weight carried by one leg.
One of the swiftest ways to make a workout harder is to increase the repetitions. If 10 push-ups feel easy to you, strive to do 20. If your legs no longer burn when you do 30 lunges, try to hit 50.
Adjust the Intensity
There are plenty of ways to increase the intensity of a resistance training exercise — although it may require you to get creative.
First, you could speed up the movement, aiming to get a maximum amount of reps in a given amount of time. Or, you could experiment with isometric holds. For example, if you’re trying to do a pull-up, try holding yourself in the top position for three seconds before doing another rep.
Implementing a weight training or resistance training program comes with a large number of benefits. Studies show that resistance training can drastically improve your well-being and quality of life by[*]:
- Burning body fat, particularly visceral fat
- Enhancing your cardiovascular health and metabolic rate
- Encouraging weight loss
- Improving your range of motion (translation: allows you to move freely and easily)
- Improving your insulin sensitivity, blood pressure, and other biomarkers of health
- Decreasing back pain and discomfort caused by arthritis
- Improving your self-esteem
Depending on your goals, you can adjust your training sessions to help improve your physique, athletic performance, or strength. Below, you’ll learn how to tweak your exercise program to accomplish your goals for each.
Note: If you have never been exposed to resistance training before, you should consult a personal trainer about your goals.
They will help you design a personalized program to mitigate your risk of injury, help you practice good form, and ensure you’re doing exercises that will help accomplish your goals.
If Your Goal Is Aesthetics
If you want to hit the gym and start resistance training because you want to improve your physique and build muscle mass, that’s great. But your strategy for aesthetic goals will be different than for strength goals.
To accomplish aesthetic goals, your job is to burn out your muscles. For example, if you want chiseled biceps because it’s aesthetically pleasing, you won’t do five bicep curls at your maximum weight. Instead, you’ll add volume (or reps) to your workout, performing 12-15 curls.
Alternatively, you could implement an isometric hold, repping out five curls, then holding for 10 seconds. Both strategies are known as increasing your “time under tension”[*].
How to train for aesthetic goals:
- Work smaller muscle groups, like your biceps and triceps
- Aim for 12+ reps per move
- Experiment with isometric holds
If You Want to Build Strength
If the goal of your training program is to build muscular strength, you’ll want to increase the amount of resistance. Therefore, if you’re using body weight movements in your strength training program, you may want to progress to using light weights.
Eventually, you’ll move on to heavy weights targeting major muscle groups with exercises such as deadlifts, squats, and bench press.
To increase your muscle strength, try these tactics:
- Work major body parts, like your back, legs, and glutes
- Decrease reps
- Add speed or explosiveness to your reps
- Add weight
If Your Goal Is to Improve Athletic Performance
If you want to incorporate resistance exercises into your athletic training, your workouts may look quite different than someone hoping to accomplish aesthetic goals. At the gym, you might bypass the weight machines entirely, focusing on training exercises that combine speed, agility, and balance.
To increase your athletic performance, you will first shift from body weight exercises to weighted exercises. Then, you may test your balance. Instead of doing a regular squat, you could try a Bulgarian split squat, which requires you to stand on one leg.
To improve your athletic performance:
- Try single-leg exercises (for a lower body workout) or single-arm exercises (for an upper body workout)
- Increase the speed of your exercises
- Add weight
Remember earlier when you learned about muscle hypertrophy? Just in case, here’s a refresher:
Muscle hypertrophy is when your muscle fibers grow after being broken down in a workout. In order for this to happen, your muscles go through something called “muscle protein synthesis.” In this process, you consume amino acids — the building blocks of protein — to repair and restore your muscles[*].
When you start weight training, you may need to increase your protein intake. Some people find they need to eat up to one gram of protein per pound of body weight in order to see muscle growth[*]. Fortunately, this is completely doable on the keto diet.
When weight training on keto, you may need to consume upwards of 100-150 grams of protein per day. This could come from animal sources such as ground beef, chicken breasts, and seafood.
If you’re looking for a vegetarian protein source (or find yourself falling short of your daily protein goal), you may want to try consuming a shake with protein powder after a workout.
Perfect Keto Whey Protein is made with grass-fed whey protein, and contains 15 grams of protein per scoop, making it the perfect post-workout fuel.
There are plenty of ways to start a resistance training program — and many methods don’t require weights.
As a beginner, you can challenge yourself in a workout by increasing repetitions, adding weight, or trying single-leg exercises. Adjust your training approach based on your goals, whether they be for aesthetics, muscle growth, or athletic performance.
In order to see muscle gains from resistance training, you must have adequate nutrition. Protein is required in order for your muscles to rebuild post-workout. On a keto diet, you can get protein from animal sources as well as supplements.