Resistance Training Tips

National Academy of Sports Medicine
National Academy of Sports Medicine

By Fabio Comana MS, MA, NASM-CPT, CES, PES

Resistance training provides an almost endless list of benefits, including the preservation of, or an increase in muscle mass and bone density, and an elevated metabolic rate that effectively helps us burn more calories and lose unwanted body fat. But what if the thought of a 60-minute resistance training routine does not inspire or motivate you? While you may recognize the importance of these benefits, how do you overcome your existing barriers, perceptions, and lack of motivation? One solution may lie in developing a simpler, more appealing approach; one built on promoting more positive experiences and diverse improvements that can help reshape those perceptions and attitudes, and in time, learn to enjoy this essential type of training. For those of us already in love with resistance training, this approach may offer some desired or needed variety.

You might find this interesting: Strength Training Principles for New Clients

Question Your Current Routine

Start by first answering a few short questions. The information gained from this introspection will prove helpful in both the short-term and over the long haul in guiding many of the decisions you make regarding resistance training and the types of training programs you follow.

  • Identify the key objective behind your intention to participate in a resistance training program. Is your goal primarily to build muscle mass for aesthetics or enhanced sports performance, improve your health, or to increase your metabolism for weight loss?
  • Based upon identified goal(s), programs will be uniquely different. This is where an NASM-certified professional provides tremendous value to help customize your program design to meet your unique needs and desires.
    • What types of resistance training activities do you currently participate in that you find enjoyable and feel confident that you could adhere to indefinitely?
    • Are there any forms of resistance training formats you find intriguing or interesting that you’d like to try in the near future (e.g., kettlebell training, suspension training, Olympic weightlifting)?
    • Are there any forms of resistance training you believe would help you achieve your goals, but you believe would deliver less than enjoyable experiences? Can you explain your rationale for thinking this way?

Regardless of your answers, a simple starting approach is to reframe your exercise session if it appears a little overwhelming. Rather than thinking of a 60-minute resistance training workout, view that timeframe as an event involving multiple smaller workouts (microsessions), with each section training something uniquely different. This method aligns itself with NASM’s Optimum Performance Training ™ (OPT™) philosophy of integrated training where programs address the multiple parameters of fitness (e.g., strength, endurance, balance, reactivity, power) more frequently as illustrated below, which translates into greater results and functional improvements (1, 2).

resistance training tips

You might be feeling a little overwhelmed or perhaps confused by these different terms and what they mean, or perhaps feel uncertain about which exercises to select to effectively train each of these parameters. Here is where your commitment has an opportunity to shine – investing a small amount of time to better understand these concepts. Many online resources are available, but even scheduling an opportunity to talk with an NASM-certified personal trainer, even if it is just once to begin with, may enlighten you with the knowledge you need to design a program to get you going. Remember, this does not need to be complicated, only a few exercises are neded to fit into each microsession.

This integrated approach can also provide a motivational boost, allowing you to focus upon completing more manageable, targeted, shorter sessions versus one longer workout. Additionally, by having the ability to choose which parameters you want to train and creating some variety within your workout, you can further improve motivation. This method will also enable you to accomplish more overall physical work throughout the entire workout due to a higher work rate and effort put forth for each shorter session. This concept of increasing your work rate using an assorted variety of exercises alternating between different parameters rather than a high work rate program repeating the same exercises provides numerous benefits (3 – 5):

  • Increases the calorie burn rate for those seeking to lose weight.
  • Enhances opportunities to build more muscle mass (a concept known as metabolic stress).
  • Reduces the risk of poor technique and potential injury due to inadequate recovery periods between sets targeting the same muscle groups.
  • Creates better overall exercise experiences as individuals achieve greater success in competing all selected exercises.

As an example to illustrate this approach, a 50-minute workout could be comprised of seven, 6-minute smaller workouts or microsessions alternating between different parameters:

  • 6-minute warm-up and balance training (stabilization).
  • Short transition.
    • 6-minutes of various lower-extremity strength exercises (e.g., dumbbell squats, body weight side lunges) performed as a small circuit or superset (i.e., two exercises performed in succession before taking a rest interval between sets).
    • Short transition.
      • 6-minutes of core/abs (stabilization, endurance).
      • Short transition.
        • 6-minutes of various upper-extremity endurance exercises (e.g., push motions – chest, shoulder, triceps; joint-specific – shoulders) performed as a small circuit or superset.
        • Short transition.
          • 6-minutes of various agility and reactivity drills (power) (e.g., moving between cones/agility ladder).
          • Short transition.
            • 6-minutes of other upper-extremity strength exercises (e.g., pull motions – back, biceps; joint-specific – arms) performed as a small circuit or superset.
            • Short transition.
              • 6-minutes of cool-down and stretching.

As a guide, aim to place more emphasis initially upon the time allocated to each microsession rather than how many sets and reps you can complete. Challenge yourself during each microsession to maintain a high work rate, but don’t compromise your exercise technique (i.e., take the necessary recovery time between a set or exercise as needed). If you do feel the need to follow a quantity guideline, then plan to target about 12 – 15 repetitions per exercise initially completing between one and three sets. Do remember however, that the goal with this approach is to promote more positive experiences and outcomes, so consider the impact of muscle soreness upon your experiences. This muscle soreness that we experience 12 – 72 hours following exercise is usually inevitable, but it should be manageable as it can influence future decisions to exercise. The greater the volume of training (i.e., sets x reps) on a muscle, the greater the potential for muscle growth (i.e., 1 set is inferior to 2 sets, etc.), but also for muscle soreness. In other words, 2 sets are superior to 1 set, but they also increase the potential for muscle soreness. Considering how muscle doesn’t usually show any noticeable changes in structure or size for 3 – 5 weeks (6), completing 1 – 2 sets is initially adequate in order to manage muscle soreness.

All exercise programs should systematically progress so that your body continues to make improvements. After a few weeks of training, when you feel more confident in your abilities and have greater capacity to do more work, consider a gradual progression by increasing the duration of your microsessions. For example, you may opt to increase each 6-minute microsession to an 8-minute microsession, and over time, further progress towards 10-minute microsessions.

This approach aims to lower some of the existing barriers to starting or adhering to exercise we all face that include energy, motivation and time, or perhaps anxieties or lack of interest associated with doing too much of the same thing. This approach provides choices and variety, matches more closely to your preferences, which boosts motivation, and should ultimately promote overall better experiences, adherence and more comprehensive improvements.


1        Clark, MA, Sutton, BG, and Lucett, SC. (2012). NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training (4th Edition). Baltimore, MD: Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins.

2        Padua, DiStefano & Clark. (2012). Comparison of isolated (traditional) and integrated (OPT) training on functional performance measures. NASM Research Institute (unpublished).

3        Schoenfeld, B. (2011). The use of specialized training techniques to maximize muscle hypertrophy. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 33(4), 60-65.

4        Willardson, JM. (2006). A brief review: factors affecting the length of the rest interval between resistance exercise sets. Journal of Strength Conditioning Research, 20(4), 978-98.

5        Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2009). Injury episodes and circumstances: National Health Interview Survey, 1997-2007, Vital and Health Statistics, 10 (241). Retrieved 06/15/13.

6        Kenney, LW, Wilmore, JH and Costill, DL. (2012). Physiology of Sport and Exercise (5th Edition). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

The Author

National Academy of Sports Medicine

National Academy of Sports Medicine

Since 1987 the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) has been the global leader in delivering evidence-based certifications and advanced specializations to health and fitness professionals. Our products and services are scientifically and clinically proven. They are revered and utilized by leading brands and programs around the world and have launched thousands of successful careers.