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The Sport Digest - ISSN: 1558-6448

Progressive Resistance Training

Progressive resistance training dates back to ancient Greece. Legend states that wrestler Milo of Croton trained by carrying a newborn calf on his back every day until it was fully grown. Resistance training involves the use of elastic resistance rather than gravity, whereas weight training provides the majority of the resistance at the beginning. Elastic resistance provides the greatest resistance at the end of the motion, when the elastic element is stretched to its fullest capacity (Todd, 1995).

Progressive resistance is essential for building muscle and reaching goals, such as rehabilitation. The body adapts to exercise, and it needs to be constantly challenged in order to grow and change.

Progressive resistance training (PRT) is an attempt to induce a wide spectrum of physiological, functional, and psychological health-related adaptations. PRT has been established as the choice for inducing skeletal muscle hypertrophy in healthy adults and those with chronic disease.

The purpose of physical training is to stress the body systematically to improve its capacity for exercise. Physical training is beneficial only as long as it forces the body to adapt to the stress of physical effort. Significant improvements in performance occur when the appropriate exercise stresses are introduced into an athlete’s training program. Physical fitness is largely a reflection of the level of training.

Muscles adapt specifically to the nature of the exercise stress. A PRT program should stress the muscles in the manner in which they are to perform. The most obvious example of specificity is that exercised muscles adapt to training. Thus, if you exercise the leg muscles, they hypertrophy rather than the muscles of the shoulders.

There is specific recruitment of motor units within a muscle, depending upon the requirements of the contraction. The slow twitch fibers are relatively fatigue-resistant, but have a lower tension capacity than the fast twitch fibers. The fast twitch fibers can contract more rapidly and forcefully, but fatigue rapidly. Increases in strength are very specific to the type of exercise, even when the same muscle groups are used. Specific motor units are recruited for specific tasks. If a person is weight training to improve strength for another activity, the exercises should emulate the desired movements. Likewise, after an injury or surgery, rehabilitation should include muscle movements that emulate as closely as possible normal activities (Fahey, 1998).

PRT improves muscle strength in older people but does not reduce their overall physical disabilities. Older people who have weak muscles are more likely to have problems carrying out daily activities and are prone to fall. With PRT, people exercise their muscles against a force or resistance and this resistance is increased as the person becomes stronger. Older people who do these exercises become stronger and improve their performance of simple activities such as walking or standing up from a chair (Latham, Anderson, Bennett, Stretton, 2003).

According to researchers, PRT appears to be an effective method by which to increase strength in older people. It is difficult to determine the balance of risks and benefits because adverse events have generally been poorly recorded throughout time.

To show how PRT can benefit individuals, a study was conducted to see if progressive resistance training decreases abdominal fat and improves insulin sensitivity in older men with type 2 diabetes. Nine men over the age of 66 with type 2 diabetes participated in a 16-week, supervised program for all the main muscle groups. Basal glycemia, diet, physical activity, body composition, and upper and lower maximal strength were measured. The measurements were taken 4 weeks before training, immediately before training, and at 8-week intervals during the 16-week training period. The end results stated that no significant variation was observed in any of the above parameters during the 4-week control period. After PRT, both leg and arm maximal strength increased significantly by 17.1 and 18.2%, respectively. Abdominal fat decreased significantly by 11.2%. No changes were observed in body mass. PRT significantly increased insulin sensitivity by 46.3. Finally, a 15.5% increase in energy intake was observed. From this study, it has been concluded that two sessions per week of PRT, without a weight loss diet, significantly improves insulin sensitivity and fasting glycemia and decreases abdominal fat in older men with type 2 diabetes (Cab Abstracts, 2005).

Developing a systematic progressive resistance program depends upon what one is treating or trying to accomplish. Exercise training is an adaptive process. The body will adapt to the stress of exercise with increased fitness if the stress is above minimum threshold intensity, which will achieve maximum effectiveness, in the adaptation of muscle to stress and conditioning. Overall, PRT can help any individual reduce stress and fat while increasing energy. Most importantly, it can fight against disease. It is a training program like no other.


Cab Abstracts, 2005, Diabetes Care, Vol. 28, Number 23.

Fahey, T.D. 1998, Basic Weight Training for Men and Women. Mt. View, CA: Mayfield Publishing.

Latham, N, Anderson, C., Bennett D, Stretton C, 2003, Progressive resistance strength training for physical disability in older people, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2003, Issue 2.

Todd, Jan, 1995. From Milo to Milo: A History of Barbells, Dumbbells, and Indian Clubs Iron Game History (Vol.3, No.6).