Manual resistance training can be a creative, time efficient and productive alternative to conventional strength training.

As strength training, muscular fitness and variety in exercise become more popular with fitness enthusiasts, the interest and participation in alternative forms of strength training is rising. With growing demand, many fitness facilities are finding their strength-training equipment inadequate. Weight rooms become overcrowded. Members find long lines and congested fitness centers inconvenient, time-consuming and sometimes intimidating. Consequently, a reduction in member program participation, member satisfaction and member retention can occur.

Luckily, there is a solution. Manual resistance training provides strength-training enthusiasts a safe, productive and time-efficient alternative to more conventional and costly forms of strength training. Anyone interested in developing maximum muscular strength and endurance can be taught, in a matter of minutes, how to safely and effectively “spot” and perform a manual resistance workout. It is designed to create maximum muscular strength and endurance without the use of equipment or machines.

Resistance or “overload” is created by a training partner, and when performed properly, is as effective and intense as any dumbbell, barbell or machine. For example, when working the shoulders and performing manual resistance lateral raises, the spotter stands behind the lifter with his or her hands on the lifter’s forearms. As the lifter raises his arms, the spotter provides an appropriate amount of resistance to overload the lifter’s shoulders, while still allowing the lifter to maintain a smooth, slow range of motion. Once the lifter has raised his arms to the appropriate position, the spotter begins to apply additional pressure while the lifter resists the downward pressure. As the lifter fatigues, the spotter applies less pressure until muscular fatigue occurs.

As with any other form of strength training, manual resistance training has its advantages and disadvantages.


No equipment is required. Because no special equipment is necessary to perform manual resistance training, it can be performed in almost any location. For example, a fitness instructor can conduct an individual or group workout inside or outside the facility. It provides fitness staff and members flexibility and an opportunity to enjoy alternative environments during their workouts. This change of scenery can increase member motivation, participation and fun. In addition, conducting manual resistance workouts effectively removes members from the strength-training equipment, which relieves overcrowding and congestion.

Muscles can be worked to temporary exhaustion. Manual resistance training can safely and effectively work the muscles to a high-intensity level. A person’s maximum effort and resistance can be sustained during the entire range of motion for each repetition. As the lifter begins to fatigue, resistance is adjusted by the spotter to provide continued maximum resistance for each repetition. If 50 pounds is lifted on the initial movement, the spotter provides 50 pounds of resistance. As the lifter fatigues and is only able to lift 30 pounds, the spotter adjusts the resistance accordingly. This reduces the level of strength down to near temporary exhaustion by creating maximum overload during the entire exercise. The result is maximum muscular involvement and benefits.

Form and technique can be controlled. Unlike traditional forms of strength training, manual resistance uses a spotter to control the lifter’s range of motion, speed and smoothness. This combats the tendency to lose form and technique once a lifter fatigues. Slow, smooth and controlled repetitions should be used at all times.

Groups of individuals can be trained simultaneously. There is no maximum number of participants who can be trained at once. There are no equipment limitations either. Once members are trained in manual resistance, simply pair them up; one member performs the exercises, while the other acts as the resistance. The program instructor should monitor technique of both participants.

It provides variety and is time-efficient and inexpensive. Most workouts can work all of the major muscle groups in just 20 to 30 minutes. And, since no equipment is needed, no upfront costs are required.


Two people are required to perform the exercises. Problems such as coordinating schedules, different levels of fitness commitments and individual personalities may interfere with workout consistency.

The lifter may be stronger than the spotter. If the lifter is stronger than the spotter, there are two simple solutions. Perform all exercises one arm or leg at a time, or work the lifter to fatigue in the raising phase before incorporating the lowering phase.

Individuals need to be trained as both lifters and spotters. Participants need to learn how to interact effectively in both roles.

Manual resistance guidelines

Here are some important guidelines for performing manual resistance exercises:

* Perform each exercise to temporary muscular exhaustion. Exhaustion should occur within 12 to 15 repetitions.

* Perform only one set of each exercise to exhaustion.

* Perform each repetition in a slow, controlled manner.

* Use a variety of manual resistance exercises with each workout.

* Workout three times a week. Always skip a day between workouts.

* Use manual resistance as a supplement to traditional forms of strength training.

Manual resistance is a productive, motivating and time-efficient form of strength training. While different from more conventional forms of strength training, manual resistance offers strength training enthusiasts a creative, fun and intense means of improving muscular strength and endurance.

Manual resistance training can be used for all levels of strength training enthusiasts, for groups and for pairs. While is should not totally replace dumbbells, barbells and machines, it provides a means to improve muscular strength, endurance and tone, while helping to reduce member boredom and frustration, and facility congestion.

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