Weight Training and Diabetes

Before starting any new exercise regimen, be sure to consult with your diabetes healthcare providers.

Have you ever wondered if weight training is right for you?

| Sep 1, 2005

Have you ever wondered if weight training is right for you? Maybe you think it’s only for the “muscle heads” at the gym or the women on ESPN who flex for the cameras.

A weight-training program for many people may mean going to the gym, but working out at home with dumbbells or resistance bands can help you get started.

Two Times a Week Is a Good Start

The American College of Sports Medicine and the American Diabetes Association recommend that you train a minimum of two times per week, doing eight to 12 repetitions per set of eight to 10 exercises targeting major muscle groups.

Some Benefits of Weight Training

Weight (or resistance) training can help you maintain lean body mass, which helps with weight management, decreases the chances of osteoporosis, prevents injuries and increases sports performance.

For people with diabetes, weight training helps increase glucose uptake by the muscles and helps the body store glucose. The stored form of glucose is called glycogen. Glycogen must be replenished after exercise, so anything that helps your body to store glucose is a plus for people with diabetes.

Weight training also increases your metabolism—even after you have finished with your workout. A faster metabolism not only helps you burn more calories, it helps insulin work better, too.

The Overload Principle

It’s important to understand the basics of weight training.

The Overload Principle is a concept based on “overloading” the muscles by lifting more than it is used to lifting. This is relative; a sedentary older person may overload the muscles with only 3 to 5 pounds, whereas a younger athlete may have to lift 250 pounds to get the desired results.

As the muscles grow stronger, you need to increase the overload, but once the desired strength is achieved, there is no need to continuing overloading.

A less-challenging or maintenance approach may suffice. Overloading doesn’t necessarily mean adding more weight or resistance; it can be accomplished by increasing the number of repetitions, decreasing the rest time between sets, or increasing the number of exercises in your workout. If you use too heavy a weight, your form may suffer and injury is more likely to occur. If you use too light a weight, your body doesn’t have to adapt to an overload, and gains become harder to achieve.

Progressive Resistance Training

Progressive resistance training must be done to overload the muscle. This is a strength-training method in which you constantly increase the overload to facilitate adaptation.

The Greeks first witnessed progressive resistive exercises when a young man lifted a calf each day until it reached its full growth.

It is well documented that the size of skeletal muscle is affected by the amount of muscular activity performed. In order to increase the size or strength of a muscle, you have to use a progressive resistive approach. Everyone has a genetic ceiling when it comes to how much one can lift. For most people, the risks of heavy lifting outweigh the benefits, so lifting a weight to one’s maximum potential is not recommended unless it is part of a competition or possibly for sports performance.

People with diabetes need to be more conservative when lifting heavy weights, especially if they have diabetic retinopathy. Be sure to consult with your diabetes care team for clearance.

Safety first, always!

Setting Your Goals for Weight Training

Before starting a weight-training program, you need to identify your goals.

For example, an athlete who competes in speed-strength sports may perform low-repetition, high-intensity exercises during or immediately prior to the competitive season. A person interested in bodybuilding may perform more sets and repetitions of exercises and more exercises per body part than weight lifters or strength athletes. Their goal is to build large, defined, symmetrical muscles. Another person might want to simply “tone up,” which could mean doing one to three sets of eight to 10 reps, two or three times per week.

People vary in the rate at which they gain strength. This is partly due to the different kinds of muscle fibers. Endurance athletes tend to have more slow-twitch fibers, whereas strength athletes will have more fast-twitch fibers. People with more fast-twitch fibers tend to gain strength faster. The bottom line is that genetics plays a role, but training can influence strength gains, too.

Getting Started

Before starting a weight-training session, it is best to raise your core body temperature by a couple of degrees. This can be accomplished by walking briskly on a treadmill or riding a stationary bike for five to seven minutes. A good indicator is to have a light sweat across your forehead. Next you should stretch the muscles you will be working (arms or legs). Holding a stretch for 30 seconds and doing two or three reps should be enough. It’s also a good idea to stretch between sets so you can make the most of your rest periods.

Spending 30 to 45 minutes doing five to seven weight-training exercises is plenty when you are first getting started. Remember that your muscles need time to recuperate from a workout, so never work the same muscle group two days in a row. If you train three days a week, a Monday, Wednesday, Friday or Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday schedule is ideal. A good rule of thumb for the order of exercises is to start with the large muscle groups (chest) then move on to the small muscle groups (biceps).

To determine the correct weight for an exercise, it should be heavy enough to cause fatigue by the last few repetitions in each set. If you are lifting three sets of 10 reps, the ninth and 10th rep should be difficult for you to perform while maintaining proper form. Good lifting technique means that you maintain proper posture while moving through the lift in a slow, controlled fashion. A count of two to four for the push or pull and a count of four to six on the recovery phase or the return to starting position are recommended.

Weight-Training Facts

  • Although lifting weights should not produce pain during a workout, you may experience muscle soreness a day or two after a new exercise routine, which can last for 24 hours. This pain, called delayed-onset muscle soreness, is caused by changes in the muscle fibers necessary for muscle growth and repair.
  • Most gyms have various weight-training equipment from which to choose. People are usually started on machines since they are safer. They help stabilize your body and guide the body through the specific muscle patterns. Machines need to be adjusted to fit your body; many of the newer machines available at gyms are computerized to streamline this process.
  • With free weights, you can fit the exercise for your body. Free weights provide an opportunity to the body to learn additional motor skills for stabilization and balance, although proper form is essential to prevent injury. A trainer is highly recommended when starting to use free weights. Many gyms also have bands with various resistance that provide weight-training benefits.

—Gerri French, MS, RD, CDE

Below are sample weight-training programs for three people with different goals. All three discussed their exercise programs with their healthcare providers before starting.

1. A weight-training program for a middle-aged woman with type 1 diabetes who wants to start a strength-training program because she is concerned about osteoporosis and also wants to tone up.

Monday, Wednesday and Friday

One to three sets of 10 reps, resting one minute between sets

Chest press, row, elbow curls, elbow extension, leg press, knee flexion

2. A weight-training program for a competitive athlete with diabetes who wants to increase speed and strength as well as prevent injuries prior to the season.

Tuesday and Friday

Three to six sets of two to four reps (80 to 90 percent of maximum lift), resting three to four minutes between sets

Dead lifts, squats, power cleans, free-weight bench press, bent-over row

3. A weight-training program for an older man with type 2 diabetes who was told by his doctor to start an exercise program that includes strength training.

Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday

Three sets of 10 to 15 reps, resting three minutes between sets

Chest press, row, seated military press, lat pull down, knee extension, knee flexion

Safety Precautions

Here are some basic guidelines and safety precautions for a person with diabetes who wants to start a weight-training program:

  • Talk with your healthcare professional before starting a weight-training program and consult with him or her if any problems arise with your diabetes control.
  • Start out using low weights and higher reps, while concentrating on your form. It’s a good idea to work with a personal trainer for a few sessions to help tailor your program to your needs and to make sure you are using proper form.
  • DO NOT hold your breath when you lift weights; this technique (known as the Valsalva maneuver) raises blood pressure and increases the pressure within your eyes.
  • If you are using free weights (as for a free-weight bench press), always have a spotter.
  • Avoid doing an exercise that causes pain. A burning sensation in the muscle is okay, but any exercise that causes pain in a joint or a sharp or shooting pain should be avoided.

Weight-Training Terminology

There are many terms used in the fitness industry when describing weight training. “Weight training,” “weight lifting,” “strength training” and “resistance training” are often used interchangeably.

Here are some of the basic terms and phrases used in weight training with a brief definition of each.

Bar: The metal shaft that forms the handle of a barbell or dumbbell.

Barbell: A bar used with weighted plates on each end to create resistance.

Breathing (proper): Inhale through the nose just before performing the exercise and exhale through the mouth with the exertion. Inhale on the way back and exhale when lifting the weight again.

Burn: A sensation felt in a muscle when it has been worked intensely. It is caused by exhausting the muscle, which creates microscopic muscle tears.

Circuit weight training: A program that mixes light- to moderate-intensity weight training with aerobic training. A circuit program might involve 10 to 15 stations set up at close intervals. The goal is to move from station to station with little rest between exercises until the entire circuit has been completed.

Dumbbell: A one-handed barbell. Dumbbells are shorter and usually lighter in weight.

Failure: Working the muscles to the point where one cannot continue to perform the exercise.

Form (proper): Moving a weight in a controlled and smooth manner through a range of motion staying in correct alignment and without locking out your joints.

Free weights: Versatile dumbbells and barbells free of any machine support or pulley assistance. Many athletes use this form of weight training.

Hypertrophy: An increase in muscle size as a result of high-intensity weight training.

Isolation: Focusing an exercise so that it emphasizes one particular muscle.

Overload: The amount of force against which a muscle is required to work that surpasses the weight which it ordinarily handles.

Power lifting: A sport that involves lifting the heaviest weight possible for one repetition (as in a squat or dead lift). Athletes “power lift” by using heavy weights with few reps to increase power.

Progression: To methodically increase the stress a muscle can tolerate during an exercise. This can be accomplished by increasing the weight, the number of repetitions or the number of sets or by decreasing the rest interval between sets.

Repetition: Often called a “rep.” This involves moving a body part through a specific range of motion and back to the starting point. When the body part has progressed through that range of motion and back to the starting point, one repetition has been completed (as in lifting a weight up and down once).

Resistance: The actual weight against which a muscle is performing. This can be done with free weights, machines, resistance bands or even one’s own body weight.

Routine: A program with a distinct schedule of exercises (such as an upper-body or lower-body routine).

Set: A succession of repetitions done without rest (10 reps = 1 set).

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Posted by Anonymous on 6 November 2007

The information provided seems very basic and could apply to anyone, diabetic or not. There is no mention of any special consideratons, or if any are needed where diabetics are concerned......

Posted by Anonymous on 17 December 2007

Diabetics need to carry 3 glucose bars or plain sugar with them while performing ny kind of weight training. Your sugar level may dip below the normal level.... in such case little sugar or a glucose bar will bring the sufar back to normal level...

Posted by Anonymous on 17 December 2007

What about diet for diabetics who are interested in muscle growth. 0 carb lot of protiens?

Posted by Anonymous on 24 December 2007

I'm doing Judo for 7 and a half year and i hadn't got any problems with diabetics. So sport will reduce your sugar level. So you must not only do sport for muscels you cal also do it therefor.
Pille McCoy

Posted by Anonymous on 31 May 2008

this seriosuly doesnt tell me anything i didnt already know... it reads like a copy and paste.. the info formation was limited at best.... nothing remotely regarding diabetic weight traing....

Posted by Anonymous on 17 January 2009

I'm 53 year old male and have been a type II diabetic for more than 13 years. I'm currently on rapid insulin. Since starting my weight training program a few weeks ago, I use less than half my daily insulin intake on the days when I train. I do not train to "overload"; however, I do train every muscle group. At the moment, my routine starts with a gym ball warm-up for 10 minutes and about 45 minutes of 1-2 sets. My average glucose reading is about 5-6mmol 2 hours after meals. I think I'll continue with this exercise plan. I'll let you know how I progress.

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