What Is Resistance Training—and Why You Should Care?
Guest article by Christel Oerum, DiabetesStrong.com.
I absolutely love resistance training! I love how empowered it makes me feel and how it helps me manage my diabetes.
Resistance training simply means that you put your muscles to work—building strength by using your body weight, resistance bands or weights. The beauty of all of these options is that resistance training doesn't have to happen in a gym and you don't need a lot of expensive equipment.
I find it so empowering because I love seeing myself get physically stronger week by week, and it is immensely satisfying to be able to do one more squat than last week or lift a heavier dumbbell. Progress is always motivating!
If you need more convincing that resistance training is a good thing, it can also improve your metabolism, burn stored fat and glucose, and improve your insulin sensitivity (how well your body uses insulin), regardless of whether you inject insulin or produce it yourself.1
What to know about resistance training if you live with diabetes.
If you're used to walking or other types of activities where your heart rate stays elevated, you're probably used to exercise making your blood sugar drop. Resistance training is a little different, and you might find that your blood sugar stays the same or even increases temporarily. So, what gives?!?
When you do resistance training, you put your muscles under tension for a short amount of time, take a break, then repeat. For example, you do 10 squats, rest for 30 seconds, and then do 10 more squats. As a result, your heart rate will fluctuate throughout your workout.
This type of exercise typically has little impact on blood sugar or can even make it go up while you exercise.2 The good thing is that blood sugar usually comes down after exercise and you might see a significantly improved insulin sensitivity for up to 24 hours after you've worked out. (Visit DiabetesStrong.com to learn more about why blood sugars can increase during exercise.)
To manage my blood sugar during resistance training, I often have to adjust my insulin before and after the workout to reduce the risk of going high or low.
Of course, we're all different, so you might find that you don't need to make any changes or that you need to make significant changes to your medication. A good place to start is to discuss strategies with your medical team and take it from there.
Even if you don't inject insulin, resistance training can improve your insulin sensitivity. It can be tremendously useful for people living with any type of diabetes, even if you see a small blood sugar increase during your workout.3
Fueling workouts and using the right levers to limit high or low blood sugars.
Success at resistance training comes down to more than just using your muscles. You also need your nutrition to support your goals.
This doesn't have mean boring meals. Training is a great opportunity to make yummy snacks like easy protein pancakes, heat up a chicken casserole, enjoy leftovers from last night's dinner or grab your favorite yogurt and an apple.
I include protein before and after a resistance training workout because muscle fibers are broken down during the workout and muscles need protein to heal and grow back stronger.4 Having some carbohydrates gives you the energy to complete your workout, and I've found that it can help manage the potential blood sugar change you may see.
It's generally recommended that you measure your blood sugar before and sometime during exercise, especially if you treat your diabetes with insulin. That's the only way you will truly understand how your body reacts to different types of exercise and how you will learn to adjust your diabetes management.
My favorite resistance training exercises.
You might be reading this thinking, "This is all great, Christel, but what exercises should I be doing?"
This is an excellent question, and although the exact exercises will depend on what equipment, if any, you have available, there are some exercises I highly recommend in any resistance training workout.
I always suggest what I call the "large" exercises that use many different muscle groups. By working several muscle groups at once, you maximize your time spent.
My top 3 large exercises are:
Squat variations—Squat down until your knees are at angle (or less if you are very flexible) and stand up again. You can also simply sit down on a low chair and stand up again if freestanding squats are too difficult.
Push variations—Do push-ups on the floor or against a wall to make them easier.
Pull variations—Any exercise where you work your back muscles by pulling something toward you.
Don't worry if you don't know how to perform these exercises. I have a whole library of resistance training workouts you can use at home and in the gym. Watch my Diabetes Strong videos to see multiple variations of each exercise.
Any time you start something new, go slowly. You need to push yourself a little to get stronger, but going from 0% to 100% overnight may end in injuries. Do your research and learn how to perform the exercises, or have a trainer at a gym walk you through them. Most gyms will give you an intro workout with a trainer for free or at a large discount.
Resistance training is no longer only for big bodybuilders. People of all ages are falling in love with resistance training and the benefits it brings—especially for those of us living with diabetes.
1Colbert SR, Sigal RJ, Yardley JE, et al. Physical activity/exercise and diabetes: a position statement of the American Diabetes Association. Diabetes Care. 2016;39(11): 2065-2079. Available at: http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/39/11/2065. Accessed April 9, 2019.
2Lukàcs A, Barkai L. Effect of aerobic and anaerobic exercises on glycemic control in type 1 diabetic youths. World J Diabetes. 2015;6(3): 534-542. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4398909/. Accessed April 9, 2019.
3Eves ND, Plotnikoff RC. Resistance training and type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2006;29(8): 1933-1941. Available at: http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/29/8/1933. Accessed April 9, 2019.
4Phillips SM, Van Loon LJ. Dietary protein for athletes: from requirements to optimum adaptation. J Sports Sci. 2011;29(1): S29-38. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22150425. Accessed April 9, 2019.