Strength Training for Diabetes Management: Improving Insulin Sensitivity & Quality of Life

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Type 2 diabetes is one of the leading causes of death today. Type 2 diabetes is a disease that affects the body’s ability to regulate sugars also known as glucose.

Insulin is one of the body’s main anabolic hormones and it’s responsible for the metabolism of all your macro-nutrients, like your carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. The problem is when insulin gets dysregulated or people spike their blood sugar too much throughout the day or throughout their life, and that takes a huge toll on the body. It can manifest itself in a lot of undesired body composition issues like body fat storage.

Having a consistent training routine is vital in warding off type 2 diabetes. When the body is active, it utilizes the sugar as energy more efficiently.

Charles Poliquin’s Biosignature Modulation teaches that excess or dysregulated insulin levels cause body fat storage to show up. Love handles are a distinctive example of this.

In this article, we will cover how proper strength training for diabetes can help regulate the metabolism and minimize symptoms of diabetes.

Understanding Diabetes and Strength Training

There are 3 main types of diabetes.

  • Type 1
  • Type 2
  • Gestational diabetes

Type 1 usually sets in during adolescence. In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas secretes little to no insulin because the immune system attacks the cells that produce insulin. Unfortunately, there is no cure for type 1 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is onset and occurs usually later in life. Type 2 diabetes is usually caused by diet and lifestyle. A diet high in sugar and a sedentary lifestyle are the 2 main culprits that will increase the risk of type 2 diabetes!

Then there is gestational diabetes. Gestational diabetes is brought on during mid to late pregnancy. During pregnancy, insulin resistance is increased due to the overall uptick of hormones because the body needs to create life. This can cause some issues, for example, if the body is already insulin-resistant before the pregnancy, then the onset of gestational diabetes will have a higher chance of occurring.

Implementing physical activity, such as strength training, into your routine can manage and even prevent the body from ever obtaining type 2 or even gestational diabetes.

For type 1, a healthy lifestyle can manage the metabolism and prevent any further issues. During physical activity, your body utilizes the energy systems. One of the main sources of fuel for intense exercise is carbohydrates, which break down into glucose and insulin and then shuttle it into the cells for energy.

Training depletes glucose from the muscles and the liver (where it’s stored). Then, when you consume carbohydrates, they will be utilized more effectively.

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the storage tank is full, it puts more stress on the pancreas, and the cell’s maximum capacity of glucose is met so no more can get through.

Benefits of Strength Training for Diabetes

Strength training cannot cure any form of diabetes, but if your blood ranges are in the pre diabetic range, then you may want to begin monitoring your nutrition and start moving. Strength training can help in the following ways:

1. Improved Insulin Sensitivity and Glucose Regulation

Strength training for diabetes is a powerful tool for enhancing insulin sensitivity and glucose regulation.

It accomplishes this by raising the demand for glucose in active muscles during resistance training, making these muscles more efficient at using insulin to transfer glucose from the bloodstream into cells.

This decrease in insulin resistance allows diabetics to better manage their blood sugar levels, potentially reducing their dependency on excessive insulin or other drugs.

2. Increased Muscle Mass and Metabolism

Embracing strength training for diabetes promotes the growth and maintenance of lean muscle mass, which carries multiple benefits.

Individuals with increased muscular mass have a higher resting metabolic rate, burning more calories even when at rest. This aids in good weight management and the maintenance of normal blood sugar levels.

Muscles also act as glucose reservoirs, storing glycogen that may be easily accessed as an energy source, assisting in the maintenance of healthy blood sugar levels.

3. Enhanced Cardiovascular Health

Strength training for diabetes delivers positive impacts on cardiovascular health. It helps to lower blood pressure, which is important for diabetics because they are at a higher risk of cardiac issues.

Furthermore, resistance exercise can improve lipid profiles by reducing triglycerides and increasing HDL cholesterol levels. This synergistic impact lowers the risk of atherosclerosis. 

Strength training for diabetes improves general fitness and endurance, which facilitates participation in cardiovascular workouts, which is an important feature of diabetes heart health care.

Misconceptions of Strength Training and Diabetes

Strength training will cause hypoglycemia

False: Strength training actually helps to regulate blood sugar better by utilizing it as energy during the workout. The processes that build muscle help stabilize insulin. 

Strength training is not suitable for individuals with diabetes

False: Strength training, unlike cardio training, is actually more suitable for individuals with diabetes. Cardio, such as running, can cause wear and tear on the lower body joints. If one is not in great shape, running is not the best place to start. Strength training is, and you can get better at it and feel better immediately. 

Cardio is enough for diabetes management

False: All activity is good activity. But, specifically with diabetes management, building muscle through muscle protein synthesis is very beneficial in regulating insulin and utilizing metabolic energy. The best way to do that is by lifting weights. 

Strength training can lead to unhealthy weight gain

False: Strength training itself cannot lead to ‘unhealthy’ weight gain. If following a balanced nutrition plan that corresponds with your activity level, then any weight gain will be lean muscle mass. Which is weight that only adds to your quality of life. In fact, numerous studies show that the more lean muscle mass you have the longer health/lifespan you will have. 

Strength training is only for younger individuals

False: Strength training is for everyone, the best time to start is now. Strength training can build strength, flexibility, increase your cardiac output, and make you look better all at the same time.

Personalized Strength Training for Diabetics

Just like everything else in life, what gets managed will improve. A personal trainer, as opposed to a medical doctor, will have more time to work with you.

A well-qualified personal trainer for diabetics will have a thorough grasp of your physical limitations and will be able to design a specific strength training program that attempts to improve your physical capabilities while taking your medical condition into account.

Along with the training protocol, you will also have a nutrition plan based on your goals and current physical state.

Before starting your training, be sure to consult with a medical professional so they can clear you. Once you are cleared to go by a medical professional, you will be ready to train!

Clients at MECA will be paired with strength coaches who are trained in how to handle weight lifting and diabetes.

Do’s and Don’ts for Weightlifting and Diabetes

For individuals with diabetes looking to incorporate weight training for diabetics, it’s essential to prioritize certain aspects to ensure a safe and effective experience.

First and foremost is nutrition. While engaging in weight training and diabetes management, it’s crucial to ensure that you are receiving adequate nutrition to properly fuel your body during your workouts.

When seeking clearance from your doctor, inquire about any specific limitations or precautions relevant to weight training for diabetics. Additionally, pay close attention to your carbohydrate intake. Over Consumption may lead to potential issues, so it’s important to monitor your carbohydrate levels carefully.

Strength training for diabetics should focus on total body exercises that not only build muscle mass but also aim to elevate your heart rate and fatigue muscle tissue. This approach is particularly effective for individuals managing diabetes.

Here’s an example workout that serves as an excellent starting point:

  • A1: DB Seated Shoulder Press 3×12-15 4010 45
  • A2: Seated Leg Extension 3×12-15 2011 45
  • B1: Seated Machine Row 3×12-15 3011 45
  • B2: Lying Leg Curl 3×10-12 4010 45
  • C1: DB Seated Curl 3×12-15 3010 45
  • C2: Incline Back Extension 3×12-15 2012 45
  • C3: Decline Ab Sit Ups 3×20-25 2010 45

This workout comprises predominantly weight training for diabetics, targeting the entire body with multiple upper and lower body movements in each superset. Such an approach effectively raises the heart rate as the body must work vigorously to supply blood to both the upper and lower body simultaneously.

In this workout, rest intervals are also minimized, incorporating incomplete rest, which makes the session more challenging in terms of recovery due to increased lactic acid in the muscles—a valuable strength training method for diabetics as it promotes better glucose metabolism and overall fitness.

Insulin and Bodybuilding: Balancing Diabetes Management and Fitness Goals

Insulin has a significant impact on bodybuilding, particularly for individuals seeking muscle growth and workout optimization.

In the context of bodybuilding, insulin serves as a critical anabolic hormone that plays a pivotal role in promoting muscle development.

It facilitates the uptake of essential nutrients and glucose into muscle cells, enhancing protein synthesis, promoting glycogen storage, and aiding in the post-exercise recovery process.

However, for individuals focusing on bodybuilding who also rely on insulin, precise insulin management is essential. Balancing insulin effectively helps harness its muscle-building benefits while maintaining stable blood sugar levels throughout the process.

Choosing the most suitable insulin types and protocols for bodybuilding in individuals relying on insulin is a highly personalized decision that should be made in consultation with a healthcare provider.

Fast-acting insulins such as Humalog or NovoLog are often favored due to their rapid onset and shorter duration, making them ideal for post-workout insulin use.

Bodybuilders may consider employing insulin stacking protocols, where small doses of fast-acting insulin are administered in a staggered manner to manage nutrient uptake during or after training.

The specific protocol should be tailored to the individual’s insulin sensitivity and glucose levels.

Consistency in meal timing, carbohydrate intake, and diligent insulin dosage adjustments are crucial components of a safe and effective bodybuilding regimen for individuals relying on insulin.

When incorporating insulin into a bodybuilding regimen, strict adherence to precautions and guidelines is essential to prevent hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).

Regular monitoring of blood glucose levels before, during, and after exercise is critical.

Reducing insulin dosages before a workout is advisable to minimize the risk of exercise-induced hypoglycemia.

A balanced, carbohydrate-rich meal prior to exercise can help stabilize blood sugar levels.

It’s important to have a readily accessible source of fast-acting carbohydrates, such as glucose tablets, during the workout in case of sudden drops in blood sugar.

After the workout, insulin dosages may need to be adjusted based on post-exercise glucose levels

Effective and safe utilization of insulin in the context of bodybuilding for individuals relying on it necessitates ongoing communication with a healthcare provider, continuous glucose monitoring, and adherence to an individualized insulin regimen.

For more information, click here to get our FREE Insulin Protocol Guide.

Resistance Training and Diabetes: Research Insights

Aside from the world of bodybuilding and weight lifting, numerous studies, journals, & medical professionals all agree that physical activity, like lifting weights, is a best practice that all diabetics should add to their weekly routine.

According to the CDC and the Journal of Human Hypertension. Strength training reduces hypertension, which is a huge risk factor for Type II diabetics.

Strength training for diabetes control is a great way to manage the body’s cholesterol. It is also well-studied and stated that weight training will increase bone density.

Diabetics don’t have lower mineral count in their bones but they do score higher in having a bone fracture as compared to people without diabetes.

Weight lifting will prevent age-related muscle loss. According to the PLoS One research journal, diabetics are linked to an accelerated degeneration of muscle as they age.


Diabetes is a disease that significantly impacts the body’s ability to produce or effectively utilize insulin, a hormone responsible for transporting blood sugar from the bloodstream into the cells.

Individuals with diabetes either don’t produce an adequate amount of insulin or their cells exhibit resistance, hindering the efficient utilization of insulin.

This condition poses a substantial health challenge and is considered one of the leading causes of death in the United States.

However, it’s important to note that effective management of diabetes, which includes lifestyle modifications like strength training for diabetes, can significantly improve an individual’s quality of life and reduce the associated health risks.


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