July 16, 2018 1

The Benefits of Resistance Training for Blood Sugar Health

Posted by:Dr. Brian Mowll onJuly 16, 2018

Studies continue to show a troubling health trend: the incidence of diabetes, particularly type 2, is continually on the rise around the world. Characterized by insulin resistance (where insulin is not effectively used in the body) and elevated blood glucose levels, type 2 diabetes can result in both neural and metabolic dysfunction and lead to cardiovascular disease.

When we eat carbohydrates, our blood glucose levels rise, either quickly or slowly. Either way, once glucose has been released into the blood stream, the body can move it out of there in two ways – by getting rid of it through uptake by the muscles, or by storing it as fat or glycogen.  

The problem in diabetes, of course, is that storage of glucose requires mediation by insulin, and this natural pathway is impaired by the disease. As I discussed in my last blog post, aerobic exercise has been shown to increase muscle glucose uptake and improve insulin sensitivity. That’s why most diabetes management plans include aerobic exercise, because it is very effective at maintaining proper glucose levels.

“Exercise is good for you. It’s good for the heart, good for losing weight, makes you feel better (really — it releases endorphins that elevate mood), and it’s good for blood glucose.” – Scott Coulter

Resistance Training – a Promising Therapy?

To determine the relationship between exercise and blood sugar, we need to look at the glucose threshold. Similar to the aerobic threshold, the glucose threshold is the point at which glucose output and uptake are in balance. Above the threshold, glucose levels begin to rise; below it they fall or stay the same.

Research has shown that the glucose threshold for resistance exercise lies roughly at 30% of 1RM. 1RM means one Repetition Max is the maximum amount of weight you can lift for a given exercise. 

The study followed a group of middle-aged men who were overweight. Some were diabetic while others were not, but all had previous resistance training experience. Subjects were assigned to either a low or moderate intensity protocol, both consisting of a circuit of 3 sets of 30 reps each of six different exercises: leg extension, bench press, leg press, lat pull down, leg curl, and seated row.

In between each exercise the men rested 15-20 seconds and two minutes between sets. For the low intensity group, weights were set at 23% of 1RM and 43% of 1RM for the moderate intensity group. Subjects ate a 285-calories moderate glycemic index breakfast two hours before the test. Blood sugar, perceived exertion, and other parameters were measure between sets and at 15-minute intervals through a two-hour post-exercise rest period.

The Results

The results were somewhat surprising. Blood sugar levels in the non-diabetic men fell initially, rose after exercise, then leveled off again. In the subjects with type 2 diabetes, both the low and moderate intensity circuits reduced blood glucose concentrations.

Interestingly, it was the low intensity circuit that produced lower glucose levels with less metabolic stress. This finding is great news for diabetics who have just been diagnosed, are overweight but untrained. It means that even one single bout of low intensity resistance exercise offers benefits for blood sugar management.

Let’s Get Training

[As always, you should consult with a medical professional before starting any exercise program to make sure you do not have any serious current medical issues that would hamper your program.]

As the study found, a resistance-based, or mixed aerobic and resistance program, can help those with diabetes manage their symptoms much more effectively. If you’re new to resistance exercise, you may be wondering how you should be working out exactly.

When it comes to resistance training, you have a few different options:

 Bodyweight Exercises 

These types of strength training exercises do not require weights. An individual instead uses their own weight to provide the resistance to the movement. Examples of body weight exercises are squats, push-ups, pull-ups and sit-ups. For those who hate the idea of going to a gym or are overwhelmed with all of the equipment there, these exercises would be a great way for you to start.


It’s sounds like some weird math class you should have taken back in high school, doesn’t it? This type of exercise is also known as “jump training” or “plyos,” and is when muscles exert maximum force in short intervals of time. The goal of these exercises is usually to increase speed and strength and overall power. The training focuses on learning how to move a muscle extension to a contraction very quickly, such as in repeated jumping. Plyometrics are typically used by athletes, especially high jumper and sprinters to improve performance, but there’s nothing saying you can’t use them to improve your fitness and manage your blood glucose.


CrossFit has become a popular way to work out, mostly because exercises are always varied, so you don’t get bored, and results come quickly. The exercises consist of varied functional movements performed at high intensity.

What are functional movements exactly?

They are movements that reflect the best aspects of weightlifting, gymnastics, running, rowing and more. People love CrossFit because it focuses on the core movements of life. Pushing weight on a machine is not a real-life movement. But squatting down to pick up a heavy bag is. And, these exercises maximize the amount of work done in the shortest time.

Of course, if you prefer to go to the gym (or set up a home gym) to use free weights or weight machines, that’s fine as well. The idea here is to simply start incorporating resistance exercises into your blood sugar maintenance program. If you have the budget, I highly recommend getting a personal trainer for a few months so you can fully learn how to properly lift weights and how to do reps in an effective way.

“Just remember you don’t have to overdo it. Strenuous exercise can sometimes increase blood sugar temporarily after you stop exercising.  Very intense exercise can cause the body to make more stress hormones which can lead to an increase in blood sugar.” – Ellen Greenlow


  1. https://media.jamanetwork.com/news-item/study-finds-high-prevalence-of-diabetes-pre-diabetes-in-u-s/
  2. https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Fulltext/2008/07000/Methods_to_Identify_the_Lactate_and_Glucose.12.aspx



    Plyometrics? As a fitness professional, I think plyo carry a high risk of injury for the untrained individual, so I would not recommend for an untrained individual (initially) and diabetics need to be careful not to injure their toes in particular.

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