Muscle Matters: Resistance Training Strategies for Diabetes Prevention

March 6, 2024
Webinar Q&A

View the Webinar Recording


What is resistance exercise?

Exercise that uses external resistance to challenge your muscles and improve their strength, endurance, and size.

These are common types of resistance exercise.

  • Free weights
  • Weight machines
  • Resistance bands
  • Body weight exercises

Health benefits of resistance training

Key health benefits include 

  • Increased muscle strength, endurance, and power
  • Improved bone density
  • Better blood glucose regulation
  • Increased metabolism

Resistance training can help manage and treat many health conditions such as these.

  • Arthritis
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • Hpertension
  • Low back pain
  • Obesity
  • Osteoporosis

It also improves your ability to do daily activities and reduces injury risk.

Importance of resistance training for diabetes prevention

When you lose weight, you lose some muscle mass. We also lose muscle mass as we age.

Muscle tissue is metabolically active. It burns more calories at rest than fat tissue.

Resistance exercise is the most effective type of physical activity to build lean muscle mass.

Changing your body composition to have more lean muscle mass and less body fat increases your resting metabolic rate—you burn more calories per day even at rest!

Designing your Resistance Exercise Plan

Perform multi-joint exercises that stress the major muscle groups.

Here are some possibilities for resistance.

  • Body weight
  • Free weights like dumbbells, barbells, or household objects
  • Machines
  • Resistance bands

Frequency: Each major muscle group should be trained on 2-3 nonconsecutive days/week.

Intensity: 60-70% of your 1 rep max (moderate to hard intensity) for novice to intermediate exercisers.

Repetitions: 8-12 repetitions are recommended to improve strength and power in most adults. The last repetition should be difficult to complete.

Sets: 2-4 sets per exercise are recommended for most adults to improve strength and power.

Tips for Getting Started

Be consistent: Try to get in 2-3 nonconsecutive days of resistance exercise per week.

Start slowly: Start with body weight, light weights, or bands and focus on proper form. 

Get help: If you are unfamiliar with resistance exercise technique consider working with a trainer or other professional. 

Choose compound (multi-joint) exercises: Exercises that engage multiple muscle groups simultaneously are more effective at burning calories and building muscle. 

Include variety: Change it up to avoid overuse injuries. 

Set realistic goals: First goal should be frequency (2-3 workouts per week). Then increase the number of repetitions, weight lifted, or number of sets to continue progressing. 

Keep up your aerobic exercise: Include at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise per week.

Proper Form and Technique

Emphasize correct posture and movement patterns to maximize effectiveness and minimize injury risk.

Tempo: Control the speed of movement during both concentric (muscle shortening) and eccentric (muscle lengthening) phases of an exercise (2 seconds each up and down).

Range of Motion: Perform exercises through a full range of motion to optimize muscle activation and flexibility.

Pattern: Rest for 2-3 minutes between each set of repetitions. A rest period of ≥48 hours between sessions for any single muscle group is recommended.

Progression: A gradual progression of greater resistance, and/or more repetitions per set, and/or increasing frequency is recommended. A good target difficulty is a 7-8 out of 10 (where 10 is the hardest effort you can give).

Safety Considerations

Warm-Up: Perform dynamic stretches and light aerobic activity to prepare muscles for exercise.

Proper Equipment Use: Use appropriate footwear, clothing, and safety equipment.

Start Light: Begin with lighter weights and fewer sets and gradually increase resistance to avoid overexertion or injury.

Breathe: Don't hold your breath. Instead, breathe out as you lift the weight and breathe in as you lower the weight.

Listen to Your Body: Pay attention to signs of fatigue, discomfort, or pain and adjust intensity or technique accordingly.

Cool Down: Incorporate static stretching and relaxation techniques to promote muscle recovery and flexibility.

Health Coach Q & A

Will you be sending the links to the three resource list sites for recommended resources?

Here are the 3 resources containing exercises and exercise technique that we covered during the webinar:

  1. The ONE Group (Oncology – Nutrition – Exercise) from the Penn State College of Medicine provides exercise videos that can be done from home without any special equipment required.
  2. The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) provides an exercise library of videos demonstrating correct form using a variety of external resistance types. 
  3. The American Council on Exercise (ACE) exercise database and library contains a large selection of exercises grouped by body part and at varying levels of difficulty. 

Does Lark have exercise videos?

Lark does not have exercise videos at this time. Hopefully, the resources linked above are helpful for this purpose. We know the value of exercise videos and hope to add them in the future. 

Do you have recommendations on affordable weights that don't take up a lot of space? Ideally ranging from 5 to 20 lbs and in a set of 2. I have looked at adjustable weights, but everything is expensive.

The adjustable weights certainly can be costly! Rather than adjustable dumbbells, adjustable-weight mini barbells may be an option. They are not the most convenient (you have to take the plates on and off), but they are a more cost-effective option and are compatible with standard plates if you want to add additional weight. They are the same size as dumbbells and you just need to additionally store the small weight plates. 

What if someone has an illness or something like spleen issues that prevents them from doing much exercise? What can they safely do resistance-wise or exercise-wise to stay on track?

For any specific health condition and advice, we urge you to talk to your healthcare provider for safety reasons. 

We will have a future webinar on how to adapt exercise when managing chronic illness or injuries. We hope you can join! 

In the meantime, here is some general advice:

  1. Check with your doctor for personalized considerations and clearance before you exercise.
  2. It depends on the particular condition, and your doctor will be better able to advise. For spleen enlargement, avoid contact sports, heavy lifting, or very high-intensity or high-impact exercise, as these options could lead to spleen rupture. 
  3. Body weight exercises and exercises with resistance bands or TRX are great choices. Pick compound or complex movements, as we discussed during the webinar, to activate the most muscle. 
  4. Leverage circuit training to elevate your heart rate and get simultaneous aerobic benefits. 
  5. Do not hold your breath when exercising, as this can lead to increased intra-abdominal pressure. 

I have two bad knees and squats, lunges, getting down on the floor are things I really can't do. I'd appreciate other ideas that would work for me.

We will have a future webinar on how to adapt exercise when managing chronic illness or injuries. We hope you can join! In the meantime, here is some general advice. 

Your goal should be to strengthen the muscles around your knees to help take pressure off of the joints. Exercises using resistance bands and TRX are great options for you. Both enable you to perform most exercises in an upright position and also help you to focus on proper form to take pressure off the knees. Visit the ACE and NASM exercise libraries linked above for TRX and resistance band exercise examples. A few exercise ideas include: TRX squat, TRX split squat, TRX side lunge, mini band lateral walks, resistance band standing hip extension, seated one leg resistance band leg press. Still, be sure to check with your healthcare provider before trying any of these exercises.

Many people who have knee problems incorrectly load the joints when exercising rather than correctly recruiting the surrounding muscles. TRX and resistance bands can both help you to redirect the forces around your knees. For that reason, be sure to have a professional like a physical therapist or highly trained corrective exercise fitness professional show you the best techniques to actively recruit your muscles and take pressure off of your knees. 

Keep trying! There are solutions that will work for you. 

Should you do squats or lunges if they cause pain in your knees?

You should never exercise through pain. If you are currently experiencing knee pain from squats and lunges, you need to change up how you are approaching these exercises. The movements themselves aren’t bad for you, but you need to take precautions to take pressure off of your knees. You should not continue to do an exercise that causes pain. 

Exercises using TRX and resistance bands (examples provided in the above response to the question regarding bad knees) are possible choices for you, if your healthcare provider agrees. It is likely that you need to shift pressure off of the joints and redirect it to the muscle tissue. Performing each exercise slowly (particularly the lowering phase) is also helpful. Try to aim for at least 5 seconds on the lowering phase and 2-3 seconds on the lift. 

I walk 2.5 miles 4-5 days a week. It takes 50 min, at a good pace, but it isn't too vigorous in my heart or breathing. Is that even doing me any good?

Glad to hear that you are getting in some walking on a regular basis! Take a moment to give yourself kudos for being consistent. Any activity is better than none at all, and light intensity exercise helps to reduce sedentary time, which has health benefits. Keep it up!

To meet the aerobic exercise guidelines of at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise, you’ll want to shoot for a 4-6 (out of 10) rating of perceived exertion (RPE), 64-76% of your max heart rate, being able to talk but not sing, and/or walking between 100-120 steps min (or 2.5-4 mph). All of these are considered moderate intensity. 

At least 2 days of muscle strengthening exercises are also recommended. Walking does not count as a form of muscle strengthening. We hope you decide to try out some of the exercises that we discussed during the webinar today or visit the exercise libraries linked above for additional ideas. 

What is the lowest impact (as far as resistance training) exercise you can do?

Resistance exercises are not, by definition, high impact. High impact refers to movements that put a high level of impact on your joints such as running or jumping. If you are looking for exercises that are generally gentle on the joints, starting with body weight, resistance bands, and TRX are great options. Lifting at a slow, controlled speed is also joint-friendly. Aim for good form and time under tension for your muscles. 

Is it not too much to combine (aerobic and resistance exercise on one day)?

Great question–it depends! To get at least 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week, a general recommendation is 30 minutes per day. That equates to 5 days per week, and some individuals won’t want to use their remaining 2 days for strength training. A well-rounded strength training routine does not need to take longer than 30 minutes. This means that you could do 30 minutes of aerobic exercise and 30 minutes of muscle strengthening for an hour total twice a week and this might not be “too much” depending on your current fitness level. I do not recommend going from doing nothing to doubling up in that way. 

Alternatively, you can combine your aerobic and muscle strengthening exercise (example: only 30 minutes total!) by leveraging resistance exercises that challenge your muscles and programming them such that you elevate your heart rate to be at least 64-76% of your max. If you were not able to attend our webinar on exercise intensity, max heart rate is calculated as: max heart rate = 220-age, or you can visit this calculator: 

If you program resistance exercises to be a continuous circuit, where you progress through 5-10 exercises without resting, this target heart rate range should be fairly easy to achieve. Choosing higher repetitions with lower resistance will also help. 

Is there a set amount of "time" instead of amount of reps? Sometimes I don't keep count of reps, but time is easier to track.

Absolutely, time can be used instead of repetitions. However, there is not a set amount. Select a starting amount of time that corresponds to 8-12 repetitions and progress from there. This means that one set should take you between 40-60 seconds to perform. Keep track of where you fall in this range and increase time or resistance to ensure that the last few repetitions are challenging. 

Should / could plank be added daily and does that count as resistance?

A plank is a great body weight exercise for your core. Yes, this counts as resistance training. Planks are an isometric exercise. This means that they stress the muscle with time under tension at a constant length (no active stretching or shortening). Isometric exercises can still make you sore and require recovery. However, once you become accustomed to them, they can generally be performed at a slightly higher frequency than isotonic (over a range of motion) exercises. You still want to give your muscles a chance to rest, so the 48-hour recovery rule is still a good guideline. Every other day would be a better option. Check out reverse planks, side planks, and other isometric core options for the days in between! 

Should we always be increasing the weights or resistance, or is there a level that maintains?

Any form of exercise requires progression to continue reaping the benefits. However, progression does not have to involve constantly increasing weights or resistance. It can also involve changing up the way you perform a movement. Refer back to the variations of a squat and chest press examples from the webinar. Each time you introduce a new element, you present your body with a new stimulus. 

You will also find that progressing reps, weight, or simply time under tension (e.g., the time it takes you to do a set) is easier than you imagine. Your body will naturally adapt to the exercises that you regularly perform. You do not want to progress if your current routine is still challenging for you. Remember the rule, fatigue not failure. Your goal should be to experience muscle fatigue during your workouts and some mild soreness afterward. When the exercises become easy and you experience no residual soreness, it is time to turn it up a notch! 

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