How to Manage Diabetes with Strength Training

Diabetes is a metabolic condition that impacts our body’s ability to regulate blood glucose levels. Diabetes can lead to serious health complications such as neuropathies or retinopathies. Therefore, it's important to know how to live and manage diabetes safely and correctly.

There are many types of diabetes, all with similar health implications. Of these, type 2 diabetes is the most prevalent making up 85-90% of all diabetes cases.

The good news is that type 2 diabetes is the most preventable. Risk factors include: family history of diabetes, being over the age of 55, overweight/obesity, insufficient exercise, hypertension, poor diet etc. 

Diabetes is known as the invisible disease as it cannot be seen if anyone has it and therefore the health effects of it are often underestimated and failure to manage and treat this condition ongoing can lead to a higher risk of:

  • Heart attacks and strokes
  • Blindness
  • Kidney damage
  • Amputations 

Recent Research

Until recently strength training has been seen as less important in medical research with scientists tending to focus on endurance training as it was seen as particularly beneficial to health. The same applied to earlier research into Type 2 diabetes mellitus: cardiovascular training and dietary changes were regarded as the ultimate in the treatment of so-called late-onset diabetes.

However, in recent years an increasing number of researchers have turned their attention to muscle training and have recognised its value as a therapy. We now know that clients with diabetes can exert a positive influence on muscle metabolism, energy balance and bodyweight through sport, dietary changes, physical fitness and trained muscles. A more active lifestyle, particularly in the early stages of the disease, can have far-reaching effects and diabetics can reduce the impact of the disease and delay or even avoid medication.

What's new is that recent studies have shown that the benefits of strength training are almost equal to those of endurance training. Muscle training also reduces insulin resistance, improves glycemic metabolism and body composition. A primary indicator in determining the benefits of this type of therapy is long-term blood sugar level - known as HbA1c. Strength training can reduce HbA1c by an amount equal to that achieved by endurance training. The most effective therapy for type 2 diabetes mellitus is a combination of cardiovascular and muscle training. The Diabetes Associations in both Germany and the United States recommend strength training.

How To Manage Diabetes

As diabetes is a condition that will likely remain with you for your lifetime, we recommend that strength training forms a part of the ongoing management of your condition.

The important aspects of your training program for a diagnosis of diabetes are to remain consistent with training over the long-term, meaning over a 6-12 month period. We recommend focussing on large muscle groups as this will enhance hormonal response to build lean body mass and increase metabolism. Address any secondary condition/injuries that may inhibit training and aim for a higher frequency of training, three times per week initially then two times per week when into maintenance phase. By altering our lifestyle to include regular exercise and healthy balanced diet we can improve our management of type 2 diabetes symptoms or reduce the risk of developing it. 

Exercise in the form of aerobic and strength training can help improve blood glucose control, maintain a healthy weight, lower blood pressure and improve muscle mass, all-important factors in diabetes management. The aim is for 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise per week (3-4 days) and a minimum of 2 days of strength training. The ideal interval between sessions is every other day as the one-off effect on insulin resistance from training is limited to 48 hours. The reward for this effort can be found in blood sugar levels: the higher the level of exertion, the greater the effect on the metabolism. For that reason, intensity should, wherever possible be moderate to high.  

Kieser Exercise Physiologist, Hugh Degaris, recommends the below 5 tips to manage diabetes: 

  • Monitoring your daily nutrition intake and always referring to the Australian Healthy Eating Guidelines
  • For Kieser clients, using the A3, B6, F3/F3.1 and F2/F2.1 to maintain strength
  • Getting 8 hours of sleep every night
  • Being more active within everyday life. For example, parking further away from work and taking the stairs where you can
  • Being more self aware about how you physically and psychologically feel and to adjust where needed

Who Can Help?

Accredited Exercise Physiologists provide exercise and lifestyle programs for the prevention and continual management of chronic diseases such as diabetes. If you have pre-diabetes indicators, an Exercise Physiologist has the expertise to create a plan to reduce or delay the onset on diabetes. Additional benefits a qualified Exercise Physiologist can provide include improvement in heart health, rehabilitation follow a cardiac arrest, overcoming persistent and severe pain, increase recovery following cancer treatment and provide a general improvement in general health and wellbeing.  

For more information and in depth information on diabetes, we recommend visiting the Diabetes Australia website.


Written and sourced by Kieser Geelong Exercise Physiologist, Hugh Degaris

Durstine, J.L. (2009). ACSM’s Exercise Management for Persons with Chronic Diseases and Disabilities. Human Kinetics, pg 182-184.

Hugh Degaris's Top 5 Tips to Manage your Diabetes

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