Weight Training for Diabetics

I will never forget this for as long as I live.

When I was doing some rotations for my degree in Kinesiology I was at a senior center doing rehab work for senior citizens; I remember there was a lady that, like a lot of senior citizens there, was in a wheelchair.

Why she was in a wheelchair though, caught my attention.

She was in a wheelchair because she had her feet amputated, along with the majority of her fingers, not to mention she was clinically blind.

Now… the image that forever stands out is when I was doing rehab work to her roommate the family of the women in the wheelchair came to visit. There was the mom, dad, and two young kids, twins, maybe about 5 years old. Now the women would love to chat with the kids, and she was a SHARP one, but obviously, she couldn’t see the kids so how she could tell them apart was by feeling their facial features.

You could tell the kids weren’t too comfortable with their blind grandma touching their face with what remained of her hands; you know how kids can be; it seemed they, the kiddos, reluctantly tolerated this.

Seeing this take place just left its mark on me.

I remember asking the attending what happened with grandma and the attending told me it was because she is diabetic and let it get out of control.


At that point in my career, I knew that diabetes was a metabolic disease, but I didn’t realize how serious it could be until it was right in front of me.

Sure, at my age during that time I’ve heard of people diagnosed with diabetes, and even some passing from it, but seeing what it can do in person changed my perspective of it.

Now, I don’t say any of this to scare you, but it scared me enough to completely alter my personal diet AND the dietary philosophies that we preach here at RTC.


In a nutshell, what is diabetes?

I won’t go into a long medical rant here but basically is your body’s ability not to produce or use insulin effectively enough to manage sugar in the blood. When your blood sugar gets too high, then a whole slew of other bad things can start. This is typically caused by, again your body’s inability to produce or use insulin from a combination of genetics (family history) or lifestyle (overweight, not being active, bad diet… you know, the basics)


What can working out do for those that ARE diabetic or pre-diabetic?

If you’re reading this far then MAYBE, making assumptions here, you’re dietetic, on the path to one, or have a loved that is; so you’re curious on what precautions you need to take.

Out of all the crappy things of having diabetes with a few safety measures workouts can be relatively the same as a person that does NOT have diabetes.

Doctors will tell you that the more active you are, the more in control of:
– How your body responds to insulin
– How your body manages blood sugar
– Weight loss
– Lowers risk of heart issues

All good things to consider. Then, of course, the other benefits are that your leaner, stronger, sleep better, look better AND YOU JUST FEEL FREAKING BETTER.



Before I proceed any further, this information below is not intended to diagnose, treat or cure diabetes.

I will continue to state this over and over again; you can do everything that any other person can do. Diabetes doesn’t affect body motions (biomechanics) only the internal physiology or metabolism; so with that said there are a FEW precautions that we recommend when we work with people that are diabetic.

1. Make sure you have Dr clearance – some of you maybe going duh, BUT there are SOME rare cases that in certain states in your life (let’s say you have more than just diabetes going on such as blood pressure) that a dr will advise not to be overly active OR to keep your HR below a certain range.
2. That your blood sugar is under control – if you are still experiencing radical blood sugar shifts (over 250mg/dl) then get that in check before you start or we run risk of a hypoglycemic rebound
3. Not ketonic – this isn’t a rule, but we have seen diabetic with high levels of ketones that their insulin is too low and the body is breaking down fatty acids… so basically you will experience a crash in the workout pretty quickly which will leave you feeling like crap.
4. Eat before the workout – about 1-2 hours BEFORE you workout will ensure that you DO have some energy in your body to avoid a blood sugar crash. If you want to get the most out of the workout make time to eat before because, accept it, your metabolism IS different now, and you need to treat it differently than those who preach fasting before workouts.
5. Bring food or your medicine if prescribed- If you’re just starting out then you may find that it will take some time before your body adjusts to the new level of activity so bring a piece of fruit, a protein bar or something to help stabilize a sudden drop, or change, in blood sugar.


What should the workout look like?

If you’re here, this means that you’re NOT an average person that is seeking to do the minimum amount the ADA is prescribing but you’re looking to perform and an optimal level (Good for you! I knew I liked you lol)

Let’s keep this simple:
– Weight training 3-5 times a week
– 1-2 days of steady state cardio for 30-40min a week (think of keeping your heart rate between 120-150 bpm)
– 1-2 days a week of HIIT (high-intensity intervals) for 10-15min

Guidelines on weight training:
– Pick BIG movements to get the most out of the workout like; squatting (squats aren’t bad for your knees, crappy squatting is bad for your knees), deadlifts, bench press, overhead pressing, lunges, pull-ups.
– Start out with 2 sets of 10-15 reps and workout your way up to 4 sets. Once you can handle four sets, change the exercises or increase the weight.
– Alternate between upper body and lower body focus each day.

Guidelines on steady state cardio
– This can be done on ANYTHING. Outside, treadmill, bike, rower, swimming, hiking, etc… As long as your heart rate is steady your great!
– Go at a pace like you’re running late for something. Not a RUN but a brisk effort.
– I’d recommend doing these workouts on a day you’re NOT weight lifting.

Guidelines for HIIT
– Start out with one day a week and work your way to two
– It’s going to be hard for the first 4-6 HIIT workouts, just accept it.
– If you’re not comfortable with running then get on a bike
– Go HARD for 15-20sec, rest for no more than 40-60sec and repeat for 10-12 rounds.


Side Note: If you’re a bit seasoned to working out you’ll notice that this isn’t too much different from a good training regimen for anyone. Again, you can do the same thing as a person without diabetes! We just simply tweaked a few things for more optimal results 😉

That’s it!

Go forth, kick butt, have awesome workouts and with this you’ll find that life doesn’t suck, isn’t doom and gloom and you’ll just feel SO much better.



In Health and Awesomeness,

Travis Merritt, BS, CPT, (and other cool letters behind the name) is the Owner of Rowlett Transformation Center in Rowlett, TX.

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