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Pictures of 10 Muscle-Building Exercises for Diabetes

  • Reviewed By: Michael Dansinger, MD
    Michael Dansinger, MD

    Michael Dansinger, MD

    Michael Dansinger, MD, is a nationally recognized expert in dietary and lifestyle coaching for weight loss and disease prevention. He serves as Founding Director of the Diabetes Reversal Program at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, and Wellness Director at Boston Heart Diagnostics. He has previously served as the Nutrition and Obesity Editor for Medscape Journal of Medicine and was the principal investigator of the Tufts Popular Diet Trial comparing the Atkins, Zone, Weight Watchers and Ornish eating plans for weight loss and heart disease risk-factor reduction (published in JAMA). He serves on the CDC’s Expert Panel for Worksite Wellness Programs and on the Council of Directors for the True Health Initiative, a leading international voice for health and wellness.

Reviewed on 2/2/2016

Why Do Strength Training?

Photo of woman flexing muscles.

Because you have diabetes, you know how important it is to control your blood sugar. Strength training helps. Simple moves done regularly can prompt your muscles to absorb more glucose. You'll also burn more calories, day and night, as you get stronger. Your mood, cholesterol levels, and blood pressure may improve, too.

Let's Get Started!

Photo of woman exercising.

Most people with diabetes can work out safely. Ask your doctor first to be sure. You should aim for strength training at least twice a week. Also do heart-pumping cardio exercise -- like jogging, swimming, and biking -- either 5 days a week for 30 minutes each time or 3 days for 50 minutes each. Stretch a bit afterward to become more flexible. Want a solid routine or tips on technique? Check with a certified trainer.

Your Strength Training Routine

Photo of resistance training gear.

Get ready to learn 10 at-home exercises that work your major muscle groups. For each one, begin with one set where you do the move 8-15 times, or "reps." Rest for at least 30 seconds before you do the next exercise. Start with resistance bands or light dumbbells, so you can focus on lifting and lowering the weights with smooth, controlled movements. When you can do two or three sets easily, switch to slightly heavier weights.

Upper Body: Standing Biceps Curl

Photo of biceps curl.

Hold a dumbbell in each hand and stand with your palms facing your thighs. Squeeze your biceps as you lift the weights. On the way up, your forearm should rotate so your palms end up facing your shoulders at the top. Lower the weights slowly to the starting position. Try to avoid using momentum on the way down. Control the motion from start to finish.

Upper Body: Triceps Extension

Photo of triceps exercise.

Stand with one foot slightly in front of the other, and hold a single dumbbell with both hands wrapped around the handle. Slowly raise the dumbbell overhead. Straighten your elbows as you raise the weight toward the ceiling. Slowly bend your elbows and lower the weight behind your head. Keep your upper arms still and vertical to the floor. Keep your shoulder blades down and back as you repeat.

Upper Body: Shoulder Press

Photo of shoulder press.

You can do this move while you sit or stand. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and raise them until they are level with your ears. Your elbows should be bent at a 90-degree angle. This is your starting position. Now push the weights up, until your arms are fully extended. Slowly lower to the starting position.

Upper Body: Chest Press

Photo of chest press.

Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Hold a dumbbell in each hand at chest level and raise them above your chest until your elbows are straight but not locked. Pause for a second and then slowly lower the weights toward your chest.

Upper Body: Seated Row

Photo of seated row.

Sit on the floor with your feet together and your knees bent. Hold a dumbbell or the end of a resistance band in each hand with your arms straight in front of you, palms facing each other. Keeping your back straight, bend the elbows as you pull the weights or bands to your sides. Keep your elbows close to your body and slowly straighten your arms.

Core: Classic Crunch

Photo of man doing crunch.

Lie on your back, feet flat on the floor, knees bent. Put your hands behind your head. Pull your shoulder blades together and your elbows back. The elbows should aim sideways and stay there throughout the exercise. Squeeze your abs and curl your shoulders and upper back off the floor. Lower down slowly. Keep your lower back pressed to the floor at all times.

Core: Plank

Photo of woman doing plank.

Lie face-down with your elbows directly under your shoulders, palms down and your toes tucked under. From this starting position, tighten your abs, glutes, and back muscles as you lift your torso and thighs off the floor. You'll be supported by your toes and forearms. Hold this position for 5 seconds or more. Keep the back straight as you slowly lower to the starting position.

Lower Body: Squat

Photo of squat with exercise ball.

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees and lower yourself as if you were sitting in an imaginary chair. Your thighs should be parallel to the ground and your knees should not push forward past your toes. Lean forward slightly as you stand back up. You can also do squats while leaning against a stability ball placed between your back and a wall.

Lower Body: Lunges

 Photo of group lunge.

Stand with your legs shoulder-width apart and step your right leg back, bending the knee toward the floor without allowing it to touch. Your left thigh should be nearly parallel with the floor. Press down on the left heel and bring the right leg back to a neutral stance. Do 8-12 reps and then change sides, stepping back on the left leg. To make the lunges more challenging, hold a dumbbell in each hand.

Lower Body: Hamstring Curl

Photo of hamstring curl.

Hold onto the back of a chair. Flex your left foot and bend the knee, bringing your heel toward your butt. Keep your right leg slightly bent. Lower your left foot back to the floor. Do 8-12 reps and then repeat with the right leg. To make this exercise harder, ask your doctor if it's safe for you to wear ankle weights.

Strength Training and Blood Sugar

Photo of blood glucose test.

If you take certain diabetes medications, you may need to take precautions to avoid a dangerous drop in your blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia). Ask your doctor if you should check your levels or eat a snack before working out. Keep snacks or glucose tablets with you when you exercise in case you get symptoms of low blood sugar, such as shaking or weakness.

Strength Training and Insulin

Photo of insulin shot.

You may need to adjust the dose before and after exercise. Do an easy workout to see how it affects your blood sugar. Check your levels before, during, and after exercise. If you work out within an hour or two of a meal, you may need to lower your meal-time insulin dose. Talk with your doctor, who can also tell you if you need to adjust doses of any other diabetes medicines when you work out.

Who Should Not Lift Weights?

Photo of man lifting dumbbell.

Weight-lifting is not recommended for people with diabetes-related eye problems (such as retinopathy) that aren’t being treated. Likewise, intense cardio workouts are not a good idea with untreated retinopathy. Both can raise pressure in the eyes. If you have nerve damage in your feet, you may need to exercise while you sit or lie on the floor, or swim. Your doctor can tell you what’s OK for you.

Pictures of 10 Muscle-Building Exercises for Diabetes

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