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- The idea of strength training can seem intimidating if you’re not one for the gym, but if you haven’t found your groove in your workout routine, it might be time to experiment with something new.
- Strength training can improve several aspects of health, from your mood and sleep hygiene to your blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
- Perhaps the best part: You don’t need any equipment to start strength training.
You already know that a solid exercise regimen is worth putting effort into for the sake of your health, but maybe you haven’t found your sweet spot yet in your own personal workout routine. Perhaps you walk around the block after dinner sometimes, or a friend will occasionally convince you to join them at a yoga class. If you’re having trouble finding a workout routine you can stick to, it might be time to learn a thing or two about strength training.
Strength Training 101
In the most basic terms, strength training refers to any exercise in which you use weight (or resistance) to increase strength and muscle mass. Think: squats, lunges, planks, sit-ups, push-ups, etc.
In the process, you’re not only making your muscles stronger with these exercises, but you’re also helping to lower your blood sugar and improve your body’s sensitivity to insulin.
How? “Strength training requires the muscles’ cells to use more glucose to function,” explains One Drop coach, Lindsay Vettleson, a registered dietitian/nutritionist (RDN), certified diabetes care and education specialist (CDCES), and certified personal trainer (CPT). So, the more you engage those muscles, the better they get at using glucose and responding to insulin, keeping your blood sugar levels more balanced.
Over time, strength training not only benefits your blood sugar, but your resting metabolic rate, too, or the rate at which your body burns energy when resting, continues Vettleson. “Strength training activities also help promote healthy weight maintenance and cholesterol levels,” she adds.
In addition to benefiting physical health, strength training can be an effective way to manage your mental health, too. Not only does it feel empowering to test your strength and see what you’re capable of in a workout, but research shows that strength training, when done consistently, can help improve your mood, energy levels, your ability to manage stress, and even your sleep health.
Don’t Forget About Cardio
Strength training is an anaerobic exercise, meaning it involves short bursts of intense movement. Aerobic exercise (a.k.a. cardio)—like walking, swimming, or riding a bike—gets your heart and breathing rate up over longer periods of time.
Whether you prefer one type of exercise to the other, Vettleson reminds us that we can all benefit from a mix of physical activity to stay healthy—a sentiment backed by both the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans and the American Diabetes Association (ADA).
You can also think of strength training as something that “gives you the base you need to safely and effectively do cardio,” says Caroline Grainger, CPT. “Strengthening your core, your balance, and your main driver muscles in your legs are all going to improve your ability to tolerate cardio workouts as well as simply move around more easily in your daily life.”
Bottom line: “Exercise and movement as a whole are fantastic for diabetes, chronic conditions, and health in general,” says One Drop coach, Amy Crees, RDN, CDCES. However, she says it’s common for people to focus on just one type of exercise (typically cardio, especially when weight management is a goal, she adds) rather than experiment with a little bit of everything. But the only way to find out what works for you is to expose yourself to different types of exercise—so, why not strength training?
How to Start Strength Training
The good news: You can start strength training using just your body weight. While dumbbells, resistance bands, and other types of weights or resistance can help you advance when you feel like you’re ready, there’s no reason why you can’t get a good sweat going using only your body.
If you already have a workout routine that you like, don’t feel like you need to abandon it completely to try strength training. “Just try 10 to 15 minutes of strength exercises to wake up some of the muscles and get you used to them,” suggests One Drop coach, Rukiyyah, CPT, a diabetes prevention specialist who lives with type 1 diabetes.
Rukiyyah also recommends focusing on your form when you first start strength training, noting that bodyweight exercises will allow you to master those skills. “If you’re concerned about soreness after strength exercises, foam rolling is a great practice,” she adds. “It’s also best to warm up thoroughly before engaging in these exercises.”
Before incorporating any new workout into your routine, be sure to talk to your doctor about any precautions you may need to take to avoid injuries, or, if you’re managing a chronic condition like diabetes or hypertension, potential swings in blood sugar or blood pressure.
For more tips on building a workout routine that includes strength training and that’s right for you, listen to our podcast, Life Without Limits.
This article has been clinically reviewed by Alexa Stelzer, RDN, LD, CDCES, health coach at One Drop, and Lisa Graham, RN, BSN, CDCES, director of clinical operations at One Drop.