When we think about exercising for weight loss, we tend to turn automatically to cardio workouts that get the heart pumping, build up a sweat, and burn a lot of calories right here and now.
But did you know that adding resistance training to your workout routine will make it much more effective for long-term weight management? It’s true, especially for people with diabetes.
When you’re losing weight by doing only cardio, you’ll generally lose both fat and muscle. If resistance training isn’t part of your workout routine, you could actually be slowing down your metabolism by losing lean muscle mass, especially if you are also restricting your calories.
On the other hand, resistance training builds muscles that permanently increase your metabolism and burn calories 24/7, even when you are on your couch watching Netflix after your workout. That’s why I always recommend a mix of cardio and resistance training for weight loss and long-term weight management (along with a healthy diet and the right amount of calories, of course).
Simply said, cardio is great for losing weight now, while resistance training is great for managing your weight permanently.
If you have diabetes, resistance training will also increase your insulin sensitivity, making it easier to manage both your diabetes and your weight.
Unfortunately, many people have misconceptions about resistance training or don’t know how to get started. In this post, I want to address some of the main worries and misconceptions I hear when it comes to resistance training.
“But I don’t want to get bulky…”
This is probably the worry I hear the most (especially from women), and I understand where the concern comes from. You want to lose weight and get fit, but not look like a bodybuilder.
The good news (or bad news for some of us) is that you won’t become bulky in any way just from doing resistance training a few times a week. To get “bulky”, you need to put in a serious number of hours, lift heavy, and eat enough food to sustain your muscle growth.
Trust me; I have spent enough time trying to build muscles to know that it’s HARD! It’s not something that will ever happen if you don’t want it to.
“But I burn more calories during a cardio session…”
While this is true, it doesn’t tell the whole story. When you do resistance training, you might not burn as many calories during the training session, but the calorie burn continues up to 72 hours after you put down the weights. And more importantly, your newly created muscles will keep burning calories for the rest of your life!
“But I want results now…”
Well, don’t we all? The truth is that weight management is a process that takes time. Doing crazy amounts of cardio or crash dieting might make you lose a lot of weight right now, but it’s not sustainable and you risk damaging your system.
When you see weight loss shows like “The Biggest Loser” on TV, they don’t tell you that most of the contestants regain a majority of the weight they lost after the show ends, and that many of them suffer permanent damage to their metabolism. Slow and steady is the way to go when it comes to weight loss!
The general rule for healthy weight loss is to aim for no more than 1-2 pounds per week unless you are more than 40 pounds overweight.
When you base your weight loss plan on resistance training, you may also experience that your waistline shrinks but your weight stays almost the same. If you use just the number on the scale to determine how well you’re doing, then this is the moment when you might be discouraged. But don’t be! What’s most likely going on is that you are losing fat, but you’re gaining muscle, and muscles are denser (aka heavier) than fat, so it doesn’t show up on the scales.
So, does that mean you should change your plan, or that you shouldn’t use resistance training for weight loss? NO! Who cares what the scale says if you look and feel better?
“But I don’t know where to start…”
It’s a good idea to start easy, doing higher repetitions (15-20) and focusing on machines over free weights until your body has gotten used to this type of exercise. As you get stronger, you can reduce the repetitions to 8-12 and move to a mix of machines and free weights.
Our Fitness Editor Ben Tzeel has written a post about How to Design a Resistance Training Program that has a program you can use. You can also utilize this gym workout or this home workout already designed for you here on Diabetes Strong.
If you’re doing resistance training for weight loss (as opposed to doing it as part of a muscle-building program), you don’t need more than two or three 30-45 minute resistance training sessions per week. If you combine that with an equal amount of cardio, you have a great formula for long-term weight management success!
Suggested next post: How to lose weight with diabetes
Shaunna Marie Smith says
I am a healthy Type 1, 54 year old woman. I would like to lose 5 pounds – I am 5’10 and 155 pounds. I have found that I have gained fat on my legs over the past 5 years. I have recently started 3 x 45 minutes of resistant training plus I walk @ 10 km 5 days a week. The fat doesn’t seem to be going away. My diet is pretty good – clean. Is there something else that I should be doing?
Christel Oerum says
It takes time to lower your body fat percentage, and unfortunately, you can spot reduce, meaning you have to lower your overall fat percentage. If you’ve gone over a month without any results I would suggest looking at your caloric intake and considering if you can reduce it to reach your goal. If you need support in doing so a great option is to reach out to a Registered Dietitian and get help adjusting your diet
Maria Ware says
You said in your article that 1-2 pounds of weight loss is healthy unless you are more than 40 pounds overweight. What would be considered for someone that needs to lose more than 40 pounds?
Christel Oerum says
If you have more than 40 lbs. to lose you could probably go for 2.5 lbs. per week. Slow and steady will always be preferred but I don’t have any research on the optimal amount
James Hopper says
This all sounds good. My wife and I are Diabetics and are just deciding we need o loose weight. What kind of exercise is resistance training? We are retired and can’t do stuff like bar bells. She has a gazelle and I have a power rider. She has bad knees and can’t jog or walk very much on pavement or concrete. I am on an insulin pump so when I do a lot of activity, my blood sugar drops low. I can put it on temp. basal but it is hard to determine how long and how much. What would you recommend. We are looking at your diet plans for meals also. Thanks
Christel Oerum says
Do you have access to any in-person diabetes counseling? Perhaps through your local ADA chapter? I would love to help, but I am always very hesitant to give advice when I don’t know your specific situation and limitations.