Resistance training is often used to build and tone your muscles, but research indicates it can support your metabolic health as well. Beyond building muscle, resistance training can lead to weight loss, glucose management, and improved cardiovascular health. You don’t need a personal trainer or fancy gym equipment to get a resistance training session in, and one study found that participating in resistance training for even less than 1 hour per week can lower your risk of developing metabolic syndrome by 29% .
What is resistance training?
Resistance training, also called strength or weight training, is a form of exercise that increases muscle mass by strengthening large muscle groups by using resistance. Resistance is an opposing force that you have to push or pull against to activate your muscles. You can use resistance bands, dumbbells, weight machines, or even your own body weight to add resistance and build muscle. Resistance training has many health benefits including but not limited to :
- Enhances weight loss
- Builds muscle mass
- Improves insulin sensitivity
- Manages and prevents insulin resistance
- Increases bone density and balance
- Increases endurance
The benefits of resistance training for weight loss and glucose management
Building muscle mass is one of the most important benefits of resistance training. While all forms of movement, including aerobic exercise, can improve insulin sensitivity, increasing muscle mass is particularly powerful for improving overall metabolic health.
Muscle mass is more metabolically active than fat mass. Having a higher proportion of muscle mass compared to fat mass increases your resting metabolic rate (i.e., the calories you burn at rest), which increases the number of calories your body burns, and in return, assists in weight loss. Having more muscle mass allows for more glucose to be taken up from the bloodstream and improves insulin sensitivity. This process improves blood glucose control and is crucial for preventing and managing insulin resistance.
Resistance training is also the first line of treatment for age-related muscle loss (known as sarcopenia), which is associated with a decline in metabolic health and increased insulin resistance . Research shows that just two weekly resistance sessions including upper and lower body exercises are an appropriate treatment for sarcopenia .
Resistance training and weight loss
Muscles need glucose for energy and the more muscle mass, the more glucose can be absorbed from the blood . Having excess subcutaneous and abdominal fat contributes to the desensitization of insulin receptors, which can inhibit your muscles from taking glucose out of the bloodstream and lead to decreased insulin sensitivity. This leads to a vicious cycle of increased fat mass, increased insulin resistance, and increased weight gain — which all make trying to lose weight much more challenging.
On the other hand, having a higher ratio of muscle mass to fat mass can lead to a reduction in body fat percentage, stabilized glucose levels, and improved body composition.
A systematic review including over 4,000 participants with overweight and obesity evaluated resistance training programs and their effect on body composition . The main findings from the review showed that resistance training:
- Significantly reduced body fat percentage and fat mass across ages and sexes.
- Increased muscle mass across ages and sexes, more so than other exercise types.
- Reduced body weight and BMI in all age categories except children/adolescents.
- Decreased overall body mass while increasing lean muscle mass.
Resistance training and glucose management
Exercise in general has benefits for glucose management in both healthy individuals and people with type 2 diabetes. Glucose uptake is elevated for up to 120 minutes after exercise due to an increase in the glucose transporter, GLUT4, and insulin sensitivity increases for at least 16 hours post-exercise .
However, building more muscle mass with resistance training can increase glucose uptake from the bloodstream even further as well as improve insulin sensitivity, lipid profile, and blood pressure control [1,5,8]. Research also suggests that it also decreases your risk of insulin resistance .
In studies involving those with (or at high risk for) diabetes due to insulin resistance, a combination of resistance training and lifestyle counseling sessions resulted in improved diabetes incidence and quality of life .
You don’t need to go overboard with resistance training to experience benefits for your metabolic health. Just one hour a week can reduce your risk of developing metabolic syndrome by up to 29% .
How to add resistance training to your workout routine
Whether you’re looking to lose weight, regulate your blood sugar levels, or add variety to your exercise routine, there are many ways to incorporate resistance training into your workout routine. Here are 5 easy ways to start seeing and feeling the benefits of resistance training today:
- Start slow and small: Try incorporating bodyweight movements or using low-weight dumbbells (5 pounds or less) into your routine. Starting with higher repetitions and lower weights is a safe way to set up the foundations and build up your endurance.
- Grab a band: A resistance band is an affordable and easy way to do resistance training at home. Put a band around your wrists, ankles, and thighs to help intensify the movements and build muscle while increasing the burn.
- Get lower: When you’re doing resistance exercises like squats, push-ups, lunges, and deadlifts, challenge yourself to get lower to the ground. This increases the resistance and energy you’ll need to rise up against gravity, increasing muscle strength in the long run.
- Use what you have accessible to you: Whether it’s handheld weights, a barbell machine, or a backpack full of canned goods, adding additional weight is a great way to increase resistance to your workouts. If you want more of a challenge and only have lower weighted props, increase the number of repetitions you do or hold the position for longer.
- Use a CGM: Using a CGM to track your glucose levels after a resistance training workout allows you to see its effects on blood sugar. Pairing the Veri app with a CGM can give you personalized insights about your glucose trends and variability, which allows you to understand how your body responds not only to exercise but also to things like diet, sleep, and stress.
Resistance training offers promising benefits for both healthy individuals and those with insulin resistance or metabolic syndrome.
- Resistance training is a type of exercise that increases muscle mass by leveraging an opposing force, such as weighted equipment or your own body weight.
- Resistance training has been shown to aid in weight loss and improve glucose management due to the increased uptake of glucose from the bloodstream. When you have a higher muscle mass to fat mass ratio, you’ll burn more calories at rest and have greater insulin sensitivity.
- To start incorporating resistance training into your routine, start slow and incrementally increase the weight. You can make the exercises more challenging by getting lower to the ground, increasing the number of repetitions, or increasing the weight. Experimenting with different kinds of resistance — such as bands and bodyweight — can make your workout routine more varied and interesting.
- Using a CGM paired with the Veri app will give you real-time insights into your personalized glucose response to not only exercise but to diet and other lifestyle factors as well. You can’t manage what you don’t measure.