By: Ann M. Swank
According to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, training with free weights ranks first among 20 fitness-related activities, with more than 45 million adults participating – an increase of over 100 percent since 1987.
Women and individuals over the age of 55 are leading this surge of interest; their participation rates have increased by 203 percent and 700 percent, respectively.
In addition, of 20 fitness-related activities, weight training has the highest retention rate, indicating that when individuals begin a weight-training program, they stick with it.
Both the American Heart Association and the American College of Sports Medicine support combining weight and aerobic training to maximize health and fitness. The benefits of weight training supplement those of aerobic training and include increased muscular strength and endurance, preservation of lean muscle tissue, increased bone mineral content, fewer falls, and enhanced quality of life.
Because performing physical work during daily recreation or job-related tasks requires muscle strength and endurance, adding weight training to a total exercise program can be crucial for carrying out the activities of daily living.
Check With Your Doctor First
Before beginning weight training, individuals who have diabetes should check with their doctors to ensure that it’s safe for them to participate.
Several conditions associated with diabetes, such as nerve damage to the feet, may preclude weight-bearing exercises. For individuals who suffer from diabetes-related complications such as eye or kidney damage, the risks of weight training may override the benefits.
Developing a Weight Program
Easily measured outcomes of weight training include increased muscular strength (the amount of weight that can be lifted at one time) and muscular endurance (the ability to continue lifting without fatigue).
To maximize these outcomes, you should consider factors such as intensity and frequency when developing your weight program.
Intensity relates to the amount of weight lifted for a given exercise, usually expressed as a percentage of your maximal lift. It is inversely related to the number of repetitions performed with each set. Weight programs of a relatively higher intensity have fewer repetitions and are designed to focus on muscular strength.
Programs of modest intensity have a relatively increased number of repetitions and are designed to focus on muscular endurance. For general muscle fitness, eight to 15 repetitions will improve both strength and en-durance.
To achieve general muscle fitness, most experts recommend one to two sets per exercise, a level sufficient to demonstrate significant gains while not requiring a substantial time commitment. Given our hectic lifestyles, weight programs lasting longer than one hour are associated with reduced compliance.
The recommended frequency of training is two to three days per week. You should perform eight to 10 exercises during each training session, emphasizing each of the major muscle groups. The exercises chosen are performed from large muscle groups, such as those associated with the chest and back, to smaller muscle groups, such as those associated with the arms, in order to prevent fatigue of a smaller muscle group from being a limiting factor for a subsequent lift.
So how can you get started with adding weight training to your fitness regimen?
The first step is crucial: as stated earlier, you should seek guidance from your doctor. A discussion with your doctor will determine whether training with weights is appropriate for you.
With doctor approval, the next step is to seek help from a personal trainer qualified to address the unique concerns associated with diabetes. Use the information provided here to discuss how your goals can be achieved with weight training.
In the span of two sessions, a trainer can design a beginning program, demonstrate proper technique and recommend equipment purchases (if you’ve decided on a home program). With monthly appointments, a trainer can monitor progress and provide program updates. You might also consider group weight training classes that offer individualized doses of exercise within a group setting, an atmosphere that could be crucial to how well you’ll adhere to your new exercise plan.
Any time an individual with diabetes adds a new exercise regimen, it’s critical to be aware of safety issues. Be sure to maintain consistency of diet and exercise habits, and always remember to check blood-glucose levels before, during and after training with weights to gauge your individual response.
Good luck with your program, and see you in the gym.
Ann Swank, PhD, FACSM, is the director of the Exercise Physiology Lab at the University of Louisville in Louisville, Kentucky.