Strength Training for Diabetics: Can Your Genes Make a Difference?

Diabetes mellitus is the “umbrella name” for a group of metabolic diseases and it is often caused by the pancreas not being able to produce enough insulin. In other cases, the body’s cells are unable to respond and metabolise produced insulin. But diabetes is not only a common health issue; it might impact your strength, as a recent Journal of Strength and Conditioning study aimed to unravel.

Strength Training for Diabetics

There are two types of diabetes: Type 1, also known as “juvenile diabetes”, where the body fails to produce enough insulin due to unknown reasons and Type 2, a condition that is mostly common among adults. This happens when the body does produce insulin, an anabolic hormone, but fails to respond to it. Primary causes of diabetes include lifestyle choices, like being inactive or overweight.

Athletes and Diabetes

In athletes, insulin carries glucose to the muscles, which acts as fuel for muscle tissue. If an athlete has any metabolic disorders and the occurrence of high blood sugar over a period is present, the performance of the athlete is usually compromised. Carbohydrates are the building blocks for cell energy production. If an athlete has a metabolic disorder, it means that the muscle will not get enough energy due to low glucose levels, and thus this will lead to a decline in strength.

Insulin also promotes muscle growth, so if an athlete’s body does not respond to insulin the way it is supposed to, muscle development can be reduced, further contributing to a decline in overall strength. If you have a family history of diabetes, you might be at risk of developing it at some point. Have you ever wondered if a person at risk of developing metabolic disorders, will respond differently to exercises than someone with no genetic disposition?

The Study

Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research did a study where 28 men and women, of whom 18 of them had a family history of diabetes. They engaged in a resistance exercise program for five days a week over a seven-week period, where they did plyometric training for forty minutes, as well as core training and full body resistance training for ten to fifteen minutes each. Before and after the program, each participant’s BMI, strength and resting heart rate were tested.

A standard metabolic disorder test was done to estimate the function in insulin by measuring the fasting blood glucose levels. Exercise increases the demand for glucose within the muscle, therefore, if a system is functioning well, there will be a drop in blood sugar levels after being active. A high blood glucose level would indicate that the body is not using the glucose for muscle fuel.

The Results

In both groups, the fasting glucose levels were the same. This means that irrespective of their family history, insulin production responded appropriately after a workout and therefore did not impact on their energy or strength levels. The results also showed an inverse relationship between fasting glucose levels after exercising and strength improvement.

Whether you have a family history of diabetes of any other metabolic disease, as long as you keep your metabolic systems in good condition and exercise regularly, your genetics will not limit you in any way. The history of diabetes in your family doesn’t seem to be as great a stimulus as exercise is to your body. Rather choose to live healthy and follow a well-balanced diet to reduce your risk of diabetes.


  1. Journal of Strength and Conditioning, Short Bouts of High-Intensity Resistance-Style Training Produce Similar Reductions in Fasting Blood Glucose of Diabetic Offspring and Controls.
  2. Rice University, Insulin, Diet, Disease and Athletes.

Josh Douglas-Walton is a writer for HFE, a leading provider of personal trainer courses and fitness qualifications.

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