Diabetic Muscle & Fitness > Articles > THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO STRENGTH TRAINING WITH DIABETES (Includes Training Plan)


Quick Summary 

  • The more emotionally attached you are to your health and fitness goals, the clearer they’ll be and the greater you’ll value them.
  • Lifting weights to look better is a sound reason to get started, as the health benefits always come as a byproduct.
  • Increased muscle mass can help reduce diabetes medication needs and improve blood glucose control.
  • You should never go into a set completely shattered. Each set needs to be quality.
  • It doesn’t matter how good your training program is: if you don’t control your blood glucose levels, you’ll never build the body you desire.
  • Each session should provide the body with a different training stimulus.
  • Rest is equally as important as the training itself.
  • A professional coach is worth their weight in gold.


What you’re in for?

4,000 Words

Reading Time ~ 26 minutes





We get all sorts of visitors on both men and women, ranging from the everyday gym goer to professional bodybuilders with diabetes, sports athletes right through to newly diagnosed teens who haven’t an ounce of muscle to their name.


If the idea of building muscle, getting stronger and improving whole body definition sounds good to you, then you’re in the right place.


The training information I am about to share with you is grounded on the latest exercise science, thousands of gym sessions and countless hours coaching people with diabetes of all shapes and sizes.


Let’s get started.


Weight Training and Diabetes 101


Weight training, also known as resistance, body weight or strength training is one of the most beneficial forms of exercise you can perform, especially if you live with diabetes.


When performed properly, weight training delivers a host of health benefits including,


  1. Increased physical strength.
  2. Denser, stronger bones.
  3. Increased metabolic rate at rest (allows you to eat more calories, whilst staying lean)
  4. It burns body fat and helps prevent obesity.
  5. Releases key endorphins that make you feel great.
  6. Improves balance and coordination.
  7. It can protect against sarcopenia (age-related muscle loss)
  8. Increased glucose uptake (it can help manage diabetes)
  9. Improved blood lipids.
  10. Plus, looking jacked and toned in your favourite clothes feels great!


In this article, I want to discuss the most important principles for building a highly effective weight training program for people living with diabetes, whose goal is to build muscle and simply look better naked.


If you are a typical reader of fitness magazines like Muscle and Fitness, Men’s Health, Women’s Health and Oxygen, this article is for you.


What this article is not.


This article does not focus on the goal of building maximum strength for sports like powerlifting and Olympic lifting. I will cover these specific training goals in another article.


Let’s get started…


Weight lifting diabetes


The Diabetic Muscle and Fitness Training Pyramid.


The Diabetic Muscle and Fitness Training Pyramid outlines all the most important variables that make up a successful weight training program in order of importance. Similar to nutrition, many people prioritize the wrong stuff like what is the best exercise for arms over more important stuff like sets, reps, weight used on the bar and personal values for health and fitness (the driving force).



Let’s run through each aspect of the pyramid and highlight everything you need to know when it comes to getting the most out of strength training with diabetes.


Feel free to download the pyramids and upload them onto your social media if you wish. It’s important other people living with diabetes see these. If you’re using a PC right click and ‘Save As’. If you are using a mobile, hold your index finger down and saving the image.


Also, (if you haven’t already) get signed up to my insiders’ mailing list. You don’t want to miss an update. Strength training science is constantly evolving. I’ll keep you in the loop with anything worth knowing. So sign up and don’t miss a thing.






Change your mindset, before you change your behaviour.


Why are you thinking of getting more muscular and healthy?


The more value you see in your health and fitness goals, the more attention you’ll give them. This is why personal values for health and fitness are the most important aspect of the Diabetic Muscle and Fitness Training Pyramid.


If you want to get the most out of strength training you need to identify how it will benefit your life. For most people, the idea of looking better is more important than health.


Girls, you’ll probably see more value in building a great shaped butt, tight core and strong defined legs over improving your bone density.


Guys, you’ll value a well-cut 6-pack, jacked arms and 300lbs bench with more than improved glucose uptake.


Lifting weights to look better is a sound reason to get started, as the health benefits always come as a byproduct.




The more you value something in life, the more energy and focus you’ll put into it. This is your WHY.



Check out these examples of WHY people value strength training.

  • I’ll look better naked.
  • Have better sex.
  • Have more confidence.
  • Be able to wear nicer clothes.
  • Physical Strength and Fitness.
  • Both physical fitness and a great looking body are signs of self-respect and care.
  • Working out feels amazing and lets me clear my head.
  • Being strong will help me protect myself.
  • Lifting weights allows me to eat more food, (if you follow my insta stories you’ll know I love food. 🙂
  • Increased muscle mass lowers my insulin needs – it literally resembles a vacuum for glucose.


Setting Realistic Goals Is Important.


Goal setting is a powerful process for mind and body. Clear goals provide you with direction and motivation to turn your vision into a reality.


However, there is a big difference between positive and realistic goal setting.


What is your goal, is it realistic?


Positive goal setting is like flicking ‘Beast Mode ON’ and thinking you’re going to be Arnold Schwarzenegger in 6 months or Monica Brant after you finish your newest tub of pre-workout.


So many of us fall prey to this mode of thinking. They spend so much time scrolling through Instagram and Facebook comparing incredibly jacked and ripped guys and girls on Instagram, thinking to themselves,


‘I’m going to look like that!’


The problem is, not many people come to terms with the backstory to their favourite fitness photos on Instagram.


  • Genetics (different parents, ethnicities).
  • Years of training experience.
  • Expert coaching and mentorship.
  • Use of anabolic steroids.
  • More free time (giving them the ability to train multiple times a day).
  • No kids to keep them up at night.
  • The list is endless…


Be realistic when setting your training goals.


Be original, define YOUR own personal success criteria, do not borrow those belonging to an individual whose life bears no resemblance to yours.


Stay focused and make the best of your own unique circumstances, rather than comparing yourself to everyone else, especially the pro fitness models and bodybuilders who have been at it a lot longer than you.  The acronym S.M.A.R.T is a great framework to base your goals off.


Every time you set a goal, ask yourself, is it…


S –  Specific, Significant, Stretching

M – Measurable, Meaningful, Motivational

A – Attainable, achievable

R – Realistic

T– Time-Based


The best way to set a training goal is to acknowledge;


  • How you don’t want to look and feel.
  • How you want to look and feel in your new body.


You need to get very specific.


Ask the right questions and you’ll come up with great answers.


  • How lean do I want to be?
  • How muscular do I want to be?
  • How strong do I want to be?
  • How do I want feel?


Goals will differ from person to person. Some people will want to look better for the beach, while others will want to look like a hardcore bodybuilding monster.


Once you visualise how you want to look, hold that image in your head and think about it constantly.


So, how do you look? It’s not that far away.


Now we have goal setting and motivation out of the way, let’s look at the fundamental building blocks that make up a highly effective diabetes weight training program.


The Diabetic Muscle and Fitness Training Pyramid outlines all the key elements of strength training program design in order of importance. Too many people prioritise the wrong stuff, like the best exercise to do, or the best weightlifting belt to buy over the much more important stuff like managing blood glucose levels around exercise, adequate training volume and sufficient rest.


We’ve already covered the most important element of the pyramid ‘Personal Values for Health and Fitness’. Now, let’s discuss the other factors and their role in building a successful strength training plan for diabetes.


Diabetic weight training article




It doesn’t matter how good your training program is, if you don’t control your blood glucose levels, you’ll never build the body you desire. One of the most important take-homes people have when reading my best-selling book, The Diabetic Muscle and Fitness Guide is this:




While looking after your diabetes may seem obvious, not many people do it (well).


How dedicated are you to perfecting your control?


What does good diabetes control look like to you?


  1. Do you check your blood glucose levels regularly?
  2. Do you correct high blood glucose ASAP?
  3. Do you question ‘WHY’ your blood glucose levels go outside range, and get to the root of the problem?


Call it obsessed, but some of us want to get more out of training and live longer.


Poor blood sugar control (both short and long term) is the enemy to building a better looking and feeling body.

We live in an age with breakthrough diabetes management tools. There has been no better time to have diabetes. Recognise this reality and make the most of what is on offer.


Dedicate your life to chasing perfect control. Get as close to normal (nondiabetic) A1C levels as you can. Your dedication will pay off.


I’ve also covered a tonne of information on the effects different types of exercise have on blood sugar levels and diabetes in my book The Diabetic Muscle and Fitness Guide.


Diabetes Phil Graham Strength Training




The term fitness is defined as, ‘the ability to do a task.’

You may be fit enough for one training program, but not another.


Before you consider exercises, sets, reps and how much weight to use, you must ascertain the following key factors:


  • What is the maximum number of days you can train per week?
  • How much time can you spend training per session?
  • What is your training experience? Do you know your exercises?
  • What is your current fitness level?


These factors determine how much training you can handle.


Have you ever jumped into a hardcore program without considering what’s best for you? How did that end up?


If you’re new to training, you’ll lack the basic strength and physical fitness to handle high levels of work. You will get a lot out of a little. Less is more. The great thing is, you will progress quickly and will be hungry for more.


If you are thinking of following the training plans of professional athletes, fitness superstars or pro bodybuilders – be warned! These people are fitter than you, and most likely have more resources in their corner including genetics, supplements, more free time and a coach.


If you have a decent level of experience and strength base, you’ll be able to handle more training. However, it still needs to be manageable from a time and recovery perspective.


This is especially true if you’ve taken time out from training, because of injury or needing a mental break. You’ll not be fit enough to jump back into your old ways of training. You’ll need adequate time to get back in and adapt yourself.


YOU SHOULD NEVER LEAVE THE GYM SICK, IN PAIN, ABSOLUTELY SMASHED or asking yourself, ‘Why am I doing this?’.

Focus on leaving the gym tired, stimulated and challenged.




So many people hold the misconceived notion that a workout must leave absolutely f***ked. If it doesn’t they automatically assume they haven’t worked hard enough.


This way of thinking isn’t smart.


What good is a workout program that burns you out physically and mentally?


There is a fine line between too much, too little and just enough. Your workouts need to be challenging and enjoyable at the same time. This is much more sustainable and you’ll reap far better results.


Follow a training program that stimulates, not annihilates.


Have an intro week, test how certain exercises feel and how well you recover from set number of training sessions.


Your strength training program should keep you healthy and yield long-term progress rather than burn you out, cause injuries and drive you to resent training.


How Long Do I Need to Train For?


Would you say you are a beginner, intermediate or pro?


This is highly dependent on your personal agenda and lifestyle. If you perform other forms of exercise like football, yoga etc. or work a very heavy laboursome job you will need to be mindful of doing too much and cap training sessions at 2-3 times per week.


As an example, let’s assume you were dedicating all your exercise time to weight training. You training frequency would look like this:


Beginners: 30 mins of strength training x3-4 times per week for the first 3-6 months.

Intermediate: 30-60 mins of strength training x5-8 times per week.

Pro: Sports Specific -30-60 mins of strength training x5-10 times per week.


You also need to consider fitting training around your family. One of the most valuable things you can do is introduce them to exercise, especially loaded movement.


There’s nothing stopping you taking time out to show your partner or kids a few simple exercises like body weight squats or weighted carries. If you have really young kids, just get them moving and playing – embracing the full range of human movement.


Why not make it a family ritual to train together one day every week? You can get a tonne of training done with just bodyweight alone.




Training volume is defined as the amount of sets x reps you perform over time for a given body part or movement, in other words, the total amount of work you do.


As a general rule of thumb, your training volume should increase over time.

However, this doesn’t mean you should continually add sets and reps in an endless fashion.


Volume increases only work up to a certain point. If you add too much volume you run the risk of overreaching and building high levels of unwanted fatigue.


As fatigue increases, your performance and training effect will diminish.


In a nutshell, you need to perform enough volume to progress, but not as much as possible. Only increase training volume when you have plateaued or feel very well recovered well.


Frequency refers to how often you train a particular body part or movement.


Generally speaking, you should aim to train each body part at least x2/week. If you have a weak part that needs attention, you may consider going to x3/week if you have the time.


How many reps?


Research has shown muscle gain is possible across a range of rep schemes 1,2. Gains in muscle mass are pretty much equal regardless of repetition range provided training is carried out to muscle failure


Generally speaking, you could have one day dedicated to 6-10 reps and the other 10-20 reps.


Each session should provide the body with a different training stimulus.


You will need to go to failure on reps over 15 Rep Max, whereas reps between 6-15 rep max are probably the most time efficient and don’t need to be taken to complete failure. What would be the difference in time in the gym for these per session, per week, per month, per training block of three months – this would bring it right into the reader’s mind!




You must give your muscle tissues a reason to adapt. This requires challenging your muscles progressively and changing your training program over time.


Increasing weight is one of the most obvious ways to force an adaption.


Other methods include increasing the number of sets and reps you perform or using advanced training variables like bands, chains, drop sets and supersets.


Does this mean my workouts need to get harder and harder, for the rest of my life?


Not necessarily on every set of every workout, it might take you a few weeks training at a particular weight before you acquire the strength and fitness to move the weights up. Generally speaking, you should strive to get physically stronger on a consistent basis, over the course of the month/year.




Learn to measure your training…


When was the last time you kept a note of your sets, reps and progress, honestly?


Track your progress via photos and a log book. If you aren’t getting stronger, look at your diabetes management, total calories, rest and work effort during training. Something will be out of place.


If the idea of manipulating sets, reps, and training loads seems too complicated for you, don’t panic – I’ve done all the hard work for you by creating two complete done-for-you 16-week training protocols that incorporate all the essential aspects of progressive overload needed for optimal strength and muscle development. They also come in 16-weeks of printable log books.


Diabetic Shred is a 16-Week fat loss training guide -> Get Started!

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Exercise selection needs to change between training sessions and block phases. This provides your body with a variety of stimuli and helps avoid injury or niggles.


There is no such thing as a mandatory exercise; however, there are mandatory movement patterns you will need to include in your strength training program.


Movement patterns are fundamental to the proper functioning of the body and involve the use of multiple muscle groups at one time. Exercises are drills that allow you to overload each mandatory movement pattern.


Thousands of exercises exist. However, not all are created the same. I’ve outlined some of the most popular and effective exercises for each movement pattern below.


Consider the muscles involved in each movement.



  • Front Squat
  • Goblet Squat
  • Back Squat
  • Box Squat


Unilateral (single leg)

  • Lunges
  • Dumbbell Split Squat
  • Single Leg Press


Quad Dominant

  • Leg Press
  • Leg Extension
  • Band Exercises for quads


Hip Hinge/Hamstring Dominant

  • KB Swing
  • Deadlift
  • Romanian Deadlift
  • Good morning
  • Rope pull through
  • Lying Leg Curls
  • Seated Leg Curls


Horizontal Pressing

  • Bench press
  • Close Grip bench
  • Decline bench press


Vertical Pressing

  • Military press
  • Seated Dumbbells shoulder press
  • Push Press
  • Front Raises
  • Lateral Raises


Horizontal Pulling

  • Barbell Rows (overhand)
  • Dumbbell Row
  • Chest Supported Rows
  • T-bar rows


Vertical Pulling

  • Pull Up
  • Lat Pull Down


Elbow Flexion Exercises

  • Any kind of bicep isolation exercise.


Elbow Extension Exercises

  • Any kind of triceps isolation exercise.



  • Farmers walk
  • Single arm walk



  • Palloff Press
  • Abs Roll outs
  • Handing Leg Raises




How many Exercises?

How many different exercises did you do in your last session?


Generally speaking, for most body transformation training, 4-6 exercises per workout is more than sufficient. These should include all the exercises above, unless injury is an issue or there are noted weak points in one’s physique, sometimes common in competitive bodybuilders.


Workouts can be split into both whole body or upper/lower based body workouts. I’ve created some very useful templates you can perform each day you train.




Workout #1

X1 Squat/Unilateral Leg Exercise

X1 Hip Hinge/Hamstring Dominant

X1 Horizontal Press

X1 Horizontal Pull

X1 Carry

X1 Core


Workout #2

X1 Unilateral Leg Exercise

X1 Hip Hinge/Hamstring Dominant

X1 Vertical Press

X1 vertical Pull

X1 Core


Workout #3

X1 Quad Dominant

X1 Hip Hinge/Hamstring Dominant

X1 Vertical Press

X1 vertical Pull

X1 Core




Workout #1 – Upper

X1 Horizontal Press

X1 Horizontal Pull

X1 Vertical Pull

X1 Vertical Push

X1 Elbow Flexion

X1 Elbow Extension

X1 Core


Workout #2 – Lower

X1 Squat/Unilateral Leg Exercise

X1 Hip Hinge/Hamstring dominant

X1 Quad Dominant

X1 Core






How much rest do I need during training?


I’ll keep this ultra-simple and to the point.


You should never go into a set completely shattered. Each set needs to be quality.


  • Big Bang Exercises like squats, deadlifts etc. 2 minutes is adequate.


  • Moderately Taxing Exercises like pull ups, barbell rows, close grip bench etc. 1-1.5 mins rest is sufficed.


  • Isolation Exercises like curls and cable work 30-60 seconds is more than enough.


If you’re new to weight training – take a little longer.


Is it ok to take a break from weight training?


Yes, and I highly recommend you do.


Milk every training session for as long as you can, then take a self-assessed break or period of detraining to recharge your batteries. You can’t just keep adding more.


Have you ever got bored with same the routines, frustrated you’re not progressing?


Generally speaking, every 4-8 weeks of consistent training should be followed up with 5-10 days of detraining or complete rest. The more stress you are under (like poor sleep, stress, illness, not eating enough and high or low blood glucose levels) the shorter your training cycle and the longer your detraining/rest periods should be.


During a detraining period, you’ll need to manipulate:


  • Training Volume – Reduce training volume by 50% of your normal routine. So instead of 4 sets, do 2.


  • Intensity – This includes the load and how hard you push to failure. Reduce your training load by 60-80% of what you normally use. Don’t bring your sets to exhaustive failure, work with around 60-70% of the effort.


  • Frequency – Reduce frequency from 2-3 times per week to 1.


Tempo refers to the speed at which you are lifting across different parts of the rep.


It’s one of the least important factors when it comes to training for a better-looking body.


I’ll get straight to the point with this one.


  • Perform all your reps in a safe and controlled manner.


  • Maintain consistent control and speed during the negative (lowering) and positive (pressing/pulling) parts of the rep. Generally speaking, 2 seconds is a good speed to go at.


  • Pause at the bottom and top of each rep for around 1 second.


  • Repeat again until the target number of reps has been achieved.


That was long but worth it.


You’re now equipped with more knowledge than most personal trainers when it comes to designing a strength training program.


I hope you enjoyed what you read and take action on the tips I have shared with you the next time you pick up a barbell.


What key things do you remember, what are you going to take action on?


Here’s some you will want to consider…


Take Home Points


  • You must follow a weight training plan that suits your current fitness level and personal schedule.


  • Obsess over perfect blood glucose levels pre, during and after exercise.


  • Train using a variety of exercises.


  • When performing an exercise, do so with intent. Focus on complete quality and putting your body into the most favourable mechanical position.


  • Don’t be stupid and train through pain. Get it looked at.


  • Perform a range of 6-20 well-controlled reps.


  • Progressively increase the weight you use over time. If you don’t have the fortitude to turn double, treble or even quadruple your lifts, then take up fishing.


  • Never start a set exhausted. Wait until you have properly recovered.


  • Train using a range of movement patterns and exercises.


  • Weightlifting belts, squat shoes and heart rate monitors are the least of your worries.


Safe to say, you’re pretty serious about building muscle, aren’t you?


As you know strength training is only a piece of the puzzle when it comes to getting in shape.


There’s so much more to it, especially when it comes to managing blood sugars with diet, supplements and lifestyle to achieve greater fat loss and maximise muscle growth.


But, I can only cover so much in these articles.


If you want to learn more (much more) and master everything there is to know about strength training science, managing your diabetes and becoming your own personal strength coach and nutritionist, then you need to check out The Diabetic Muscle and Fitness Guide.



Diabetic Muscle and Fitness Guide

With over 400+ pages of evidence-based theory on how to build a stronger, better-looking body with diabetes, this is an absolute must for any dedicated gym goer living with diabetes.



If your goal is fat loss -> GET DIABETIC SHRED   

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If your goal is lean weight gain –> GET DIABETIC MASS

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  1. Schoenfeld BJ et al. Muscular adaptations in low- versus high-load resistance training: A meta-analysis. Eur J Sport Sci. 2016;16(1):1-10. doi: 10.1080/17461391.2014.989922. Epub 2014 Dec 20.
  2. Schoenfeld BJ et al. Effects of Low- vs. High-Load Resistance Training on Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy in Well-Trained Men. J Strength Cond Res. 2015 Oct;29



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