Regular resistance exercise can greatly improve your management of diabetes.

Diabetes Canada has developed a series of introductory resistance exercises that can be done to help strengthen your lower back, abdominals, hips and other parts of your body. These are important to help you be more active in your daily activities.

In particular, the resistance band training program for beginners:

  • Involves mostly seated exercises for those with mobility difficulties.
  • Requires a resistance band (available at most stores).
  • A good starting program for those who have not done resistance exercise.
  • A good option for indoor exercise when it is raining or snowing.

Remember: You don't have to go to a gym to get the benefits of resistance training. You can use exercise bands, weights, your own body weight, or other items you may find around the house (e.g. milk jugs filled with water).

Downloadable resistance exercises

Initial resistance plan progression

Follow the plan below to gradually increase repetitions, sets, and resistance to meet Diabetes Canada's recommendation of resistance activity two to three times a week.

Begin at the initial stage if you are inactive and want to start easy with resistance exercise.

Begin at the improvement stage if you are somewhat active and have no medical limitations.

Program stage Week Frequency (days per week) Intensity: Exertion level RPE* (10 pt) Duration (min)
Initial stage 1 2 Light 2 1 x 8
2 2 Light 2 1 x 10
3 2 Moderate 3 1 x 12
4 2 Moderate 3 2 x 8
Improvement** 5-7 2 Moderate 3 2 x 10
8-10 2 Moderate 3 2 x 12
11-13 3 Moderate 3 2 x 8
14-16 3 Somewhat strong 4 2 x 10
17-20 3 Somewhat strong 4 2 x 12
21-24 3 Somewhat strong 4 2 x 15
Maintenance 25+ 2-3 Moderate-strong 3-4 2 x 15 or 3 x 8

*RPE = Rating of Perceived Exertion. See below for further information.
**Start at the improvement stage if you are somewhat active and have no medical limitations.

Table adapted from Warburton, et al. 2006.

Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE)

Pick the number matching the word or phrase that best reflects your total amount of physical stress, effort and fatigue while doing an exercise. This number identifies your exercise intensity. Record this number on your exercise log after each session.

0 Rest Light intensity
1 Very light
2 Light
3 Moderate Moderate intensity
4 Somewhat hard
5 Hard (breathing deeply)
7 Very hard (out of breath) Vigorous intensity
10 Maximal

Your resistance training should be in the moderate (RPE three to six) range. Use a weight or resistance band that feels "somewhat strong" to "strong" for you.

Resistance exercise guidelines

  • Start with two sets of eight repetitions each for six to eight exercises, and do this two times a week. 
  • Work up to three sets of eight to 12 repetitions each for up to 12 exercises, and do this three times a week.
  • Take one to two minutes of rest between sets.
  • Remember:
    • Only do the exercises you can.
    • Maintain proper posture.
    • Keep movements slow and controlled.
    • Breathe with each repetition.
    • Keep to a comfortable range of motion.

Watch these videos to learn how to do different resistance exercises. Please read the entire disclaimer before beginning any of the exercises in these videos.

Disclaimer: Reliance on the information presented in these videos is at your own risk. Diabetes Canada, the creators, producers, performers, participants and distributors of this video disclaim all warranties, express or implied, and are not liable for any direct or indirect damages that may arise out of use of these videos, from the performance of the exercises demonstrated or the information contained therein, including but not limited to any injuries incurred while using the videos.

Resistance band workout

Dumbbell workout

Additional core exercises

Video credits

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