By Shavon LeBlanc, First Mile Care DPP Coach

“A little step may be the beginning of a great journey.”

 — Author unknown, probably from a Chinese proverb


At the start of a new year, gyms are filled with people who are excited to start their fitness journey and create healthy habits. Adopting a new fitness regimen can be both. Every day is an opportunity to begin afresh.

In the beginning, cardiovascular exercise is the primary focus, whether in the gym or at home. Walking, jogging, swimming, and dancing are fun ways to build your cardiovascular endurance while increasing your heart rate. The goal is to progress to building muscle through strength and resistance training.

  • Strength training is building strength through the body’s response to force applied by heavy resistance weight on bones, joints, muscles, and connective systems.
  • Resistance training uses your body weight, free weights, resistance bands, and machines to help build lean muscle through lower impact movements.

Strength training provides many benefits, as it can result in decreased body fat and increased coordination, power, and metabolism. It helps the pre-menopausal mom build strong bones and muscle, the active older adult prevent chronic illness, the grandfather improve balance and coordination, and the bodybuilder change body composition.

Research studies have demonstrated the link between strength training and improving insulin sensitivity, thereby improving control of blood sugar. In the First Mile Care Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP), we encourage participants to include strength training as a part of their regular workout plan. Lifting weights consistently can help participants reach and exceed the First Mile Care program goals of moderate physical activity of at least 150 minutes per week and losing 5-7% of starting weight.


Kicking off your strength training

When lifting weights, there are multiple strategies to consider. Determining your fitness goals will define the amount of weight you should lift, how often, the number of repetitions, and when to increase weight. The important thing to remember is that lifting weights is part of a well-rounded training program.

One example workout plan includes lifting lighter weights with higher repetitions, as well as lifting heavier weights with lower repetitions. There are programs that include lifting major and opposing muscle groups back-to-back in what is called a superset.

When beginning to lift weights, please consider the following questions: 

  • Am I training to build muscular endurance?
  • Am I training to build muscle strength?
  • Am I training to increase muscle size?

There are five essential movements to practice when building a strength training program: pushing, pulling, hinging, squatting, and core.  When first starting out, weight lifting machines are helpful to build general understanding of which muscles are associated with each movement. For example, use a leg press machine for a squatting movement, a shoulder press machine for a pushing movement, a lat pulldown machine for a pulling movement, a kettlebell swing for a hip hinge movement, and planks for core movement.


Here is a sample beginner workout:

  • Squats:  3 sets of 12 repetitions beginning with 10-15 lbs or no weight at all 
  • Lunges: 3 sets of 12 repetitions beginning with 8-10 lbs or no weight at all
  • Deadlifts: 4 sets of 10 repetitions with 10 lbs or more
  • Bicep Curls: 3 sets of 8 repetitions with 1-10 lbs or more
  • Step Ups: 3 sets on each leg using 8-12 lbs or no weight at all
  • Plank: 5 repetitions for 20 seconds each
  • Push Ups: 3 sets of 8-10 repetitions


Listen to your body

Know your limits and abilities and build a firm foundation by starting slowly and using dynamic movements to build mobility and flexibility. Examples of dynamic warmup moves include side lunges, windmills, and walking knee holds that can prepare your body to lift, as well as lowering injury risk. 

Pay close attention to any warning signs from your body and never exercise to the point of pain. How to lift a weight — the best form — is more important than lifting a heavy weight improperly, which can increase injury risk. When beginning your weight lifting journey,  enlist guidance from a fitness professional (or your First Mile Care DPP coach) to teach you how to properly execute an exercise to lower injury risk. 

Our bodies are filled with 60-70% of water so adequate hydration before and during strength training are vital. When dehydrated, the body cannot perform optimally due to lower blood volume. On average, women and men should consume more than 10 cups of water daily and add an additional 8-16 ounces when exercising. An electrolyte drink can be helpful during strength training sessions to replenish both water and carbohydrates. 

Rest is an overlooked component in building strength. Between strength training sessions, recovery is vital to maximize muscle growth and strength, and to prevent overtraining or straining a muscle. Extended time periods of soreness past 48-72 hours can be a sign of overtraining. It is important to stretch and recover both before and after your workout to support recovery, prevent injury, and prepare the body for future lifts.  


Slow and steady for sustainable change

The strongest home is built with time, attention, focus, and consistency. Your body is your house. Resistance training can be helpful in building a strong house from the inside out. 

Strength training is about building strength progressively — learning movements, performing and practicing them repeatedly, and incrementally increasing the resistance through weight lifted. Keep these things in mind:

  • Aim to build your strength progressively over time.
  • Reject the idea of reaching your goal in a short period, which can lead to unhealthy habits such as overtraining, and not adequately refueling your body.
  • Avoid trying to measure your progress with what you see on social media.
  • Be patient with yourself, learn as you grow, get help, and maintain consistency.

 Remember that strength training is a journey. Build a firm foundation, make rest and recovery a priority, take in adequate hydration, fuel your body with ample amounts of protein, and enjoy every step of building strength, one workout at a time.


To learn more about how you can benefit from the First Mile Care Diabetes Prevention Program, take the prediabetes risk test and get started today!