It has been demonstrated that resistance exercise improves cognitive functions in humans. Thus, an animal model that mimics this phenomenon can be an important tool for studying the underlying neurophysiological mechanisms. Here, we tested if an animal model for resistance exercise was able to improve the performance in a hippocampus-dependent memory task. In addition, we also evaluated the level of insulin-like growth factor 1/insulin growth factor receptor (IGF-1/IGF-1R), which plays pleiotropic roles in the nervous system. Adult male Wistar rats were divided into three groups (N = 10 for each group): control, SHAM, and resistance exercise (RES). The RES group was submitted to 8 weeks of progressive resistance exercise in a vertical ladder apparatus, while the SHAM group was left in the same apparatus without exercising. Analysis of a cross-sectional area of the flexor digitorum longus muscle indicated that this training period was sufficient to cause muscle fiber hypertrophy. In a step-through passive avoidance task (PA), the RES group presented a longer latency than the other groups on the test day. We also observed an increase of 43 and 94% for systemic and hippocampal IGF-1 concentration, respectively, in the RES group compared to the others. A positive correlation was established between PA performance and systemic IGF-1 (r = 0.46, P < 0.05). Taken together, our data indicate that resistance exercise improves the hippocampus-dependent memory task with a concomitant increase of IGF-1 level in the rat model. This model can be further explored to better understand the effects of resistance exercise on brain functions.