• April 3, 2020
  • New York
strength training during chemotherapy cancer

Strength Training During Cancer or Chemotherapy

Strength (resistance) training is not just for young people and isn’t just about lifting heavy weights in order to create bigger muscles and look better on the beach. Strength training can help cancer survivors regain strength that is lost during active treatment and is also helpful for promoting bone health. Strength training can help older adults by ensuring that they continue to have the strength to get on and off the toilet, climb stairs, carry groceries, and do other common functional tasks. Older adults lose muscle mass as they age, and cancer treatment can exacerbate that process. Strength training may be more important than aerobic exercise for some survivors.

Strength Training During Chemotherapy

The recommended frequency of strength training is two to three times per week. The time it takes per session may vary, but 20 to 30 minutes is adequate. The type could include dumbbells, variable-resistance machines, or strength training activities performed in a class. Even if you have done strength training in the past, it would be advisable to start with very low levels of resistance during and after your cancer treatment. There is often a period of inactivity during active cancer treatment. This can result in loss of muscle mass and strength. Adjuvant treatments (e.g., chemotherapy and radiation) may also result in loss of muscle mass and strength. Thus, to avoid injury, it is recommended
that those living with and beyond cancer start with low resistance. If you are using dumbbells, this would translate to 1 to 5 pounds (0.45 to 2.3 kg) per exercise. If you are using variable-resistance exercise machines at a fitness facility, start with one or two plates on each machine.
The type of strength training you do is not as important as doing it regularly. If you prefer to exercise at home, you might want to get a set of dumbbells or adjustable weight dumbbells. If you enjoy exercising with others, you might like using variable resistance machines in a circuit or in a class led by an instructor. Also Check: Fundamentals of Strength Training

Progression Of Training

Progression of resistance should be slow after a cancer diagnosis for several reasons. First, many survivors experience a period of inactivity between the time of diagnosis and the time when the surgeon indicates it is safe to begin normal daily activities again. Deconditioning occurs when exercise is stopped. The extent of the deconditioning is determined by the length of time spent not exercising. When one is starting or returning to exercise after a period of deconditioning, there is a higher likelihood of muscle injury from overdoing. There is also an inflammatory response that occurs when one progresses resistance too much (e.g., a 50 percent increase, such as going from 5 to 10 pounds [2.3 to 4.5 kg] from one session to the next). This is pertinent because cancer-related fatigue is thought to be related to inflammation. Further, an inflammation-related adverse effect of cancer treatment called lymphedema can cause swelling of the area of the body affected by cancer. Lymphedema results from an increase in protein-rich fluid, which can happen with increased inflammation and can occur in the arms, breasts, and torso of breast cancer survivors and in the lower body after bladder, testicular, and gynecologic cancers, as well as after melanoma.

Things To Consider While Strength Training During Cancer

Although cancer survivors can safely do strength training, in order to avoid increasing inflammation or muscle injury after deconditioning, they are advised to start with low weights (below 5 pounds [2.3 kg] for dumbbells, one or two plates on variableresistance machines) and progress resistance in the smallest possible increments. As always, allow changes in symptoms to be your guide. Finally, if you find that you need to take an “exercise holiday” (e.g., because of caring for an ill relative, vacation), be sure to back off on the resistance used in your strength training exercises. If you take three weeks off, start over with the lowest weight and rebuild. To avoid injury and any excessive inflammatory responses, maintain a regular strength training routine performed at least twice weekly. But make sure you have at least one day between each session to allow the muscles to recover. Also Check: Complete list of Strength Training

Can exercise really help following chemotherapy?

Problems sleeping and persistent tiredness are common. Although it seems counterintuitive, a program of aerobic activity helps with fatigue. In addition, yoga has benefits for sleep outcomes in cancer patients, as well as the expected benefits for balance and muscular fitness. Consult with your health care provider for recommendations on local programs specifically designed for cancer survivors (e.g., YMCA or hospital-based fitness centers). Strength training for cancer survivors is a good option to bring back the lost muscle strength.

Are there benefits of yoga for cancer survivors?

There is evidence that yoga can help cancer survivors sleep better. Further, many cancer survivors enjoy yoga for the benefits of relaxation and quality of life improvements. The challenge in recommending yoga to cancer survivors is that there are many types of yoga, and not all of them would be suitable for cancer survivors. Vinyasa, Bikram, Hot, Ashtanga, Power, Jivamukti, and Kundalini yoga might be more advisable for cancer survivors who had been practicing these types of yoga for a long time before diagnosis. The forms of yoga that might be more advisable for cancer survivors include Yin, Hatha, Iyengar, and Restorative yoga. Ultimately, there is no hard and fast rule to determine
what is safe for a specific person. Thus, use caution when approaching yoga in all forms by starting slowly, progressing slowly, and letting symptoms be your guide. This is good advice for all other forms of exercise as well. There is value to moving more. If you are attracted to a form of exercise that isn’t discussed in this chapter and wonder whether it would be advisable for you as a cancer survivor, there is a simple way to proceed: with caution. Do a small amount of the activity and see how it feels. Progress the time and intensity gradually. And, as always, allow your symptoms to be your guide.


The exercises you perform should work the major muscle groups: chest, back, shoulders, arms (biceps and triceps), front of thighs, back of thighs, buttocks, and calves. You should also do exercises for the muscles commonly referred to as the core: the abdominal muscles and lower back. Strength training during chemotherapy can help the cancer survivors regain the muscle strength and get back in daily activities. 


Hello there, I am a fitness expert and love helping people to have their massive transformation. Follow my guide, tips and tricks and your will definitely get your fitness goals.

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