15 Tips for Safe Stretching and Strength Training After Treatment

Carol Michaels
December 6, 2016
Carol Michaels, MBA, ACE, ACSM

Carol Michaels is the founder of Recovery Fitness®, a nationally recognized exercise program designed to help people diagnosed with cancer recover from surgery and other treatments. She is an award-winning exercise specialist, author, presenter, and consultant. She received her degree from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Carol has produced DVDs and created the Cancer Specialist Recovery course in partnership with the National Federation of Professional Trainers. Her book, Exercises for Cancer Survivors, is designed to help anyone undergoing cancer surgery or other treatments.

Stretching and strength training are 2 components of a fitness routine to help recovery after cancer treatment. share on twitter If you’ve gotten approval from your doctor to start these 2 activities, the goal is to get healthy — not hurt — so start slow. Do the exercises that are right for you at this particular time. Remember, even if you were physically active before cancer, you will need to slowly build up to your pre-cancer activity level. A good strengthening and stretching program can reduce stress, fatigue, depression, and anxiety and increase energy levels, muscle mass, flexibility, endurance, and confidence. Here are 15 tips to start safely:

  1. Consider your environment. Exercise at home if your immune system isn’t strong. Gyms carry a higher risk for infection.

  2. Focus on balance. Poor balance may be caused by cancer treatment, weak muscles, neurological issues, or normal aging. In addition, a common side effect of cancer treatment is peripheral neuropathy, which changes the sensation in the legs or arms.

  3. Protect yourself from falls. If you have balance issues or peripheral neuropathy, choose activities that lower your risk of falling. For example, avoid uneven surfaces. Use a stationary bike instead of a treadmill without handles.

  4. Wear comfortable clothing and appropriate footwear. For people with peripheral neuropathy that affects the feet, supportive footwear is really important.

  5. Exercise in a temperature-controlled environment. Cold temperatures can crack your skin, and extreme heat can cause body swelling or lightheadedness.

  6. Warm up. Start with some deep breathing. Then walk, march in place, or ride a stationary bike until your body feels warm.

  7. Breathe. Don’t hold your breath when you exercise. Taking deep breaths can improve your workout and prevent lightheadedness.

  8. Hydrate. Drink plenty of water, especially when you sweat.

  9. Move slowly and smoothly. Having good form is important. Never stretch or strengthen using jerky movements. Focus on the quality of your activity over quantity of repetitions.

  10. Rotate muscle groups. Don’t overwork the muscles in a single area.

  11. Focus on form. When using weights, make sure you can do 10 repetitions in perfect form before increasing the weight. You should feel some fatigue by the eighth repetition.

  12. Gradually do more. Increase the amount of weight you use in 1-pound increments. Being patient will help you achieve your goals without injury.

  13. Wait 48 hours between strength training sessions. Use the day between strength training sessions for aerobic exercise, stretching, and relaxation breathing.

  14. Cool down. After strength training, take a short walk or stretch. A warm shower or bath can also help relax your muscles.

  15. Know your limits. Learn to tell the difference between muscle fatigue and unusual pain. Stop if you feel pain. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. Talk with your doctor if you experience pain, swelling, or unusual fatigue.

Bonus tip: Don’t know how to start a stretching or strengthening plan? Ask your doctor to help you find an exercise specialist in your area. share on twitter