READY, SET, STRENGTH TRAIN!

 You may already be doing some kind of cardiovascular activity. That’s great and will help keep your heart, lungs and circulatory system running like a well-tuned sports car!

In addition to the engine, it’s important to spend a little love on the other moving parts.  Keeping the doors opening and closing, hinges lubricated and flexible, and the frame strong to keep your wheels turning for the long haul.

So let’s get rolling!

IMPORTANT: If you have had surgery, it is imperative that you restore range of motion before adding load.  If you have had ANY lymph nodes removed or radiation treatments, you are at risk for lymphedema, so be sure to perform lymphatic drainage exercises before you start.  Limit exercise repetitions to just a few to begin, adding one or two per week, using the lightest weight possible or no weight until you learn how your lymphatic system reacts.  (See the post on Essential Exercises for Breast Cancer Survivors.)

The exercises below are great for everyone and are not aimed specifically at cancer survivors.

You won’t need any weights or resistance unless you’ve been exercising for a while and are ready to progress.

We’ll work with three basic exercises designed to reinforce good posture and strengthen your core, legs and glutes.

As you progress in your program, these may serve as warm-up exercises, but can be used in their basic forms as lighter training options in case of pain or injury.  They can also be made more difficult as you grow stronger.

(Why do people think I’m evil when I say that?)

I’ll assume that you’ve been evaluated for postural or other issues and are cleared by your physician to exercise.

Pay attention to pain.  Your body may be signaling you to stop or modify what you’re doing.  Muscle burn is one thing, but pain should not be ignored.

Speaking of postural issues, you may notice that you don’t stand as tall as you used to.  Your shoulders may be rounding forward as your chest caves inward.  You may be experiencing low back pain.

None of this is your fault.  It’s just that most of our lives happen in front of us, often in a sitting position, so our postures eventually follow suit.  Back muscles become stretched and weak while chest muscles tighten.

Your hip flexors may become shortened and tight, while your glutes (a.k.a.  backside, tushie, butt, booty) may also be stretched from sitting on it all day.

Constant time spent on cell phones and other electronic devices is causing a surge in “tech neck,” which can affect your neck, back, shoulders and even your fingers!

People recovering from breast or abdominal surgery tend to have forward caving posture due to tight scar tissue and pain, or, in the case of some surgeries, relocated muscle tissue. Strength and range of motion may be limited until they are completely healed.

The good news is that, through strengthening your back, neck and core muscles, while stretching your chest and other frontal muscles, you may see a reduction in pain and improvement in posture.

Ready?

Be sure to do at least a five minute warm-up to get your body ready for exercise.  Simple walking is fine.

If you’re recovering from breast surgery, you may not be able to lift your arms but may be ready to begin strengthening your back muscles.  This is a good starting exercise to add to your routine.

A book I’ve found to be helpful is “Essential Exercises for Breast Cancer Survivors”, by Amy Halverstadt and Andrea Leonard,  available at Amazon.com

The move:  Shoulder squeeze:  Start by standing with your head, upper back, butt and feet (if possible) against a wall.  Hold your arms down and slightly away from your body, palms facing forward.  Pull your tummy in as you inhale.  Now exhale, keeping tummy tight, and tighten your shoulder blades back against the wall and down into your imaginary jeans pockets. Squeeeeze those babies!  Breathe normally as you hold this position for 5-10 seconds.  Release.  Repeat 5-8 times.  Perform 2-3 sets.

Tip:  Concentrate on relaxing your neck and not shrugging shoulders upwards.  Keep your tummy tucked.

You can also do this exercise face up on the floor or in bed,  sitting in a chair or without the wall…. Anywhere, really!

I confess to doing it in church.   Shhhh!

Variations:

1) If you’re more comfortable with bent arms, you can lift them away from your body in a “W” shape and squeeze the shoulder blades together from there.

2)You can also step away from the wall, hold your hands out in front, parallel to the floor, elbows bent and fingertips touching, shoulder height or below.  Let hands separate from each other as you bring elbows back, squeezing shoulder blades together

3) Add resistance with a band.

The Move:  Bird Dog:  On the floor, on your hands and knees, tighten your abdominals and butt as you raise your right hand out in front of you, no higher than your shoulder.  At the same time, raise your left leg straight out behind you, reaching with your heel and feeling that nice long spine.  Keep your head aligned with your spine and looking at the floor.  Brace your core and try to avoid tipping from side to side.  Picture a spaniel pointing the way to the birds!

Hold for a second or two.  Perform the exercise on one side 5-10 times, then repeat on other side.

Notice that the model in the video is pointing her toes away from her body.  The move somehow feels more “powerful” and you’ll get a nice stretch if you reach back with your heel.  

Tip:  Imagine a glass of water placed on the small of your back.  Try not to spill a drop!

Variations: 

1) Use arms alone or legs  alone if strength, balance or range of motion is compromised.

2) If getting onto the floor is difficult, rest one hand or both hands on an elevated surface like a table, chair or bench and perform from a standing or bent over position.  Be sure to keep back straight and core braced.

3) Add resistance with bands if you want to make it harder.

The Move:  Glute bridge:  Lie face up on the floor or another firm surface, arms by your sides and palms toward the ceiling.  Bend both knees and place feet about hip-width apart.  Breathe normally as you raise your hips off the floor by tightening your abs, butt and lower back until your body forms a straight line from shoulders to knees.  Hold for a few seconds, lower back down to the floor and repeat 8-12 times.  Rest and build to performing 1-2 more sets.

Tip:  If you feel your hamstrings start to cramp, concentrate on squeezing your butt instead of using the backs of your legs to complete the move.

I don’t recommend doing this one in church.  LOL

Variations: 

1) Elevate your feet on a step, bench or BOSU balance trainer.

2) Rest your shoulders and upper back on a stability ball, BOSU or bench.  Keep knees over heels as you perform the lifts.

3) Hold the bridge and march.

4) Perform single leg glute lifts.

5) Add resistance band around knees.

It may seem like a slow start, but sometimes that’s where we need to be.  Take your time, listen to your body and progress when you’re ready.

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions and I’ll do my best to help.

 

Thank you to Cody George, DPT, CSCS for help with photos.

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