Post-Chemo Exercises to Get You Back in Fighting Form from Post-Chemo Exercises to Get You Back in Fighting Form

Post-Chemo Exercises to Get You Back in Fighting Form


Post-Chemo Exercises to Get You Back in Fighting Form


Many cancer patients receive powerful chemotherapy drugs that alter their blood counts and peripheral nerves, causing fatigue. Studies show that patients benefit from exercise and movement during treatment, but it’ss not always as easy to do as it was before chemo. Even basic training routines can be a lot more difficult to do, depending on how active the patient was before the therapy, Karen Hock, a physical therapist at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center. Even walking can be a challenge for some. “Exercise will help you dial back to a physical level that’s appropriate for you."

Don’t wait


You don’t have to wait until the end of chemotherapy to start training, Hock says. “Many people benefit from starting to exercise during treatment.” This may vary from case to case, but studies have shown that physical activity is the best way to combat chemo-related lethargy, she adds.

Overhead stretches


Put your hands behind your back and push the elbows back, Hock says. This will help improve postural balance, she adds. You’re targeting the abdominals, lats, chest, triceps and forearms. To increase the stretch, try to reach down between your shoulder blades along your spine with the hand that is behind your head.

Arm against the wall stretch

This will really help open up the chest, Hock says. Stand up, bend your arm and put it against the wall or a doorway. Lean toward your arm and move slowly. You should feel the stretch in your lats.

Lower body stretch


“We generally don’t stretch the trunk muscles very well,” Hock says. A good way to do that is by laying on your back with bent knees. Let your knees roll to one side, keeping your knees and feet together. Hold the stretch on each side for at least five seconds.

Hamstring stretch


“Always stretch the hamstrings,” Hock says, “Even if it’s just ankle pumping.” This will help regain flexibility, she adds. This is a passive exercise that is also beneficial to people with back pain. Lay on your back; your spine should be in neutral position. Bend one or both knees. Lift one leg up with the heel toward the ceiling and stretch until you feel it in the back of your thigh. Hold for 15 seconds.

Vertical hand slides

Stand beside a wall with the side of your hand on the wall and your arm at a 90 degree angle, Hock says. Slowly slide your hand up and down the wall, feeling the stretch in the area around the breast, she adds.

One-leg standing


It’s important to work on your balance after treatment. Balance exercises can counter some of the effects of muscle imbalances and body asymmetry after surgery. Stand on one foot, next to a wall or a chair if you need extra support, and maintain that position for 10 seconds.

Counter balance stance

Using a rolled up towel, stand at your kitchen counter with your arms extended out to your side. Slowly lift one leg at a time and hold it, practicing your balance, Hock says.

Exercise ball arm raises


Sit on an exercise ball with small dumbbells in both hands. Move one hand to the opposite side of the body while in the resting position, Hock says. Then lift it diagonally above your head. This will help stretch the area around the breast and strengthen your arms.

Wall slides

Deep squats are not recommended right away, Hock says. A gentler wall slide, where you don’t bend your knees a lot is much more appropriate, she adds. The move works the quads, hips and glutes all at the same time. It helps undo the damage caused by slouching forward all day. Stand with your back against wall. Your feet should be hip-width apart. Slide down slowly.

Toe raises

Hold on to a kitchen counter and do toe raises. This is a good leg exercise that strengthens the shin muscles. You can progress the move eventually using a resistance band. This is a good move, which you can legit do at your desk, for increasing circulation and shaping/strengthening calf muscles too.

Pelvic tilts

“We don’t recommend crunches at all,” Hock says. Nobody likes them anyway. A much gentler way to work the core is sitting on a therapy ball and doing some pelvic tilts. The ball should move forward slightly as you tilt your pelvis. Keep your chest up and your head over your shoulders. You can also do some arm exercises while sitting on the ball.



This is one of the easiest aerobic exercises, especially if you don’t have any equipment at home, Hock says. Start by walking a flight of stairs a day, she adds. Physical activity will trigger endorphins release and make you feel better. Use a pedometer to count your steps. This will encourage you to do more, which is always a good idea, but only if you have the energy in you.



“It’s really important to breathe well,” Hock says. Yoga is wonderful because it will help teach you how to properly breathe in and out, while also improve your flexibility and balance, she adds. Yoga is also known to strengthen your core help you de-stress.



There is nothing wrong with doing Pilates, Hock says, but “we want to make sure that the patients start at the appropriate level.” They often have to gain strength before doing it, she adds. In general, Pilates builds strength while maintaining flexibility, and that is the key. As with most exercise programs, if something causes you pain while doing it, back off that activity and check with your chiropractor.