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Strength Training While on Chemo


Recently I found out I have lymphoma. Right now I am waiting on the results from a PET/CT scan but my oncologist thinks it may only be Stage I or II since I am currently asymptomatic other than some slight swelling on the right side of my neck.I also had a tonsillectomy on the right side which is how they confirmed the diagnosis. Has anyone dealt with this and how did you train around it?


Brother best wishes to you… I have no idea honestly how too advise you. My wife is a cancer survivor and from watching her go through Chemo you will have up and down days.


You are in my prayers!
I think it does depend on the course of action with the treatment you will receive. These days there are so many different ways doctors do treatments depending on stage and type. The stories you hear all depends on the person. Being active is wonderful however your rest will be valuable too. Cardio might be great not only to stay active but to clear your mind too. Best wishes!


I’ve trained two people during their chemo treatments. Here is what I remember,

  • Had to limit anything where the head went up and down quickly

One of the people was in very good cardiovascular shape, and liked to push their heart rate in the workouts.

Exercises like burpees and swings had been staples on and off for years, but we couldn’t do them during chemo. They would right away get very light headed, and frankly, miserable.

It was enough that anything where the head went up and down due to the body leaning over (RDLs, Bent Over Row, etc.), I took it out of the routine.

  • Strength training was fine, within reason

As long as we didn’t go nuts, they had no problems lifting weights. Granted, we weren’t trying to get stronger, we were just trying to maintain their strength. But I remember being very surprised how well this went.

  • If push comes to shove, you probably want to lean towards some cardio

If you only have the option, or energy, to lift or do something more cardiovascularly demanding (walking, lifting in a circuit, bike, etc.) you probably want to lean towards the higher heart rate work.

I’m not up to date on this, but a few years back when I was training them, some research had been coming out on how those who exercised during chemo had better results. I believe the thinking was more blood flow might be helpful for the chemo treatment, since it helped circulate the drugs.

All in all, I don’t remember any restrictions by the doctors, which also surprised me. I remember them being very encouraging of doing something.

One of my main concerns was how many germs there are in a gym, and exposing an immunosuppressed person to that. Again, I wasn’t given any restrictions or concerns about this, but again, I’ve only worked with a couple people.

Hope your treatment is going well!


First of all, good luck with your treatment and recovery. If you go through the posts here you can read about my own journey with cancer. For me, I had surgery to remove a mass on my neck, where unfortunately, they also had to remove my right jugular vein along with the right sternocleidomastoid muscle. I then went through 6 weeks of Chemo and radiation to hit the main cancer that was located at the base of my tongue. Chemo was once a week; radiation every business day. Chemo sessions lasted about 5 hours. Two hours of hydration, one hour of anti-nausea medication and roughly two hours of actual Chemo. Because of all the side effects from both the radiation and Chemo I ended up losing 40 lbs by the time I finished my treatments. I continued to train for about 2 weeks into my treatment, but that was it. I didn’t hit the gym again until a little more than a month after my last treatment. Like I said, I had number side effects, but the worst for me was the nausea caused by the Chemo. For me the anti-nausea medication given during the Chemo sessions only lasted a couple of days. And the pills taken afterwards didn’t work at all. My bouts of nausea, however, were arbitrary. One day I would feel fine and the next day I wouldn’t. Or I would feel fine for two or three days in a row and then vice versa. However, one thing that I learned is that if you’re not susceptible to motion sickness (I am) you will do better.

Anyway, the main thing that I had to deal with during my recovery was fatigue. Because you’re not getting radiation treatments perhaps this won’t be an issue with you. I found it easier to fight through it lifting weights than doing cardio since each set only lasts 30 seconds give or take. On a side note: during my recovery I was able to gain back muscle mass quicker than strength.

The last thing I would advise is to be patient. Your recovery won’t be linear. I don’t know how many times I thought I had turned the corner with a particular side effect only for it to not be the case. But, recovery does happen. Good luck!