- Cancer Information
- Living well
- Exercise after a cancer diagnosis (including videos)
- Strength training (video)
- Upper body (video)
Strength-training exercises for upper body
These exercises develop the muscles of your upper body, such as the muscles of your chest, shoulders and arms.
|Remember to check with your health care team before beginning any exercise program. Although we have provided strength-training exercises to suit most people, some of them may not be right for you.|
Learn about and watch videos on:
Muscle group: Chest and shoulders
- Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Lean slightly against the wall with your arms outstretched at shoulder height and your hands on the wall. Do not lock your elbows or knees.
- Slowly move your body towards the wall, bending your arms at the elbow.
- Once your nose is close to the wall, push away, against your body weight. Breathe out as you push back to the starting position. Repeat the standing push-up.
Muscle group: Chest, shoulders and arms
- Start with your knees and hands on the floor and your arms extended. Keep your back and bottom as straight as possible, and keep your head in line with your spine.
- Lower your torso slowly, bending your arms at the elbow.
- Push up – try not to lock your elbows at the top. Breathe out as you push back up to the starting position. Repeat the modified push-up.
⇓ If you feel any pain in your back doing this exercise, bring your hands closer to your body.
Muscle group: Shoulders, back and triceps (back of arms)
Equipment: Elastic resistance band
- Attach the resistance band to a fixed point, ensuring it is well secured. Stand with feet shoulder width apart and arms outstretched at waist height.
- Pull the resistance band towards you, keeping your elbows and hands at waist height. Breathe out while pulling the band. Make sure your spine does not move, and keep your neck and shoulders relaxed. Avoid lifting your shoulders to your ears.
- Slowly return to the starting position, then repeat the standing row.
Muscle group: Shoulders
Equipment: Gymstick, barbell, pole, broomstick or hand weights
- Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Hold the bar at chest height with your elbows almost completely bent (so they are almost touching your sides).
- Push the bar up until it is above and slightly in front of your head. Breathe out during the lift and maintain good posture – don’t raise your shoulders.
- Pause, then lower the bar back to the starting position. Repeat the lift.
⇑ Increase the difficulty by adding weight or elastic resistance to the bar.
Muscle group: Shoulders and trapezius (upper back)
Equipment: Hand weights
- Stand with your arms by your side and your feet shoulder width apart. Hold the weights with palms facing your thighs. Tighten the tummy muscles (abdominals).
- Bend your arms and raise both weights slowly up to shoulder height. Avoid jerking the weights when lifting them up. Maintain your head and neck position, looking straight ahead. Avoid lifting your shoulders to your ears. Feel the exercise work the muscles in your shoulders and not in your neck.
- Pause, then lower both weights back to the starting position. Repeat the lift.
Muscle group: Biceps
Equipment: Hand weights, gymstick or barbell
- Stand with your arms by your side and feet hip width apart. Hold the weights with your palms pointing forward.
- Bend your elbows to lift the weights to shoulder height. Keep your elbows tucked in, avoid moving your shoulders and make sure your body does not sway. Breathe out during the lift.
- Slowly return almost to the starting position but do not fully straighten your elbows – keep them slightly bent. Repeat the lift.
A/Prof Prue Cormie, Chair, COSA Exercise and Cancer Group, and Principal Research Fellow – Exercise Oncology, Australian Catholic University, NSW; Rebecca Cesnik, Accredited Exercise Physiologist, ACT; Dr Nicolas Hart, Senior Research Fellow, Exercise Medicine Research Institute, Edith Cowan University, and Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Cancer Council WA; Stephanie Lamb, Life Now Project Officer, Cancer Council WA; John Odd, Consumer; Sharni Quinn, Clinical Lead Physiotherapist, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Chris Sibthorpe, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Queensland; Jane Turner, Accredited Exercise Physiologist, Concord Cancer Centre, Concord Repatriation General Hospital, NSW.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
Click below to download a PDF booklet on this topic.
Coping with cancer?
Speak to a health professional or to someone who has been there, or find a support group or forum
Life after cancer treatment
Programs and support for people who have finished treatment
ENRICH – a free healthy lifestyle program
A face-to-face exercise and nutrition program for cancer survivors