Strength training

Strength training uses weights or resistance to increase the strength and endurance of your muscles, as well as the strength of your bones. It is sometimes called resistance training or weight training.

You may want to begin with exercises to develop your balance and core muscles and then progress to strengthen your upper body and legs.

The strength-training exercises in this section indicate which muscle groups are worked by each exercise and whether it uses any equipment.

Some exercises include easier or harder variations. Look for these symbols on the exercises:

⇓ Make it easier
⇑ Make it harder

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.


Step-by-step instructions and videos in this section:


Which weights?

The weights used in strength-training exercises include:

  • your own body weight – as in push-ups and squats
  • free weights – such as dumbbells and barbells, which you hold, or wrist and ankle weights, which you attach with straps
  • weight machines – devices that have adjustable seats with handles attached to either weights or hydraulics
  • elastic resistance bands – sometimes called ThereBands, these are like giant rubber bands that provide resistance when stretched; they are colour-coded according to the level of resistance.

An exercise professional can advise which weights and bands you should use. As a general guide, women might start with hand weights of 1 kg each and men might start with 2 kg. Once you can do 10–12 repetitions of an exercise easily and without strain, you can gradually add extra weight or use tighter bands.

You can buy free weights and resistance bands at sporting goods stores and some major retailers. Some people make hand weights from everyday objects, such as plastic bottles filled with water or sand. If you try this, use scales to check they are equal weight.

Read more about weights

How much?

Try to do 2–3 sessions of strength training each week, on every other day. It is important to have rest days between the sessions. 

Strength-training exercises involve a number of variables:

  • repetition – the completion of an exercise from starting position, through the movement, and back to the start
  • set – a series of repetitions
  • rest – the time between sets.

During each training session, you will complete a number of sets of different exercises. An exercise professional can help design the best program for you. As a guide, you might aim for 6–9 different exercises per session and choose exercises that target the major muscle groups of the arms, legs and torso. For each of the exercises in a session, you might do:

  • 6–12 repetitions of the exercise per set
  • 1–4 sets of the exercise per session
  • 60–90 seconds of rest between sets.

A program should challenge your muscles without straining them, so that may also guide how many repetitions you do in a set to begin with. Once you become comfortable with a program, you can make it more demanding, but do this by small increases.


This information was last reviewed in April 2016
View who reviewed this content
View our editorial policy

Support services

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

Cancer information

Safety tips for exercising with cancer
Precautions for people starting an exercise program

Staying healthy after treatment
Lifestyle changes that can help keep you in good health

View our publications
Guides and fact sheets for people with cancer, their families and friends

SHARE
TOP BACK TO TOP