Post Operative Breast Cancer TRX Exercises
The more I learn, the less I know. I’ve been a fitness and nutrition professional for 11 years now but it is moments like these where I set out to understand something that is outside my experience that I am most humbled. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and when the opportunity to write a blog for my TRX peers and community presented itself I felt compelled to take action. I had no idea what I was about to learn about the complexities of breast cancer but when I sat down with a colleague of mine and Breast Cancer Exercise Specialist Vicki McGrath, I was both humbled and enlightened. Let me be clear and state that this blog is not intended to educate or inform you of the differences between a Lumpectomy, Mastectomy, Sentinel Node Surgery, Lat Flap, or Lymphedema. Living with breast cancer and recovering from invasive procedures is a major life challenge but we, informed fitness professionals, are in a position to become well enough equipped by opening our minds and hearts and expanding our skill sets for a population that can certainly benefit from the passion, care, sensitivity, and knowledge we posses. More significantly, we are ideally positioned to share exactly how wonderful the TRX Suspension Trainer is as a tool for those recovering from breast cancer surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and reconstruction.
There are 10 types of breast cancer! All women with breast cancer come into our experience with very unique stories. What I can share is that how we approach working with each individual is highly dependent on the type of breast cancer they have, the type of surgery and/or reconstruction performed, as well as whether radiation and chemotherapy are part of their treatment. Also, women come to us at different fitness levels paired with varying levels of recovery and so we must consider so many different variables at once that it can seem quite overwhelming.
The most important thing to remember is that for breast cancer patients who are dealing with treatments and therapies that are out of their control, exercise is the one thing they can control. You are there to help them gain a sense of control back in their life.
What common ground do most breast cancer patients share? How can we as fitness professionals serve them? How can we use Suspension Training to give them back the level of fitness they once had? It is safe to say that regardless of the type of breast cancer the one thing most of these women share is a high degree of internal rotation in the musculature of the upper back and shoulders. Breast cup size, women who had office jobs prior to surgery, and the fact that surgery makes our posture even more “protective” all contribute to this pattern of internal rotation. The Suspension Trainer is a wonderful tool to help cultivate external rotation, stability, and strength in the postural muscles of the upper back and shoulders. It goes without saying that the Suspension Trainer is the best piece of pulling gear on the market and so working on Low Rows and Mid Rows are relatively great choices across the board because they are easily regressed and progressed.
Next, what I concluded after speaking with expert Vicki McGrath who manages a post operative breast cancer exercise program - The Pink Ribbon Program, at the Peninsula Jewish Community Center in Foster City, CA, is that range of motion and strength are the primary goals of all breast cancer patients. Vicki states: "I see women who were particularly athletic pre-surgery want to do push-ups as soon as possible BUT the TRX Chest Press should NOT be among the first exercise choices". I am going to suggest that in addition to range of motion, stability and strength, losing weight will be a primary goal as well because chemotherapy, stress, and inactivity all contribute to weight gain. I imagine a woman who has gone through breast cancer wants to feel strong, fit and full of energy and suspension training is a wonderful way to do this while having fun!
Let’s leave the TRX Jump Split Squats, Atomic Pushups, Y Deltoid Flys, Single Leg Burpees, Rollouts, and a multitude of other exercise choices you may imagine on the back burner for now and focus on a few exercises that are really going to help increase both range of motion and strength.
TRX Modified Superman
The TRX Modified Superman is a great choice to increase range of motion. We are going to fully lengthen the straps if for no other reason than to provide the experience of freedom and personal power. Yes, this may go against the length convention we as TRX professionals are familiar with but Vicki has worked with many breast cancer survivors and they simply like how having the straps fully lengthened feels. Stand facing away from the anchor point and assume a slight hip hinge with heels lifted to engage the legs just enough without overemphasizing the squat since we are focusing on shoulder mobility. Raise your arms overhead and alternate bringing one hand down to the shoulder as the arm flexes. Extend the arm back to the starting position and switch arms. You can also move both arms in unison. It is perfectly appropriate to add the squat back in once the client feels grounded and stable in the torso, especially since combo moves that include the larger muscles like quads, hams, and glutes are going to facilitate weight loss as well as overall strength.
TRX Single Arm Golf Swing
Another wonderful exercise is the TRX Single-Arm Golf Swing. We are going to fully lengthen the straps again and stand facing the anchor point with the arms extended at about waist height. With knees soft and a slight hip hinge, begin rotating from the thoracic spine as you raise one arm up and back. Given the nature of breast cancer surgery and the amount of scar tissue and potential tension in the scalenes, it might be a good idea to turn the head and follow the hand of the moving arm as opposed to keeping the gaze on the imaginary golf ball.
TRX “Staying Alive”
One of Vicki McGrath’s favorite exercises and stretches goes by the name of “Staying Alive” because the posture and stance look like John Travolta! Stand facing away from the anchor point with your right hand on your right hip. Offset your stance with the left leg forward and then reach your left arm up. You can increase or decrease both the intensity of the stretch and range of motion by simply leaning forward onto the left leg and then backing off. The ultimate goal is to work the entire range of motion from the arm being overhead to 90 degrees or out at the side of the body. This is accomplished best by incrementally adjusting the arm position as you explore and cultivate your range of motion.
They say the first step towards Enlightenment is Awareness. After spending time with Vicki McGrath and learning about the many types of breast cancer and overall invasive nature of its many therapies, I can confidently say my awareness to its complex nature has grown exponentially. Further, I have an entirely new level of respect for those who are impacted by breast cancer and have the strength and will and good fortune to survive breast cancer. It fulfills me to know that we fitness professionals can play a small yet significant role along the road of recovery. It fulfills me even more to know that we TRX coaches possess a unique skill set to help those who cross our paths to move better and train better. If we can help facilitate a smile as well along the way then all the better….
About the author: Kevin Defro
CERTIFICATIONS: NASM-CPT, C.H.E.K. Practitioner Level 1 & HLC 2, IKFF Kettlebell Coach, FDN, CMTA, TRX Senior Course Instructor, Training for Warriors, Levels 1 & 2, DVRT Master Trainer, TriggerPoint Performance Master Trainer, USAW1, Precision Nutrition 1
Kevin is a California native with an immense passion for life, holistic health, fitness, nutrition and music. He has spent over 10 years as a professional in the fitness and nutrition industry. His passion for fitness developed as a youth playing soccer, baseball, tennis, swimming, and running Cross Country. He began weight training at the age of 15 and was introduced to the world of organic food and nutrition in his college years. With a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from UC Berkeley, Kevin integrates his interest in helping people into all of his pursuits.
His roots are in corrective exercise, but Kevin has an extensive skill set which includes the use of Russian kettlebells, ultimate sandbags, joint mobility exercises, TRX Suspension Training, TRX RIP Training, Olympic lifting, battle ropes and bodyweight training. He is currently working with private clients on the Peninsula, teaching TRX Suspension Training and an exclusive training camp at Equinox Palo Alto, and coaching bootcamps in Menlo Park. He is also a fitness educator and represents several companies as a Master Trainer and educator.
Vicki McGrath, ACSM- EP-C, HFD, CET
Certified Cancer Exercise Trainer
Breast Cancer Exercise Specialist
TRX Suspension Training