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Cathy Skinner Demonstrates Seated Exercises for Cancer Patients

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Published on May 2, 2019

Discover the benefits of exercise with THRIVORS founder Cathy Skinner, all while sitting in a chair. Watch as Cathy demonstrates a research-based exercise routine designed to meet the unique needs of cancer patients during or after treatment. This program includes seated stretches, and core and strength-building exercises to help maintain muscle mass and increase flexibility and balance.

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Transcript | Cathy Skinner Demonstrates Seated Exercises for Cancer Patients

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That's how you’ll get care that's most appropriate for you.

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

Cathy Skinner:

Hello.  My name is Cathy Skinner, and I'm the CEO and founder of THRIVORS.  I'm here with you this afternoon on Patient Power.  I'm streaming live from the state of Minnesota.  Hello to everybody who is in St. Paul.  Today we're going to be talking about exercises that you can do while you're seated, perhaps have low energy.  

And so why do chair exercises?  Well, maybe you have poor balance.  If you were with us last month where I did a segment on neuropathy, which is numbness and tingling in your hands and feet, the numbness in your feet can actually lend itself to poor balance.  Maybe you have pain.  When you're standing, you have tightness in your joints, and you find that difficult. Maybe you have a limited range of motion.  

So the great thing about chair exercises is that it allows you to start slow, start moving your body, activating your muscles, strengthening your joints, and then you can build and progress from there.  So the benefits of chair exercises are increased muscle mass, so we're trying to build the muscles so that you have the strength to do all the things in your daily life that you love to do.  

We're going to build muscle mass.  We'll build some flexibility so we'll make sure to do some stretching at the end of our segment this afternoon.  And then think about the benefits of balance that come by strengthening the connective tissue in your joints and just getting your body moving so you have circulation, the blood is flowing, the oxygen is flowing, and you gather all those benefits as well.  And then there's the side benefit of exercise.  It isn't often discussed, but there's an elevated mood, elevated concentration and a lightness that comes from physical activity.  

So what are you going to need today?  Hopefully, you brought yourself a chair.  I have one here, a nice, sturdy one.  I purposely chose not to use a chair with arm rests.  If you have particular issues and concerns about falling out of the chair, feel free to use arm rests as well.  You're going to need some weights if you have weights, or what I call props. So things that are modest weight light a can, water or a juice or soda or perhaps a water bottle.  So these props are very inexpensive because they are already in your home.  You've already got a chair, and so that makes you all ready to go to do exercise.  

So if you've met with me before, you know that I have a certain protocol that I like to follow. I'm a certified cancer exercise specialist.  I've been working with cancer patients over the last nine years in Minnesota, almost 400 people, men, women, all types of cancer.  And so I base the exercise protocol that I do on a specific research protocol from Kathryn Schmitz out the University of Pennsylvania.  So that being said, we're going to start with core exercises first, then we'll do some strength exercises, and then we will end with one simple stretch that I think you're really going to like.   

So with the core exercises, first make sure you're seated at the front edge of your chair, either with or without arm rests.  And from here you're going to have your hands on your abdomen or on your ribs, and you're going to twist and generally take your eyes over one shoulder moving through the abdominals and through the ribs.  What's really nice about being seated is it keeps your hips stationary, and it really makes sure that you move through the center of the body. 

So this exercise has two benefits.  One is strengthening those abdominal muscles and also stretching and opening up the body. So think about moving through the chest and shoulder, rotating through the ribs, and the other side.  And feel free to take your time with that one because it actually feels really good.  

The only restriction is that if you're a cancer patient and you actually have cancer in your spine, your physician and I are going to recommend that twisting is not going to be in your wheel house.  So how do you get to these side muscles?  Then you can also do just generally bends, so you're not twisting or sheering the spine. You're still opening through the sides of the body, that feels really good as well, and extend and then generally arch and reach.  

And the beautiful part about this chair is that it keeps your head really stable so you can actually move through the right muscle groups no problem.  All right.  

So the other part of my protocol, when we do strength training is to alternate upper body and lower body exercises, so that's exactly what we're going to do today. So take the prop of your choice, maybe you don't want any weight.  Maybe you want a modest weight like cans to get started, and what we're going to do first is what I call a row.  

So think again sitting at the friend edge of your chair you're going to pull your hands back to your hips so you're opening up through the chest, squeezing the muscles in your upper back.  Think about your head being nice and tall on top of your neck.  You've got a very straight spine, and you're feel your core actually activate as you sit nice and tall.  So we're looking to squeeze and then release.   

Now, we're not going to squeeze the heck out of the weights or the cans, so actually relax your hands and move through the muscles in your upper back and see if you can get those to activate.  And just one more.  

Then again if we're going to alternate upper body and lower body exercises, the next one I'd love to have you try is a leg extension.  So hands generally placed on the base of your chair or on your arm rests, and you're going to extend that foot and see if you can get it parallel to the other quad.  So extend the leg, parallel here.  Now, if you want a little extra stretch, flex the foot at the extension.  And the trick is to try to stay tall as you extend.  

So if you find that you extend and then you fall in your body, all you have to do is extend the leg a little lower, maintain that tall posture, and as you gain strength and flexibility then you can bring that up higher.  So we're really trying to maintain the body composition and strength while you're doing the exercise.  So don't forfeit form for of effort, just modify it.  Do whatever you need to do.  

I had a cancer client this week tell me I was the queen of modifications.  Great.  I'll take it. So that's the first pair of exercises. You have the row and then you have the leg extension.   

Here's another pair of exercises.  Take your modest weight, hands are down by your hips, palms are facing forward, and we're going curl.  So these are very traditional biceps curls where the palms are facing up.  If you want to do a variation on a curl, those are kind of done a lot, you can rotate the hands out and bring the weights up to the shoulders.  You're still getting at the biceps muscle but a little bit different torque, little bit different angle.  

And you can always mix it up, right?  The best part about exercise is making sure that you do it, and if you keep it fresh and interesting chances are you'll keep it going long term.  

So here's my second exercise going to the lower body.  So we did the leg extension.  Now I'd like to do a knee lift.  So the secret is to actually use all the muscles right below your bellybutton.  So your low abdominal muscles, and you're going to use those muscles to lift the leg.  It's going to take a little bit of mental power here, maybe even a tactile queue where you put your hands on that low ab and give it a little tap so you queue the right muscles.  

Now, what's going to happen is if you start to feel your quads or your hip flexors engage, then you need to tell them to quiet down and talk to those low abs and get those muscles to do the work.  So we're really looking at core strengthening and coordination.  Okay?  So we've got the biceps curls paired with the knee lifts that are really a core exercise. Nice.  

Back to the upper body exercise.  Got another one for you.  So we're going to go with shoulder raises where you alternate raising to the side, just shoulder height, and raise to the front.  So if you have had breast surgery, some kind of shoulder surgery, it's really nice just to go about shoulder height.  It's good range of motion.  You're not going to be impairing or working against any impairments you might have.  You'll be strengthening those muscles and working within an appropriate range of motion. 

And again we're trying to get you to move.  Move to feel good, to have more energy, to reduce that fatigue, reduce any pain. Feels counterintuitive, right? But that's really what we're aiming for is movement.  Okay, so shoulder exercises alternating side and front.  

Now, I'm going to give you two options for our last lower body exercise.  One is called a heel drag, and I really like this exercise if you can do it right, because it activates your hamstring.  And as we get older and as we get less active, we tend to be quad dominant.  In other words, the front of the muscle, the muscles on the front of the leg get a lot stronger than the muscles on the back of the leg.   

So heel drags, you extend that heel on the ground and you literally push your weight into the heel and then pull the heel back.  So just as it sounds, heel drag.  Extend, press and draw, extend press and draw.  And what we're aiming for is you should feel muscle behind the leg start to activate, okay?

So as I promised, there's a stretch I want to share with you that you're really going to like.  So take ankle across the knee.  You're going to sit pretty wide and tall with that knee wide, and then you sit nice and tall through the spine, feel like you bring your chest forward over the shin, and then you'll get a nice stretch in the back of the hip.  And if you are closer to your device and you can message me, I'm sure you'll be telling me you can feel this stretch because I know I do. 

But this is a lovely exercise to have to help the hip get open and with range of motion gain strength, mobility, balance.  We really want to work on this those things.  And then gently release and then switch to the other side.  And again sit nice and tall and bring the chest over the shin and gently release.  And you guys look great.  

So exercises from a chair.  We can do core.  We can do upper body.  We can do lower body.  We can stretch.  All these beautiful things are going to help you feel great.  

Another thing that's going to make you feel great is spending time on Patient Power.  There are so many wonderful resources there. I'm thrilled being able as a person in the cancer community through THRIVORS to support Patient Power, and I hope you can support them as well.  Have a fabulous day.  Thank you. 

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.