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Increasing Strength. 5 Upper Body Exercises to Add to Your Routine.


It has been over a year since I posted my blog “6 Upper Body Strengthening Exercises to Start Today.” You all have really loved having a resource of strengthening exercises that we use in our pulmonary rehab each day. Having a strong upper body assists you with daily tasks like carrying a laundry basket, putting away dishes, washing your hair, and carrying in groceries. When a person with a chronic lung condition maintains their strength and conditioning, they find in many cases that they can perform these tasks with less breathlessness and energy expenditure. I have received a ton of emails asking for more ideas of other upper body exercises that you can do standing or sitting. I try and keep my pulmonary patients in mind when I research exercise ideas for you all. Some of the things that I think about is that many of my patients get short of breath standing, some of them have difficulty with balance, many cannot lie on the floor to perform exercises, and almost all of them get short of breath bending over. Sure, there are a TON of strengthening exercises out there, but not all are right for someone managing a lung diagnosis.

Before I get into the “nitty-gritty” of the exercises, I must reiterate my recommendations for performing any strength training exercises.

*** As with all exercise programs, please make sure it is fine with your doctor to start any new exercise routines. Also, if you have experienced any shoulder injury in the past, please check with your doctor if there are limitations to your range of motion as well as any weight restrictions before trying any of these exercises. I also recommend trying each movement without any weight to make sure the range of motion is comfortable for you. If you have any pain, stop the exercise immediately and see your doctor for recommendations.***

Before you begin, I want to give you 3 BASIC RULES I tell each of my patients when doing any strengthening exercises.

1. “If it hurts, don’t do it” – If you have a range of motion issues in your joints, doing a weight lifting exercise that causes you pain is not going help resolve this, in fact, you may cause more problems in your joint if the range of motion issue isn’t resolved first. Prior to putting any weight in your hands… check to make sure you can perform the movement without any pain. If you experience any pain while lifting weights, STOP IMMEDIATELY and notify your doctor for recommendations. DO NOT keep going. “No pain, no gain” IS NOT our focus!!!

2. “Go slow” – Going slow is a great way to make sure you are performing the exercise with proper technique and will ultimately prevent any injury or sprain. If you haven’t been using any weightlifting in your exercise routine, start with very light weights, and slowly work up in the number of repetitions.

3. “Breathe” – We all have a tendency to hold our breath while lifting weights. Make sure you use your breath to help fuel your muscles and breathe in and blow out through each repetition. This is another great opportunity to practice using a breathing technique (See Breathing Techniques Blog).

Lastly, if you are ordered to wear supplemental oxygen with exertion… please wear it while doing any of these exercises. You need to make sure that you are providing your muscles with enough supplemental oxygen so that they are “well-fed” for exercise.

Now that we have that all covered… let’s get into the exercises! Remember: most of the exercises that I have recommended can be done standing OR sitting. If you get the slightest bit wobbly on your feet or standing for a prolonged period makes you breathless, find a sturdy chair to sit on to perform these exercises. Safety is key!

1. Wall Push-up (strengthens chest, arms, and shoulders) – This is the only exercise out of the group that requires standing. I love this exercise because it works a combination of muscle groups and therefore is a good exercise to do first. Wall push-ups put less stress on the back than traditional push-ups and don’t require you to get down on the ground. Stand in front of a wall (approx. 2 ft away) and lift your arms up to shoulder level. Place your palms on the wall slightly wider than your shoulder width. Inhale and bend your elbows leaning slightly into the wall. Blow out through pursed lips as you push yourself back up. Do not arch your back as this will put too much pressure on your spine. Perform 5-10 repetitions. As you build your strength, try and add another wall push-up to your session.



2. Dumbbell Bent-over Row (strengthens back, shoulders, and arms) – Holding a dumbbell in each hand, stand or sit with your feet about a shoulder-length apart. Bend slightly at your hips keeping your head and neck in perfect alignment with your spine. Take a breath in and blow out while pulling the weight in towards the body as if you are starting a lawnmower. Inhale as you are lowing the weight back down. Perform 10-12 repetitions.

*** Rule of thumb: if you cannot perform 8 repetitions without struggling, the weight is too heavy for you.***



3. Hammer Curl (strengthens biceps and forearms) – Stand with your feet should length apart or sit holding a pair of dumbbells in your hands with your palms facing towards your body (this is the main difference from a standard bicep curl). Keeping your elbows close to your body, inhale and then exhale as you bend at the elbows bringing the weights up close to your shoulders. Inhale as you lower the weight back down. Perform 10-12 repetitions.



4. Bent-over Fly (strengthens shoulders and back) – Hold dumbbells in your hands and stand or sit with your feet shoulder length apart. Keeping your back flat bend over slightly at your hips keeping your head and neck in perfect alignment with your spine. Exhale and lift both arms out to the side, maintaining a slight bend in the elbows and squeezing your shoulder blades together. Inhales as you lower your arms back down. Perform 10-12 repetitions.



5. Overhead Triceps Extension (strengthens triceps and shoulders) – Stand or sit with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold a dumbbell with both hands. Lift the dumbbell until your arms are fully extended with your palms facing the ceiling. Inhale, bend at the elbows, and slowly lower the dumbbell behind your head. Exhale as you raise the weight back up. (***One thing I noticed after taking these photos for you all, is that my elbows “got away” from me a bit in these photos. When doing this particular exercise, try to keep the elbows as close to the head as possible***)


Some extra tips:

· You may experience some mild muscle soreness especially if you are new to weight training. This soreness should not prevent you from doing your daily activities. Give yourself plenty of time to recover from your workout. If the soreness is more severe, cut your workout back the next time you exercise or visit your fitness center.

· Lung patients need to make sure they rest between each exercise. You may be surprised how just lifting these weights can increase your heart rate and cause breathlessness. Make sure you give your breathing time to stabilize between each exercise that you do.

· Wear proper footwear to give yourself good balance and to prevent slipping or skidding.

· Hydrate – drink plenty of water during your work out and after your workout. Water will help to flush the muscles of any lactic acid that may cause muscle soreness.

· No weights, no problem – Grab soup cans or bottles of ketchup to use as your weights. They are approximately 1lb and can easily be a good way to begin your strength training workout.

SIDE NOTE: If you liked the weights I was using in the pictures, they are the Bowflex SelectTech 552 Adjustable Dumbbells. We purchased them about 6 or 7 years ago because the workout space on our home is small and my husband and I liked the fact that they were everything we needed in one set. No need to go out and buy multiple pairs of weights as we increased our strength. It has the option to adjust the weight from 5-52 pounds just by turning a knob. They are on the "pricey side" and unfortunately because many of the gyms are closed right now… they are in demand. I did find another brand on Amazon Activafit and these rated well. They have a range of 5.5-27.5 lbs. which I think would be more than adequate for most people. Feel free to check them out. I have linked them below.


Interested in reading more from BreatheLiveFit? Check out some blogs that I have written in the past!

Preventing Accidents and Safety Advice for People with Lung Conditions

Don’t Lose Ground. Cardio Workout Ideas for People with Lung Conditions

Upper Body Strengthening Using Resistance Bands for People with Lung Conditions

Thanks for Reading and Stay Well!

Remember: We are in this TOGETHER!

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:) Christina

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