Recovering the Moves

By Diane Vives – October 3, 2013

In my life, I have been privileged to train and coach many wonderful women who were recovering from treatment for breast cancer.  I have seen first hand how each individual situation creates it’s own unique movement challenges.  These challenges can be based on a number of things, such as the type surgery needed and the treatments chosen.  I have also seen how regaining movement to a level that is as good—or even better than—before treatment is very powerful in these women’s lives.

The day I was asked to create movements for someone who is affected by breast cancer, my own mother was diagnosed.  The request hit so close to home that it took me a few days to respond to the email.  As my family started preparing and making plans for what was to come next, I realized how much I have learned—not only as a person surrounded by wonderful people dealing with new life challenges, but as a coach and a personal trainer.  The ability to move and express each milestone of regained strength, daily activities, and new goals as part of an appreciation for health and fitness can truly impact the healing process, mentally and physically.

In order to target those fundamental movements, we must start with a progression that allows us to build.  The foundational movement starts with mobility and being able to move a joint actively through a range of motion.  Once good mobility is reestablished, we can feed that range of motion with additional movements fed by static motor control (the ability to resist unwanted movement that may weaken joint support and postural integrity) and dynamic motor control (the ability to accelerate and decelerate under control in a joint—or series of joints—for successful transfer of forces within a movement).

I’d like to focus on one movement that will progress through each one of these important aspects of building a good movement foundation.  By addressing this first and building a strong foundation, the body will be able to adapt to performance training (strength, power, speed, endurance) and be more durable, thus reducing the risk of injury as we focus on reaching for new fitness and training goals.

T-Spine Rotation with Rib Grab

Purpose:  Increase mobility of the shoulder and thoracic spine, which may be limited after surgery and treatment.

  • Start by lying on your side with your shoulders and hips perpendicular to the ground.  Place the top leg on a foam roller or step so that the hip and knee are flexed at 90 degrees.
  • Place your bottom hand on the top of the flexed leg as you take your top hand and firmly grab your side at your ribs closest to the ground.
  • Take a deep breath in through your nose and slowly breathe out through the mouth as you begin rotating the top shoulder back toward the floor.
  • Maintain contact between your leg and the foam roll / step or floor as rotation occurs.
  • Once maximally rotated to your best ability, reverse the motion slightly to relax your effort.  Take in another breath before you repeat rotating your shoulder toward back as close to the floor as possible while maintaining leg contact with the foam roll.


Plank with Knee Flexion

Purpose:  Focuses on static motor control (stability) of the upper body while using dynamic motor control of the lower body and challenging the load across the base of support with the 3-point stance.   

  • Start in a plank position with elbows under the shoulders, forearms flat and in line with the torso, and feet hip with a part.  Make sure the torso is parallel with the ground and there is a straight line through the shoulders, hips, and knees.
  • Slowly and under control, flex one knee, lifting the foot and lower leg from the ground.  Hold for a count of 3.  Then, lower the leg back to its starting position.
  • Continue to alternate legs for the desired number of repetitions.

Tweak Down:  Focus on the plank without flexing the knee.

Tweak Up:  Replace the knee flexion with hip flexion with a straight leg so that the foot is 3-6 inches off the ground.


Chest Press in a Half-Kneeling Position

Purpose: This asymmetrical load will challenge strength across the torso and allow focus on the full pushing motion involving the chest and shoulder.  This also works static motor control of the lower body in the half-kneeling position and dynamic motor control in the upper body pushing movement.

  • Start by creating a stable and tall half-kneeling position, with the forward foot under the knee and the back knee on the ground under the hip.  Stance is hip width apart on the ground.  Use a cushion under the knee if needed and make sure there is a straight line vertically from the down knee, hip, and shoulder.  Torso and head are in line vertically in tall posture and reaching the crown of your head toward the ceiling.
  • Using a band in one-hand, push directly in front of the shoulder on one side of the body, using a full range of motion with the wrist close to the side of your ribs, and finishing with the arm completely extended forward.
  • Be sure that you pull your arm back in a slow and controlled movement to take advantage of building strength throughout the entire movement.
  • Maintain a tall posture at all times.

Tweak Down:  Focus on holding the half-kneeling position and remove band resistance.

Tweak Up:  Narrow the stance so that it is closer than hip-width by bringing the foot more inline with the inside edge of the back knee.  Also, you may increase band resistance or use cable machine for heavier load.

So many of us have been affected by breast cancer or know someone that has.  Movement and regaining an active and fun lifestyle contributes to recovery and creating new goals.  I know that this is a new journey I will take with my own mother, and I hope her dedication to fitness and functional movement will continue to support her healing and happiness.


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