CrossFit and Chemotherapy

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Now before you choke on your coffee and start dialling my number to give me a lecture, hear me out.

For those who are on my Facebook, you know I am constantly searching for articles that talk about exercise during cancer treatment. This week, a few more great articles were discovered (thanks Tishman and Fiona). The first article, written by Oliver Glass: CrossFitter by night, cancer researcher by day, fired up my desire to be back lifting weights. If I lived in the USA, I would be knocking on his door and asking if I could be his guinea pig. (Vidette he trains at CrossFit Raleigh – isn’t that near you?)

Before I get started, let me say I have never been to a CrossFit gym. I have, however, done CrossFit-style training and previous weight and resistance training. My old trainer in London, Des, trained me like a guy – not a girl. He taught me: how to do correct push-ups, deadlift 95kgs, smash a sledgehammer down onto a tyre, train with kettlebells, and much more. I feel confident and comfortable in this training environment.

When I talk about the positive benefits to training during chemo, I don’t want you to think I am making it up. Research HAS been conducted regarding exercise and cancer treatment – YES, even training during chemotherapy. Hands down, this is the best article I have read thus far:

http://activeptblog.com/2013/11/12/exercise-for-women-diagnosed-with-breast-cancer

Here is a snippet:

In a study looking at the correlation of aerobic and resistance exercise on chemotherapy side effects, 242 women undergoing chemotherapy were randomly assigned to three groups. The first group was used as a control group, and they were instructed to not exercise and take the commonly heard advice of resting while undergoing treatment.  The second group participated in supervised resistance training, and the third group had supervised aerobic training.  The aerobic training group preserved aerobic fitness and maintained pretreatment body fat levels.  The control group’s body fat levels were increased at the end of treatment.  The resistance training group experienced increased muscular strength and lean body mass.  In juxtaposition to the non-exercising group, both the aerobic and resistance training groups experienced considerably decreased negative effects from the chemotherapy treatment (Courneya).

Now that is research that makes me jump up and down!

I was told shortly after being diagnosed: “The problem is, people are diagnosed with cancer and automatically decide to get fit and healthy and start exercising heavily. The body is not used to this activity so exercise becomes problematic as the body is essentially shocked.” This is not the case for me. My body IS used to such exercise. If I start doing some push-ups, my body isn’t going to scream “What the hell are you doing to me?” it’s more likely to say “Welcome to the party, what’s taken you so long!”

CrossFit has definitely taken over Ipswich. Mother and I have been discussing joining for a few weeks now. She suggested waiting until after Christmas, but I wanted to utilise my energy levels now, before my next round (next Thursday). In my usual fashion “act now, think later” I signed up for my first session. At CrossFit Western Front, you have to complete three one-one sessions prior to commencing classes – to ensure you have correct technique and understand the movements. Today seemed liked the perfect day to book in for my first session: Friday 13th.

I decided I would to take my balding head “naked” to my session: a) I am comfortable like this b) it would be too hot training with something on my head, and c) I would have to tell them I was having chemotherapy. I know my training will need to be adjusted depending on my energy levels. I am not completely crazy! I may not be able to keep up with everyone else when I attend the group session: even if I can only manage bodyweight squats, compared to everyone else doing 30kg, big deal! I will still doing squats!

So in I walk: balding head, patchy eyebrow, triathlon t-shirt and pink shoes: “Hi, I’m here for my first CrossFit session.” I have to admit, I was really nervous (it has been over four months since I set foot in a gym!). How much strength and ability had I lost in the last four months? I wondered. I informed him about my cancer treatment and he was completely thrilled that I wanted to do some strength training to counteract the effects from chemo.

I was taken through five movements that are commonly used in class. He checked my technique for: squats, deadlifts, strict press, push-ups and pull-ups. Lucky for me, and thanks to Des, I haven’t lost my technique and we blitzed through the session. I then completed a work out of: 5x pull-ups, 5x push-ups and 15 squats – continuously for 10 minutes. I managed to get through five rounds. It was challenging and my legs now feel like jelly. But you know what, before cancer treatment, workouts like that were hard, and my legs felt like jelly. So nothing has changed. Exercise will always be hard. I accept that later through treatment, I may be flat out getting through the warm-up! I may also only have the energy to stretch and roll around on the foam roller. Hey-ho, let’s see how we go.

I want to reassure you all of this (because I know a few friends will still be worried): I am very in tune with my body. If I don’t have energy, or am not feeling 100%, I know not to push myself. But, if the next few rounds are anything like this one, I will be doing what I can. I have had two weeks of feeling completely normal and healthy. I know the days my WBC are lowest and ensure I am extra careful. I am going to try and keep a journal of my training. Maybe one day, I can help other young, fit people who are faced with cancer treatment and are unsure of what is achievable.

For now, I am back home, on the couch, in my PJ’s, watching the cricket. It’s all about keeping a healthy balance.

#cancer #chemotherapy #crossfit #training

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