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Strength-training exercises

Strength training uses weights or resistance to increase the strength and endurance of your muscles, as well as the strength of your bones. It is sometimes called resistance training or weight training.

The weights used in strength-training exercises include:

  • your own body weight – e.g. push-ups and squats, yoga and pilates
  • free weights – such as dumbbells and barbells, which you hold, or wrist and ankle weights, which you attach with straps
  • weight machines – devices that have adjustable seats with handles attached to either weights or hydraulics
  • elastic resistance bands – sometimes called TheraBands, these are like giant rubber bands that provide resistance when stretched; they are colour-coded according to the level of resistance.

An exercise professional can advise which weights and bands you should use. You can buy free weights and resistance bands at sporting goods stores and some major retailers. Some people make hand weights from everyday objects, such as plastic bottles filled with water or sand. If you try this, use scales to check they are equal weight.

This section outlines some simple strength-training exercises, including exercises to develop balance, strengthen core muscles and build strength. You can also watch videos of these exercises online here.

How much?

Try to do 2–3 sessions of strength training each week, with a rest day between sessions. Strength-training exercises include several parts:

  • repetition – the completion of an exercise from starting position, through the movement, and back to the start
  • set – a series of repetitions
  • rest – the time between sets.

During each training session, aim for a series of exercises that target the major muscle groups of the arms, legs and torso. An exercise professional can help design the best program for you. As a guide, you might do:

  • 6–10 exercises
  • 6–20 repetitions of each exercise per set
  • 1–4 sets of each exercise per session
  • 60–90 seconds of rest between sets.

A program should challenge your muscles without straining them, so that may also guide how many repetitions you do in a set to begin with. Once you become comfortable with a program, you can make it more demanding, but do this by making small adjustments.

Check with your health care team before starting any new exercise program. Although we have provided strength-training exercises to suit most people, some of them may not be right for you.

One-leg balance

Muscle group: Overall balance
Equipment: Chair (optional)

  1. Stand on a soft but firm surface, such as an exercise mat or carpet.
  2. Slowly bend one knee to lift the foot off the ground so that you are balancing on the other leg. Keep your eyes on a fixed point in front of you and breathe slowly and deeply. Hold the pose for several seconds if you can.
  3. Lower your leg and put your foot back on the ground. Repeat the exercise with the other leg.


  • You may want to start near a chair or wall so you can steady yourself.
  • For a challenge, put your hands on your head as you balance and/or close your eyes.

Watch our video


Muscle group: Core (torso and pelvis)

  1. Lie on your back with knees bent and your feet flat on the floor about hip width apart. Place your hands on your lower abdomen and lift your pelvic floor muscles. Keep breathing normally.
  2. Slowly lower one knee out to the side, without moving the hips. If your hips tilt to one side, you have lowered your knee too far. Hold for 15–30 seconds.
  3. Return to starting position. Repeat with the other knee.

Watch our video

Pelvic tilt

Muscle group: Core (torso and pelvis)

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor about hip width apart.
  2. Flatten your back by tightening the muscles in your abdomen and buttocks. This will tilt your pelvis up slightly. Hold for several seconds.
  3. Relax the muscles and rest for a few seconds, then repeat the pelvic tilt.

Watch our video


Muscle group: Core (torso and pelvis)

  1. Start on all fours, with legs hip width apart, knees directly under hips, hands directly under shoulders, and back and head in a straight line. Keep the elbows slightly bent. Gently lift your pelvic floor and lower abdomen to support your lower back.
  2. Keeping your back flat and steady, extend one leg while supporting the torso with both hands on the floor. Once balanced, slowly extend the opposite arm. Hold for 5–10 seconds.
  3. Maintain normal breathing. Slowly return to all fours. Repeat with the other side.


  • If you find it hard to keep your balance, leave both hands on the floor and just extend one leg at a time. The bird-dog can also be performed lying over a fitball, which can be a good alternative for people with bad knees who find it difficult to kneel.

Watch our video

Standing push-up

Muscle groups: Chest and shoulders

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Lean slightly against the wall with your arms outstretched at shoulder height and your hands on the wall. Do not lock your elbows or knees.
  2. Slowly move your body towards the wall, bending your arms at the elbow.
  3. Once your nose is close to the wall, push away, against your body weight. Breathe out as you push back to the starting position. Repeat the standing push-up.

Watch our video

Modified push-up

Muscle groups: Chest, shoulders and arms

  1. Start with your knees and hands on the floor and your arms extended. Keep your back and bottom as straight as possible, and keep your head in line
    with your spine.
  2. Lower your torso slowly, bending your arms at the elbow.
  3. Push up – try not to lock your elbows at the top. Breathe out as you push back up to the starting position. Repeat the modified push-up.


  • If you feel any pain in your back doing this exercise, bring your hands closer to your body.

Watch our video

Standing row

Muscle groups: Shoulders, back and triceps (back of arm)
Equipment: Elastic resistance band

  1. Attach the resistance band to a fixed point, ensuring it is well secured. Stand with feet shoulder width apart and arms outstretched at waist height.
  2. Pull the resistance band towards you, keeping your elbows and hands at waist height. Breathe out while pulling the band. Make sure your spine does not move, and keep your neck and shoulders relaxed. Avoid lifting your shoulders to your ears.
  3. Slowly return to the starting position, then repeat the standing row.

Watch our video

Shoulder press

Muscle group: Shoulders
Equipment: Gymstick, barbell, pole, broomstick or hand weights

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Hold the bar at chest height with your elbows almost completely bent (so they are almost touching your sides).
  2. Push the bar up until it is above and slightly in front of your head. Breathe out during the lift and maintain good posture – don’t raise your shoulders.
  3. Pause, then lower the bar back to the starting position. Repeat the lift.


  • Increase the difficulty by adding weight or elastic resistance to the bar.

Watch our video

Upright row

Muscle groups: Shoulders and trapezius (upper back)
Equipment: Hand weights

  1. Stand with your arms by your side and your feet shoulder width apart. Hold the weights with palms facing your thighs. Tighten the tummy muscles (abdominals).
  2. Bend your arms and raise both weights slowly up to shoulder height. Avoid jerking the weights when lifting them up. Maintain your head and neck position, looking straight ahead. Avoid lifting your shoulders to your ears. Feel the exercise work the muscles in your shoulders and not in your neck.
  3. Pause, then lower both weights back to the starting position. Repeat the lift.

Watch our video

Biceps curl

Muscle group: Biceps (upper arm)
Equipment: Hand weights, Gymstick or barbell

  1. Stand with your arms by your side and feet hip width apart. Hold the weights with your palms pointing forward.
  2. Bend your elbows to lift the weights to shoulder height. Keep your elbows tucked in, avoid moving your shoulders and make sure your body does not sway. Breathe out during the lift.
  3. Slowly return almost to the starting position but do not fully straighten your elbows – keep them slightly bent. Repeat the lift.

Watch our video

Calf raise

Muscle group: Calves (back of lower leg)
Equipment: Step, hand weights (optional)

  1. Stand upright, with a wall or chair as support if necessary.
  2. Lift your heels off the ground, keeping your knees and body straight. Breathe out while lifting.
  3. Hold the position for a moment. Return to the starting position, then repeat the calf raise.


  • Increase the difficulty slightly by standing with the balls of your feet on a small step (so that your heels hang over the edge) and/or holding weights in your hands. You can also add a challenge by doing the exercise one leg at a time.

Watch our video

Chair rise

Muscle groups: Quadriceps (front of thigh) and gluteals (buttocks)
Equipment: Chair

  1. Sit towards the middle or front of a chair with your hands on your knees.
  2. Stand up, using your hands on your knees for assistance if necessary. Keep your back straight as you stand up. Breathe out while standing.
  3. Slowly sit back down, then repeat the chair rise.


  • Add a challenge by standing without using your hands to assist, then try with your arms across your chest. When standing unassisted, stand in one movement without rocking.

Watch our video

Wall squat

Muscle groups: Quadriceps (front of thigh) and gluteals (buttocks)

  1. Stand 30–40 cm from a wall with feet shoulder width apart. Slightly bend your knees and lean back into the wall, placing your arms and palms against the wall. Tilt your pelvis so your back is flat to the wall. Tuck your chin in.
  2. Keeping your body in contact with the wall, slide down (as if to sit) until you can feel your legs working – this may not be very far. Hold for 10–30
    seconds if you can.
  3. Slowly slide up until you are back to the starting position. Repeat the squat.


  • Add a challenge by sliding further down the wall, but stop before the knees go over and in front of the toes (there should be no more than a 90-degree angle between hip and knee).

Watch our video

Featured resource

Exercise for People Living with Cancer

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This information is reviewed by

This information was last reviewed March 2019 by the following expert content reviewers: A/Prof Prue Cormie, Chair, COSA Exercise and Cancer Group, and Principal Research Fellow – Exercise Oncology, Australian Catholic University, NSW; Rebecca Cesnik, Accredited Exercise Physiologist, ACT; Dr Nicolas Hart, Senior Research Fellow, Exercise Medicine Research Institute, Edith Cowan University, and Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Cancer Council WA; Stephanie Lamb, Life Now Project Officer, Cancer Council WA; John Odd, Consumer; Sharni Quinn, Clinical Lead Physiotherapist, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Chris Sibthorpe, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Queensland; Jane Turner, Accredited Exercise Physiologist, Concord Cancer Centre, Concord Repatriation General Hospital, NSW.

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