Breast cancer survivors may effectively improve muscle endurance with Pilates chair training, which may have advantages over traditional resistance training since the chair requires less space, can be less expensive and may be more enjoyable for some people.

Exercise is recommended for breast cancer survivors to help them cope with treatment side effects and to improve quality of life, but more research is needed to determine the type of exercise that is best. The American College of Sports Medicine has noted that Pilates may be effective, and a 2012 study found that practicing mat-based Pilates exercises led to physical and psychological improvements in study subjects (see the October 2012 Mind-Body-Spirit News column).

Researchers from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, wanted to further evaluate the benefits of Pilates for breast cancer survivors and assess the use of Pilates chair equipment in particular. In a pilot study, investigators randomly assigned 26 female breast cancer survivors to chair exercise (using a Peak Pilates® MVe Fitness Chair™), traditional resistance training or a control group. Scientists collected assessment data and narrative feedback regarding the exercise experience at baseline and after 8 weeks.

The training protocols for the two exercise groups included 15 minutes of aerobic exercise, 5 minutes of stretching, and 25 minutes of resistance training either on the chair or with dumbbells and resistance training machines. The two protocols challenged the same muscle groups, in the same sequence, with the same volume of work. Control group members did not exercise.

Data analysis showed that muscle endurance increased in both exercise groups and did not change in the control group. Resistance training participants improved slightly more than chair users, but the difference was not statistically significant.

Lead study author Eric Martin, MA, an exercise physiologist who specializes in cancer survivors in Perth, Australia, said to IDEA Fitness Journal, “The MVe Fitness Chair, as opposed to mat-based Pilates or weight training, really helps breast cancer survivors in two major ways: (1) it guides them into proper biomechanical movements, which is especially important for retraining scapula-humoral coordination, and doubly so for women who have had a pedical flap reconstruction using the latissimus dorsi; (2) the constant contact helps women focus on the eccentric part of the motions, which really helps with active flexibility, coordination and balance.”

The study is available in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport (2012; To learn more about how to train breast cancer survivors, check out the Cancer Exercise Trainer Certification from the American College of Sports Medicine at