The Hidden Benefits of Strength Training When Fighting Pulmonary Conditions

Jul 16, 2019 | Article

Exercising has shown to improve cognitive and behavior function, increase exercise capacity, and improve overall quality of life. There are many research articles that will back the power of exercise. Today we want to discuss three areas that can often get overlooked in the pulmonary community due to the high demands of improving cardiopulmonary function and health.

Resistance training, also known as strength training, can be a very powerful tool to use if you are fighting a pulmonary condition. When integrating exercise into an individual’s program, cardiovascular training, such as walking, jogging, and cycling tend to lead conversations when discussing exercising for a pulmonary condition. We believe it is extremely important, but the discussion on resistance training should parallel that conversation.

Resistance training should not be overlooked when implementing a pulmonary specific exercise program. Dr. Mel Siff, world renown biomechanist, has an elegant definition of strength and stated that, “strength is defined as the ability of a given muscle or group of muscles to generate muscular force under specific conditions” (Siff, 2004). Now the human body works as a unit and the brain sends signals to the muscles to give us the opportunity to breathe, speak, eat, sleep and function every day. Without any strength, we wouldn’t be able to function.

Brain Power

When the body is spending mental and physical energy battling lung infections, respiratory exacerbations, digestive complications, coughing etc., the brain is working at a higher rate to keep everything on track. This is going to use a lot of the executive function portion of your brain. This portion of your brain handles decision making and is tied into your thoughts, actions and feelings. Your brain works like your muscles in a way that it also gets fatigued when you have a lot on your plate, especially when you have to make very important decisions throughout the day that will affect your health. Overtime, this can lead to neurological fatigue and can affect your posture and respiratory rate without you even knowing it.

Resistance training is a great way to help relieve the stressors from a long day. Resistance training has shown to increase cognitive function (Nagamatsu, Handy, Hsu, Voss, & Liu-Ambrose, 2012). Improving your brain’s function allows it the ability to make stronger neural connections to your respiratory muscles, which could indirectly help your respiration. Using resistance bands at home or going to the gym and incorporating some form of resistance training, can help increase neural wiring to the muscles to allow you a higher capacity when fatigued and tired.

Osteopenia and Osteoporosis

Osteopenia and osteoporosis have been linked to pulmonary diseases. Resistance training has shown to increase bone mineral density through mechanical loading. The bones in our body have a biological system that stimulates bone formation when there is a high mechanical strain placed upon it. This means that integrating resistance training exercises that challenge your muscles and posture would help improve your bones strength (Hong & Kim, 2018). Just another good reason why resistance training is important in exercise programs when battling a pulmonary condition.

And Last, but Not Least…Cardiovascular Endurance!

That is right. Resistance training can actually help improve your cardiovascular endurance. The body is wrapped in connective and skeletal tissue. In order to move or breathe there needs to be some form of facilitation of the respiratory muscles, which are also postural control muscles and more importantly they are skeletal muscles. In order to create quality breathing cycles or get off the couch to grab something to drink, the skeletal muscles must be strong enough. It won’t dawn on us how much they are actually working until we complete the same task over and over again and start to feel tight, or stiff and the aches starts to kick in. That is what we would call the tipping point. Now, if you integrate resistance training into your routine you can push that tipping point back a little further and improve how you move and breathe putting less stress on your cardiovascular system. The stronger your muscles are the easier it is to move the joints. The easier it is to move the joints the less stress is placed on your cardiovascular system. This can reduce the energy needed to move your body allowing you to spend more time doing, ultimately increasing your cardiovascular endurance.

Exercising is a very powerful tool you can use to help improve your health and lung function. These three areas are often overlooked but have a direct effect on quality of life and lung function in pulmonary diseases. The key to any exercise program is the balance between resistance training, cardiovascular training and some form of movement/mobility training. Resistance training can help improve cognitive health, increase bone mineral strength and helps improve cardiovascular endurance. All three of these areas are needed for the respiratory system to function.

Don’t skip out on resistance training. It could be the missing link to getting through your next hurdle. Everyone is different, so program accordingly but here are a couple tips to help approach integrating resistance training into your workout routine.

Tip 1

Multi-Joint Exercises

Exercises like squats, lunges, push-ups involve multiple joints. This increases the number of muscles you use.

Tip 2


Pair a push exercise with a pull exercise. A push exercise would be a push-up (pushing your body away from the ground) and a pull exercise would be a resistance band row (pulling the band towards you). This allows you to complete two exercises back to back (superset) without fatiguing the muscle you just worked because the exercise work differently muscles.

Tip 3

Quality and Consistency

Always pick quality over quality and stay with same exercise for at least 3 weeks. It is better to do less reps, perform less sets and focus on quality of the movement rather than picking many exercises and doing them poorly. Remember the goal is to improve strength and endurance and research shows that quality strength training at lower weights can increase muscular strength just as much as higher loads and poor quality.

Don’t change our exercises too soon. Often times, we change the exercises that work particular muscle groups too soon, not allowing the neuromuscular enough system enough time to create quality strength adaptations. Master the exercises and you will see big strength improvements.



Hong, A. R., & Kim, S. W. (2018). Effects of resistance exercise on bone health. Endocrinology and Metabolism, 33(4), 435–444.

Nagamatsu, L. S., Handy, T. C., Hsu, C. L., Voss, M., & Liu-Ambrose, T. (2012). Resistance training promotes cognitive and functional brain plasticity in seniors with probable mild cognitive impairment. Archives of Internal Medicine172(8), 666–668.

Siff, M. C. (2004). Supertraining. Denver: Supertraining Institute.


For more exercises check out our YouTube Channel: Cystic Fibrosis Fitness Institute 

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Intrinsic motivation is something that develops over time. Kids don’t yet have the cognitive abilities to grasp the concept that, “exercising is good for physical and mental health.” The understanding that by “doing something good for your body now, your future self will thank you,” is far too abstract. Kids don’t live for the future, they live for the here and now.

By the time children are in high school and/or go through puberty, those high order thinking cognitive processes begin to develop. However, social obligations and a sense of figuring out one’s own identify often trump the desire to be consistently active for one’s own physical and/or mental health purposes.

Sports certainly help, as they play a role in encouraging healthy competitiveness within oneself and others, as well as promotes team building and social opportunities that child and young adults actively seek out. However, not every kid plays a sport or has the health opportunities to actively participate in one. So, how do we encourage motivating?


There are two types of motivation: intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation. Some will say, intrinsic motivation is ideal because it creates long lasting effects on one’s drive and purpose to reach a goal. The definition of intrinsic motivation is, “behavior that is driven by internal rewards.” Extrinsic motivation is the opposite. Extrinsic motivation is defined as, “behavior that is motivated to perform an activity to receive an award or avoid punishment.”


When starting to increase your child’s motivation to exercise, extrinsic motivation is the “easiest” way to go. When young, a child/teen is beginning to develop his/her own sense of motivation and enjoyment from exercising, something that is not going to happen overnight. Fortunately, exercising regularly will naturally contribute to developing intrinsic motivation, as it increases the feel-good happy chemicals in your brain (serotonin, dopamine, endorphins). But, habits do take time, so here are three tips to increase your child’s motivation to exercise!

  1. Reward System

There are often mixed reactions to implementing a reward system. However, a reward system is not something to frown about when working on establishing a foundation for positive behaviors. Research has shown that children respond better to positive reinforcements than they do to negative reinforcements.

How to begin a behavior reinforcement plan:

  • For children ages 7-12: Make a personalized goal tracker with your child. For example, if want your kid to do something physically active 3x a week, create a page with three boxes per week to check off after each workout (e.g., can use stickers, a drawing, a penny, etc.)
  • For children 13 and older: they can often keep rack on their own, and independence is key for teenagers and young adults.
    • Each workout = 1 point.
      • It is up to you to decide how often a reward occurs and what the reward will be.
      • Reward types: with your child’s help, create a list of 5 items/things that might be motivating to earn. For example, 30 minutes of a favorite show, a new toy or “surprise box,” staying up later one night a week, choice of a favorite meal for dinner, a new book, etc. The possibilities are endless!
  1. Social Opportunity

As an adult, performing 15 reps, 4x on one exercise is manageable. Our attention is longer. We enjoy isolation more. We have intrinsic motivation or tangible goals set for ourselves, like losing weight. However, children and young adults are heavily socially dependent with shorter attention spans. Their worlds thrive around social opportunities, So, make physical exercise a social experience. Workout with your child, put on a YouTube video and together and complete 30 minutes. Put on your child’s favorite music on in the background and encourage your child to work out for 20 minutes (set a timer). One time a week (or more) invite a friend or sibling, make it an event that can be done inside or outside, and make it fun.

  1. Bring back Play

Which brings us to our third tip: Bring back play! Even if you have a teenager or young adult, play is important to developing a positive attitude towards physical exercise. Play can consist of hiking with friends or family, trying a new activity in your community, and generally, reducing the strict structure around exercise that children and young adults often try to escape as they build independence and autonomy. A majority of the time, exercising can consist of structured exercises catered around a specific goal, however, a few times a month it’s important to switch it up and encourage exploring of physical exercise through unstructured (play) opportunities.


















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