Fibromyalgia Sufferers and the Benefits of Exercise

Kelli Palmer's picture
Fibromyalgia and Exercise

While the benefits of exercise apply to everyone, fibromyalgia sufferers can especially benefit from its positive effects on stress, sleep quality, bone density, muscular strength, flexibility and overall improved health. An abundance of recent research shows that gradually easing into an aerobic, and eventually a strength-training program, can dramatically improve many of the common fibromyalgia symptoms. Unfortunately, many fibromyalgia sufferers start fitness programs, yet due to painful flares, they stop before they are able to enjoy the benefits. Fibromyalgia pain, like arthritis pain, can make the thought of exercising seem almost impossible.


While exercise can significantly improve the symptoms of fibromyalgia, careful consideration needs to be taken in designing a quality fitness program that’s also sustainable. In starting a new fitness program, many fibromyalgia suffers will experience small flares. These should be short-term and are most likely due to inactive and inflexible muscles and joints. The slight muscular discomfort that most experience from fatiguing their muscles can be magnified for those with fibromyalgia. A person with fibromyalgia, new to exercise, needs to ease into their fitness program.

A new aerobic program should begin with short bouts of activity, such as a 10-minute walk twice a week, working up to 5 times per week. Then add a second 10-minute walk each of the 5 days. Once this is tolerated, short bike rides or swims can be added to further strengthen the muscles and increase ROM (range of motion) of the joints. After several months, if this aerobic style program is well tolerated, then an anaerobic/strength training program can begin.

The key in designing a safe and impactful strength training program is to begin with short sessions of exercise with light weights. Then, gradually increase the exercise duration and intensity in order to determine your specific “flare” limitations. A good beginning strength-training program would be to choose 1 exercise for each of the primary muscle groups; chest (secondary muscle triceps/shoulders), back (secondary muscle bicep/shoulders), legs and core. Start by performing 2 exercises each day to determine if a particular exercise causes a significant flare.

While the aerobic programs are easily modified by decreasing speed, distance or time, the same modifications are necessary for strength training programs, by modifying weight, ROM (range of motion) and repetitions.

Suggested Beginner Strength Training Program for Fibromyalgia Sufferers:

Day 1

  • Chest/Triceps/Shoulder – 1 set of 5 pushups against the wall
  • Core – 15 second plank on forearm and knees


Day 2

  • Back/Bicep/Shoulder – 1 set of 5 seated rows, using seated cable row machine (15 lbs) or resistance band.
  • Core – 1 set of 10 lying single leg raises per leg

Day 3

  • Legs – 1 set of 5 stationary lunges on each leg

If the above program is well tolerated, then a second set of each exercise can be added, then after several weeks, a slight increase in weight. Over time, additional exercises can be added, with careful notes to determine if a particular exercise causes a significant flare.

The key in preventing flares is to keep any increases in weight, ROM and repetitions, very gradual so the body can adjust to the new demands on the joints and muscles.

With proper attention to planning and with patience, fibromyalgia sufferers can enjoy all the benefits of exercise that non-fibromyalgia sufferers enjoy. In time, many sufferers will not only be able to tolerate an exercise program, but will see improvements in their symptoms because of it.

Certified Personal Trainer & Nutrition Specialist, Kelli Palmer, is the host of “The FitLife with Kelli Show” on In 2009 Kelli was Finalist in the MuscleMania Figure Competition. She specializes in women's fitness, weight loss, healthy lifestyles, as well as children’s fitness and pre/postnatal exercise.

Reference: BioMed Research International, Volume 2014 (2014), Article ID 474029, 9 pages.



GENTLE exercise is recommended for fibromyalgia. Walking, swimming, Pilates beginner's mat exercises, Tai Chi and yoga if flexibility permits. Strength training has been found to reduce pain more than stretching does, but your strength training regimen would kill a person with fibro!
Hi Ivy, perhaps you misunderstood my suggested strength training program, this a 3 day plan. So for day 1 the client is only performing 5 pushups against a wall so the angle is almost 180, very little angle, and a single 15 second plank. That's all. I completely agree that GENTLE is definitely the way someone with fibromyalgia must progress in a fitness program. I am a certified fibromyalgia fitness trainer and have had great success with many sufferers with fibromyalgia. As you may be aware, there is a very large range of pain levels, a flare triggers, so slow and steady is the way to go. Best regards, Kelli Palmer
Hi Ivy, absolutely GENTLE exercises are the best place to start for those with fibromyalgia. I am certified for fibromyalgia fitness and have had great success with many women suffering from this condition. Perhaps you thought that I was suggesting to do all the exercises in 1 session, please note that this is a 3 day program, for instance on day 1 I only suggest 5 pushups against a wall, so very limited resistance, and only 15 second plank, that's all. Fibromyalgia is all about finding each persons limitations. I have had several women progress through my programs and after years, be able to do several muscle groups in 1 session.