Recommendations for resistance exercise in cardiac rehabilitation. Recommendations of the German Federation for Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation

Eur J Cardiovasc Prev Rehabil. 2004 Aug;11(4):352-61. doi: 10.1097/01.hjr.0000137692.36013.27.


Aerobic endurance training has been an integral component of the international recommendations for cardiac rehabilitation for more than 30 years. Notwithstanding, only in recent years have recommendations for a dynamic resistance-training program been cautiously put forward. The perceived increased risk of cardiovascular complications related to blood pressure elevations are the primary concern with resistance training in cardiac patients; recent studies however have demonstrated that this need not be a contraindication in all cardiac patients. While blood pressure certainly may rise excessively during resistance training, the actual rise depends on a variety of controllable factors including magnitude of the isometric component, the load intensity, the amount of muscle mass involved as well as the number of repetitions and/or the load duration. Intra-arterial blood pressure measurements in cardiac patients have demonstrated that that during low-intensity resistance training [40-60% maximum voluntary contraction (MVC)] with 15-20 repetitions, only modest elevations in blood pressure are revealed, similar to those seen during moderate endurance training. When properly implemented by an experienced exercise therapist, in specific patient groups an individually tailored, medically supervised dynamic resistance training program carries no inherent higher risk for the patient than aerobic endurance training. As an adjunct to endurance training, in selected patients, resistance training can increase muscle strength and endurance, as well as positively influence cardiovascular risk factors, metabolism, cardiovascular function, psychosocial well-being and quality of life. According to present data, resistance training is however not recommended for all patient groups. The appropriate training method and correct performance are highly dependent on each patient's clinical status, cardiac stress tolerance and possible comorbidities. Most studies have used middle-aged men of average normal aerobic performance capacity and with good left-ventricular (LV) function. Data are lacking for high-risk groups, women and older patients. With the current knowledge it is reasonable to include resistance training without any restraints as part of cardiac rehabilitation programs for coronary artery disease (CAD) patients with good cardiac performance capacity (i.e., revascularised and with good myocardial function). As patients with myocardial ischaemia and/or poor left ventricular function may develop wall motion disturbances and/or severe ventricular arrhythmias during resistance exercise, the following criteria are suggested for resistance training: moderate-to-good LV function, good cardiac performance capacity [>5-6 metabolic equivalents of oxygen consumption (METS)=1.4 watt/kg body weight], no symptoms of angina pectoris or ST segment depression under continued maintenance of the medical therapy. Based on available data, this article presents recommendations for risk stratification in cardiac rehabilitation programs with respect to the implementation of dynamic resistance training. Additional recommendations for specific patient groups and detailed directions showing how to structure and implement such therapy programs are presented as well.

Publication types

  • Guideline
  • Practice Guideline
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cardiac Rehabilitation*
  • Cardiac Surgical Procedures / standards
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / physiopathology
  • Exercise Therapy / standards*
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Germany
  • Health Plan Implementation / standards
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Risk Assessment