Group or Individualized Exercise – Which is More Effective?


At Maple Tree, our motto is that “something is always better than nothing”.


As the field of exercise oncology gains momentum across the country, many cancer centers are meeting the demand for exercise during cancer treatment with a group-based exercise class. But when it comes to exercise during cancer treatment, is group-based exercise more effective than individualized exercise?


Of course, there are some positives to group exercise classes. Socialization might be helpful for patients who are feeling lonely during treatment. It also helps to be around people who are going through a similar trial. Also, our research demonstrates modest fitness improvements during group-based exercise classes.


However, at Maple Tree, we hold firmly that individualized instruction is the best approach to exercise oncology. Think about it. You don’t go to a group chemotherapy class, do you? If you tore your ACL, would you expect to go to a group ACL rehab class?


Then why should exercise oncology be any different?


To support this theory, we have conducted (and published) research that demonstrates significant improvements in individualized exercise, as compared to group-based exercise instruction.


For this investigation, we tested a total of 573 individuals who were currently undergoing cancer treatment. Each group underwent a comprehensive fitness assessment and completed a quality of life questionnaire at the start of their exercise training and again after 12-weeks of training.


We found that exercise had a positive impact on fitness parameters for both groups. Yet, on average, the individualized exercise group experienced significantly greater improvements in all measured parameters, specifically with respect to cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength, and muscular endurance. Scores of depression and anxiety also significantly decreased in the individualized exercise group (p<0.05). 


Based on these data, we assert that an individualized approach to exercise must become a standard part of the standard of care in cancer treatment. A group class is limited in its flexibility, adaptability, and functionality and is therefore simply not adequate to provide a patient with the needed level of rehabilitation.


Conversely, the one-on-one interaction provided by an individualized approach to exercise oncology allows for the exercise program to align with patient needs, build trust between the patient and trainer, and gives the trainer the opportunity to customize their patient’s program to their specific functional limitations, symptoms, and side effects of treatment.


This is why, at Maple Tree, we are advocating for an individualized approach to exercise oncology to serve as part of the national standard of care for cancer!