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Commitment to A Fitness Lifestyle Changed My CF Prognosis

By Jake Qualls


A few days ago, while working out during my second hospital admission of the year, I began thinking back to what started this fitness journey for myself. Was it my looks and desire to gain weight- my small cystic fibrosis frame that I was ashamed of at the time? Was it a means of survival- a recent diagnosis of cystic fibrosis-related diabetes and 45% lung function? Or was it just the want to be like everyone else- realizing how outperformed I always felt in sports and in other aspects of life? I came to the conclusion that it was a combination of all of the above, and while most of my intentions were vain, weight lifting and fitness literally saved my life.


In December of 2013, after my first semester of freshman year, I weighed a grand total of 135 lbs, I was coming to terms with a new diagnosis of CFRD, and my FEV1 had dropped nearly 40% (down to 45% lung function). I took complete blame. Lack of compliance, loss of interest in fitness and sports, and living the general college lifestyle had ruined my body, and I was paying for it. During this admission, I was told I needed to make a change and fast, or there would be dire consequences. So after a month of iv antibiotics and aggressive intervention, I joined a gym.


The first few months were extremely difficult. I was still in school and spent most of my free time going from class to the gym, learning the proper form and researching diet and exercise tips. Surprisingly there wasn’t anything I could find online for CF patients, so most of what I read I formulated to my own circumstance, and did what I could. I could barely lift the bar on most exercises, and while I was completely ashamed, I stayed consistent and worked out 6 days a week. 


When I wasn’t lifting or researching, I was stuffing my face lol... trying to eat close to 4500-6000 calories a day. Luckily, my dorm was right next to the cafeteria, and I was able to have an all you can eat buffet every day for months. I tried eating clean and focusing on a high protein and fat diet, but in the beginning, this was SUPER HARD. I was so accustomed to carbs that my body craved them, and I ended up just eating whatever I can find (ya know the SEEFOOD diet). All in all, it paid off. And by the end of the semester, I had gained back the 40 lbs that I had lost before that admission. I also happened to gain back all of my missing lung function (back to and 84% FEV1)


Fast forward five years later, my lung function has stayed in the 84% range, and my weight has almost doubled since the first time I stepped on that scale in 2013 to 213 lbs. there have been so many trials and tribulations during this journey. Life would get in the way, sickness would take hold, and I would feel sometimes as if I were always taking steps back. But at the end of the day, I changed my life and my health, and I know you can too.


Regardless of your “why?”, get out there and workout. Start with resistance bands if you have to, but don’t quit, and I promise you, you’ll see results. They may not be what I was given, but you will definitely have a better quality of life in the long run!

It is my philosophy that everyone reacts differently to every program ESPECIALLY when you add a chronic illness into the mix. To achieve optimal results, it is imperative to follow a strict program (both nutritional and exercise) based on individual needs. Laid out is a potential program that will help you get results. Your body might require more or less from your program. If you don’t find yourself achieving success on the plan laid out before you, reach out to me, and we can come up with a program tailored to your needs!


Day one: Push-pull

- DB chest press 4 sets 10- 12

- Pec Deck or cable flies 3 sets 10

- DB rows/ lat pull downs SS 3 sets 10

- Cable rows 3 sets 10-12

- Hammer curls/ DB curls SS 3 sets 10

- Triceps extensions/ skull crushers SS 3 sets 15


Day two: Legs

- light DB squats 4 sets 15-20

- DB Romanian DL 3 sets 10

- Hammer curl/ leg extensions 3 sets 10

- Walking lunges/ DB goblet squat SS 3 sets 10

- Seated calf raises 3 sets 20


Day three: cardio

-HIIT: 20 minutes- 1-minute steady-state cardio, 30 seconds all out.

Done on bike, elliptical, treadmill, or preferably pool)


Day four: Rest


Day five: Push-pull

- DB incline chest press 3 sets 10

- Military Press/ weighted plate shoulder raise 3 sets 10-15

- Lat pulldowns/ cable rows 3 sets 10

- T-bar rows 3 sets 10

- DB curls/ overhead DB triceps ext 3 sets 10

- Cable curls/ rope triceps ext 3 sets 10



Day six: Legs

- Leg press 4 sets 15

- Hack Squat 3 sets 10

- Leg ext 4 sets 12 (heavy)

- Hamstring curls 4 sets 12 (heavy)

- Straight leg dead 3 sets 10

- Jump squats/ walking lunges SS 3 sets 15


Day seven: rest

About the Author: Jacob is a 25-year-old bodybuilder with cystic fibrosis and cystic fibrosis-related diabetes living in Springfield, Missouri. A certified personal trainer and Cohost of Iron Lungs podcast, he aims to raise awareness of cf and to help others with and without the disease take control of their health through his experiences with fitness. He can be reached through Instagram @jakequallsfitness or email @ironliftedlungs@gmail.com.

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*The CF Roundtable does not give medical advice. Any medical opinions represented in these articles are those of the writer and do not represent the views of USACFA, any of our community partners, or any other group or individual. We strongly suggest you consult your doctors regarding any medical references and before altering your medical regimen in any way. USACFA does not endorse any products or procedures. 

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© United States Adult Cystic Fibrosis Association 2019

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