Live without Limits Blog > November 2017 > What are the best wheelchair based exercises you can do?

What are the best wheelchair based exercises you can do?



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An active lifestyle with plenty of opportunities for exercise is essential for many wheelchair users and provides a much-needed boost of vitality, increased energy, improved muscle tone and greater coordination, as well as improving physical and mental health.

Tips for choosing your wheelchair based exercise

Exercise is something that many of us find difficult to fit into our days, whether that is due to lack of time, or lack of motivation is another matter! Keeping yourself motivated when it comes to any exercise programme is really important. Practised regularly wheelchair exercises can improve your health and mood and offer an excellent opportunity for stress relief and fun. Keep yourself motivated by choosing an exercise programme or sport which particularly appeals to you, this will make it far more enjoyable and much more likely for you to continue with it. Once you have chosen your discipline make time for it in your  routine – either by joining a regular class, scheduling work outs with a friend, or diarising your exercise regime – to make sure you are working out regularly.

There are other considerations you should take into account when choosing the right wheelchair exercises for you, these include:

  • What are the best wheelchair-based exercises for my condition?
  • Will this type of exercise work for me?
  • Will I enjoy this type of exercise?
  • Can I do this exercise on my own? If not, is suitable (and regular) support available?
  • How much time do I have to devote to them?
  • Do I need any special equipment or memberships? If so, how much are they and can I continue to fund them?
  • Do I want to exercise alone, or as part of a group or team?

If you are just starting out why not enlist the help of a friend, relative or sports professional who may be able to find the right exercise programme for you and help you to research any suitable organisation or sports clubs? They may also be able to accompany you to your first few sessions.  Some wheelchair exercise will naturally lend itself to being carried out with others as it may be undertaken with a club, group or association and this can be massively helpful in providing the support to get you started and keep you motivated.

If you have not exercised before you should always consult with your doctor, or a suitable medical professional to ensure the type of exercise is suitable for you.

The benefits of wheelchair exercise

Wheelchair exercise has so many benefits, including:

  • Increased muscle tone
  • Improved fitness
  • Better overall health
  • Easier weight control
  • Alleviation of digestion problems commonly associated with sitting in a fixed position in a wheelchair
  • Improved blood circulation
  • Better posture and improved stability of your spine and lower back
  • Existing complaints – such as an aching neck, shoulders and back –may be eased by strengthening these areas
  • Increased endorphins, which, in turn, create a sense of well-being and assist with improving mood, reducing tension and preventing depression
  • Greater independence and autonomy
  • Your increased independence, improved state of mind, physique and positive frame of mind will better prepare you for the challenges of everyday life.

As with any other athlete, when it comes to wheelchair exercise, you should always be sure to warm up in order to lessen the risk of injury. Unfortunately arm injuries can often be easily sustained when practicing wheelchair sports, along with incidences of tendinitis. Practicing daily stretching exercises will help to reduce accumulated stress, pain and muscular strains.

Wheelchair based strength and resistance exercises

To start with you could use free weights or ‘body building’ style machines. Both of these will help to strengthen the arms and the core – the areas of the body most commonly engaged when manually controlling a wheelchair. You could try push-ups by placing your hands to the sides of your buttocks and then trying to lift your weight from the seat of the wheelchair.

Wheelchair exercises aimed at increasing and improving resistance usually use small, flexible bands that are placed at the back of the chair to provide resistance when pulled. Exercises using these bands particularly help to strengthen the upper body. Try a mixture of bicep curls, as well as hip and shoulder rotations.

Wheelchair based aerobic and cardiovascular training

This type of exercise aims to raise your heart rate and improve your cardiovascular health. Sports such as wheelchair basketball and rugby are great examples, although there are less physical options such as dancing. You could even participate in wheelchair-based aerobic training on the running track. This will certainly improve your heart rate, as well as providing a workout for your arms.

Wheelchair based exercises to improve flexibility

Exercises such as yoga can be performed in a wheelchair and are designed to improve flexibility whilst helping to improve your breathing and concentration. Exercise doesn’t always have to be high-octane to be beneficial and many report feeling calmer and more relaxed after performing yoga.

Choose an active life

At Sunrise Medical we want to support you in your active life. Still unsure which sport suits you? Take a look at our guide to find out which one is right for you.

At Sunrise Medical we have a wide range of wheelchairs to suit the needs of athletes and hobbyists alike. You will find specially designed chairs for adapted tennis or wheelchair basketball, alongside handbikes for professional and weekend use. Visit our website to see the full range of sports wheelchair available.