12 Simple Wheelchair Exercises for a Healthier You

 In Disabled Living, Disabled Sports, Life in a Wheelchair, Wheelchair Activities

Did you know you can get a good workout right from your wheelchair? It’s true. There are all kinds of wheelchair exercises that can help you stay fit.

Exercise is important for everyone. Working out will increase your strength. Stronger muscles will help with your mobility and transfers. Greater strength also improves your coordination.

And exercise is an excellent way to maximize the ability that you have and minimize your risk of injury.

There are also many other benefits. Exercise helps you lose or maintain your weight and builds muscle and bone mass. By doing wheelchair exercises daily you can increase your range of motion and endurance. And often exercise helps ease muscle and joint pain.

By making the effort to exercise, you not only improve your health but can possibly gain or maintain independence. There are also many different forms of exercises that you can do depending on your fitness goals and what you enjoy. Perhaps trying wheelchair yoga is something you would enjoy or if your more the competitive type, there are lots of ways to stay active. Our list of the best wheelchair sports may really open your eyes to ways you can stay active.

But before you get started, consider a few common-sense safety ideas. First, consult with your doctor to make sure you can engage in the exercise program you are interested in. Ask for direction about how frequently you should exercise and for how long.

Then make sure that when you do your limited mobility exercises, have someone else present, just in case you need them.

Don’t exercise to the point of exhaustion, either. If your goal is to exercise 30 minutes a day, you can split your workout into three 10 minutes sessions.

The idea is to work up slowly to greater strength and endurance. Start by simply doing the exercise. As you get stronger, add more repetitions, weights or resistance bands to make it harder. You don’t want your exercise to hurt you.

But you do want it to be challenging enough that it gives you the benefits you are looking for. You also don’t want to get bored because your workout is too easy.  If your exercise program is interesting, you’ll be more motivated to stay with it.

When you are using weights or resistance bands, never hold your breath. Exhale as you lift or pull on the band, inhale as you lower the weight or relax the band. If you are doing exercises with weights or bands, skip a day in between workouts. If you are using weights or bands, do a few warm-up moves before you start your workout.

Forget all you might have heard about no pain, no gain. If something hurts, stop. Also, pay attention to your body. Some days might be better than others. If you’re having a bad day, modify your routine so you’re not working out so hard.

Above all, make sure you are well-hydrated. Drinking lots of water will improve your performance and reduce fatigue.

And don’t forget to make sure the wheels of your chair are locked unless you are doing a workout that requires you to move around.

Not sure how to get started? There are many limited mobility exercises that you can adapt to your fitness and ability level. As well as many mobility assistive devices so that you are not left out in activities you like.

You can get great results with these twelve simple exercises for someone in a wheelchair.

Upper Body Wheelchair Exercises

This first group of wheelchair exercises works the chest and arms.

1.     Shoulder Pulls

Sit up straight in your chair and pull in your belly button. Doing this engages your abs so they help support your back muscles. This is the standard starting position for nearly all wheelchair exercises.

Extend your arms straight in front of you, palms down and fingers curved as if you are gripping a bar.

Pull your arms back, bending your elbows until they are just behind your torso. Squeeze your shoulder blades together as you do this. Work up to 10-15 repetitions.

When you get stronger, attach a resistance band to a doorknob and hold an end of the band in each hand. Pull back in the same motion, feeling the resistance.

2.     Overhead Stretch

Sit in the starting position. Lift both hands over your head. Lace your fingers together and hold your hands so your palms are turned toward the ceiling. Take a deep breath. Push your hands backward as you exhale. Don’t push beyond the point where the move is comfortable. Hold that position for 5 seconds, then bring your hands back to the center. Work up to 10 reps.

3.     Bicep Curls

All you’ll need for this one is a small hand weight. Use whatever weight is comfortable for you. Three or 5 pounds should be sufficient. Don’t have a weight? You can use a can of soup instead.

Sit in your starting position. Hold your elbow close to your side and lift the weight toward your shoulder. Pause for five seconds before you lower the weight slowly. Work up to 15 reps. Once you’ve finished the first arm, switch hands and work the second one.

Once you can do 15 reps comfortably, then you can increase the weight if you want to make things more challenging.

4.     Triceps Press

You don’t want to neglect your triceps, the muscles on the back of your arms. Sit in your starting position. Hold the armrests of your chair. Straighten your arms so that you lift your body an inch or two from the chair, then lower yourself slowly. Work up to 10 reps.

5.     Triceps Curls

For a more challenging triceps exercise, you’ll need a hand weight or can of soup. You might need to use less weight for this exercise than you use for your biceps.

Assume your starting position. Hold the weight in both hands and raise it over your head. Bend your arms at the elbows so you are lowering the weight behind your head. Raise the weight up until your arms are fully extended. Make sure you raise and lower the weight slowly. Work up to 15 reps before you add any more weight.

6.     Chest Press

Place an exercise band around the back of your wheelchair and hold the ends in your hands. Sit tall in your starting position. Extend your arms out in front of you with your palms down as far as you can go comfortably. Hold for 3-5 seconds and bring your hands back toward your body.

7.     Overhead Press

If your goal is to increase your upper body strength, then you might want to try an overhead press. This is a challenging exercise, so start with very lightweight so you can assess what you can do safely.

Sit in your starting position. Hold one weight in each hand next to your shoulders with your elbows bent. Slowly push the weights to the ceiling. Pause at the top for 2 seconds, then slowly lower the weights until your elbows form a 90-degree angle. Work up to 15 reps.

Wheelchair Leg Exercises

Sitting in a wheelchair can cause leg muscles to lose what strength they have. These limited mobility leg exercises will help you maintain and increase the muscle mass and strength in your legs.

8.     Toe Extensions

Get into your starting position. Put your feet flat on the floor. Raise your toes up as high as you can, then lower them to the floor. Repeat up to ten times.

When you’re ready to make this on harder, extend one leg out straight, parallel to the floor. Do the exercise with the other foot, keeping the first leg extended. Do your reps, then switch legs.

9.     Knee Raises

Sit in the starting position with your feet flat on the floor. Slowly lift your left leg, bending the knee. Raise your knee to the highest comfortable position. Lower your foot to the floor. Repeat with the other leg. Work up to 10 reps on each leg.

If you want to make this harder, pause when your knee is at the highest point. Then count for 3 to 10 seconds before lowering it.

Core and Abs Wheelchair Exercises

Everyone can benefit from having a stronger core and abs. They give you more endurance and help prevent injuries. Having a strong core gives you better posture and can help relieve lower back pain. It also relieves pressure on your spine. This is especially important for people who use wheelchairs and spend much of their time sitting. Strong core muscles also protect your inner organs.

But to develop a strong core, you need to engage all the muscles, not just your abs. Here are a few wheelchair exercises you can do to work your core and abs.

10.  Spinal Twist

Get into your starting position. Hold your arms with your elbows at your sides and your forearms extended in front of you at a 90-degree angle. Twist your torso to the right, turning your head along with your body. Make sure you keep your hips and lower body still.

Go only as far as is comfortable. Return to the center and repeat, twisting in the opposite direction. Work up to 10-15 reps.

11.  Double Knee Lifts

Assume your starting position. With both hands, grasp the front edge of your chair. Lift both feet off the floor, slowly raising your knees toward your chest. Only lift to a point that is comfortable for you. Press your belly button to your spine when you have your knees as high as you can go, then release and lower your feet to the floor.

This is a challenging exercise. If you can only lift your feet a few inches off the floor, don’t worry. Keep at it. Over time you’ll be able to raise them higher.

12.  Side Bends

Sit in the starting position and face straight forward. Raise your right arm over your head, holding it as close to the side of your head as you can. Slowly bend to the left, curving your spine into a letter C. Return to the center, then repeat on the other side.

If you want to make this move more challenging, use your opposite hand to add some intensity. When your left hand is raised, reach with your right toward the floor as you bend. Hold the stretch for up to 15 seconds.

These are great exercises you can do at home anytime. You can find more on YouTube, such as in this short video on wheelchair leg exercises. 

But if you’re up for a full cardio workout and aren’t sure how to put one together, not to worry.

There are a lot of YouTube videos the demonstrate exercises and workouts for someone in a wheelchair. Many of these are short workouts, so you’ll have no trouble fitting them into your day. Or if you are up for a longer workout, you’ll be able to find them, as well.

There are a few short workouts, some long. One demonstrates a gym workout with weights, while another is tailored for people with intellectual as well as physical disabilities.

Exercise is important for everyone. It makes our hearts stronger and improves flexibility and mobility. It also gives more energy and makes us feel better, too. Along with new wheelchair designs being invented, there are even more activities that you can participate in. So, find some wheelchair exercises that appeal to you, put on some fun music, and start working out today.



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