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Strength training for wheelchair users

wheelchair strength training Photo: Shutterstock

Strength training exercises for wheelchair users are great ways to keep the body active and healthy, something a disability should not hinder you from achieving.


Doing regular strengthening will help increase your level of power, flexibility and mobility, in addition to strengthening your heart and lungs. These improvements could in turn make everyday tasks such as moving in and out of your wheelchair, pushing it or lifting items much easier.

To find out how you can start on your very own strength training journey, read on:

Strength training typically involves the lifting of “free weights” or dumbbells. If you do not possess any dumbbells, fret not. Food cans or bottles filled with water will do the job equally well. However, ensure that whatever you choose is of a comfortable weight before you start your training.

Hold the weights along your sides, with your palms facing inward towards your body. Bringing your right hand up, turn it such that your palm is now facing your chest. Hold this position for two seconds before lowering your arm down to your sides once more. Repeat this with your left arm. Do 12 repetitions with each arm to conclude a set.

You can also attempt another exercise that is great for toning the muscles. Before you try this one out, ensure that the brakes on your wheelchair are applied. Get a good grip on the armrest and slowly lift your body a few inches off your seat. Slowly lower yourself back into the seat again. Repeat this five times.

Alternatively, you can do overhead stretches to include more variation in your workout. To do this, sit up straight and stretch both arms above your head while taking a deep breath. Interlace your fingers together and turn your palms towards the ceiling. In this position, push your hands and arms slightly backwards as you breathe out. Hold this position for a few seconds before putting your arms down once more.

Remember to start out any exercise slowly and take a two-minute break between sets. If you have not lifted heavy weights in awhile, try out exercises without any weights first, to get used to achieving proper form. Over time, you can increase the weight you bear and the number sets.

As with any other workout, it is also important to set aside 10 minutes before your exercise to do some light stretching and warm ups, as well as a corresponding period after to cool down.

Perhaps the most important preparation you should carry out before embarking on a workout regime is to discuss the matter with your doctor or physical therapist and obtain the green light from them before starting on any program. As all medical conditions are different, they are the ones most qualified to identify any potential complications and may advise on what exercises are best or which ones to avoid.

Lastly, always maintain a positive attitude about your workout. Do not be discouraged and maintain your focus. Set realistic goals and reward yourself after achieving them.