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5 Exercises for Wheelchair Users

• Written by Kyle


For wheelchair users, it can often feel difficult to engage in regular exercise. Many workouts are not designed with the disabled in mind or require special equipment to accomplish. However, there are plenty of exercises for wheelchair users that are easy to do, regardless of age.

Benefits of Exercising

Regular exercise is essential to our wellbeing. It keeps fat off and strengthens muscles. These are not the only benefits, however. Exercising can have a major effect on mental health, helping to promote positivity and combatting boredom. If you can exercise with others, you will also lessen the impact of loneliness.

You will also find that regular exercise will improve your energy levels. Whilst exercises for wheelchair users may initially result in increased tiredness – which in turn may aid with a better night’s sleep – over time your body will become more efficient. This can make it easier to finish jobs throughout the day, whilst still having time for your hobbies.

The NHS recommends wheelchair users exercise for 150 minutes or more every week.

With these benefits in mind, here are 5 exercises for wheelchair users.

Exercises for Wheelchair Users

1. Shoulder Strength

It is important to keep your shoulders and arms strong, especially if you move yourself around in your wheelchair. Not only does this exercise serve as a good stretching routine before exercise, but it also benefits the muscles in your shoulders.

You begin by sitting up straight in your wheelchair and extending your arms forwards. Keep your hands facing the floor, and pretend you are holding onto a metal bar. Stretch your arms forward as far as is comfortable. When you cannot stretch any further, raise your arms and then reach behind you. Squeeze your shoulder blades together until it becomes uncomfortable, and then return your arms to the starting position.

If you are planning to perform more exercises for wheelchair users, do this a couple of times to get your muscles properly stretched. For a full workout, repeat this exercise ten times.

2. Weight Training

When you think of weight training, you might picture bodybuilders lifting huge barbells. This could make the idea of lifting weights intimidating. However, weight training is one of the best exercises for wheelchair users. Simply picking up a couple of dumbbells for half an hour every day will build up strength in your muscles.

Furthermore, engaging in weight training will work your muscles in different ways to pushing your wheelchair. These exercises for wheelchair users help to build the muscles that support those you use every day. When all your muscles are healthy, it makes tasks easier than if you are only using the muscles for that task. It also reduces the likelihood of injury.

Start small and build up to heavier weights. Get into the routine of setting aside some time for exercise every day. If you lack any dumbbells, a couple of bags of sugar or two bunches of bananas can serve as a convenient substitute. Make sure you do not rush into lifting more than you can handle. If possible, consider joining an exercise group.

3. Chest Squeeze

If you push yourself around in your wheelchair, you will already be building up your chest muscles. However, they may become strained from the motions. These exercises for wheelchair users help to prevent injury to the muscles you use every day.

A chest squeeze exercise is great for strengthening the muscles in your chest and back. All you need is a ball or balloon. If you don’t have these, you can also try it by pressing your palms together instead.

Sit up straight in your seat, with your stomach tensed, providing support for your back. Hold the ball (or balloon) at chest level, keeping a firm grip on it. Slowly push the ball forward, continuing to squeeze it. Once you have extended as far as you can go, slowly pull the ball back to your chest. Repeat this exercise ten times.

4. Side Bend Stretch

When you spend a lot of your time in a wheelchair, it is important that you strengthen your back muscles. Sometimes this can be accomplished by regular stretching. Stretching exercises for wheelchair users are limited by the chair itself. However, one effective technique is the side bend stretch.

To perform the side bend stretch, you need to sit up tall in your wheelchair. Ensure you are facing forward in your seat with your abdominal muscles contracted. Start by raising your left arm toward the ceiling, pressing your upper arm close to your ear. Keeping your arm in this position, slowly lean your upper body to the right. Go as far as is comfortable, aiming to form a “C” shape with your spine.

Hold the stretch for up to fifteen seconds, or as long as is comfortable. Slowly return to the starting position, and then repeat on the other side. You can perform this stretch a few times, but don’t push yourself too far.

5. Knee Lifts

If you can use your legs, performing knee lifts can help to strengthen your thighs and calves. This can then help to improve your mobility. One of the great things about exercises for wheelchair users is that, in some cases, they may help you to move around for longer periods without sitting down.

Like many wheelchair exercises, knee lifts require you to sit up straight in your chair. Stretch your legs a little bit by raising them up, one at a time, and turning the foot in a slow circle. Do this for a few seconds, and then place both feet flat on the ground. Lift the right leg slowly, bending the knee. Raise it as far as it can go and then lower it back down to the floor. Repeat with the other foot.

Continue this exercise, alternating the legs. Imagine you are marching in place. Attempt to perform your knee lifts for a few minutes, and then take a rest. If you feel up to it, repeat for another few minutes. Stop if it becomes uncomfortable or painful.

Staying Safe When Exercising

When performing these exercises for wheelchair users, it is important to stay safe. Make sure you have enough water and check your blood sugar levels if necessary. Keep a healthy snack close by for an extra boost of energy. You should also consult your GP before starting any new exercises regimes.

Another means of staying safe when exercising – or at any time – is to purchase a Lifeline alarm. Lifeline alarms offer 24/7 protection, 365 days a year. If you have a fall or feel unwell, all you need to do is press the button on your alarm pendant. Our trained Response Team will arrange support for you by alerting your emergency contacts and, if necessary, the emergency services.

You can find out more about our lifesaving devices by checking out our in-depth guide or by getting in touch with our helpful team.


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