Wheelchair Exercise Workout and Tips to Get in Shape


These wheelchair exercises and full workout will help you begin your fitness journey or continue on it if you’re an athlete with an impairment that requires you to use a wheelchair. Maybe you are even thinking of trying a wheelchair racing event or other wheelchair sports. 

Whatever your goals, this wheelchair exercise workout will get your going and challenge you! First, learn why wheelchair exercise is like any other exercise program.

Wheelchair Exercise Isn’t Fundamentally Different

The basics of fitness do not change just because an athlete happens to use a wheelchair. All athletes need to build a solid aerobic engine. All athletes need to develop functional strength. We are all athletes, and we build fitness in unique ways—wheelchairs don’t change this.

Our bodies do not care if you use a wheelchair, a prosthesis, have a visual impairment, etc. As far as fitness is concerned: energy goes in, and energy comes out. 

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All athletes must constantly monitor their body to see how it is reacting to workouts. Athletes need to ensure they don’t overwork muscles or overtrain

Check with your doctor before beginning any new exercise program.

With that in mind, try this wheelchair exercise workout!

Wheelchair Exercise Workout

Warm-up 

Start every workout by warming up soft tissue and mobilizing the joints and muscles to be worked. The goal of the warmup is to raise your body’s temperature so ork up a light sweat. 

Get in the right mental space by doing mental exercises (disregard the title of the linked blog post—these exercises are for all athletes).

Warm-up Wheelchair Exercises

Triceps stretch (stretches your triceps, upper back and shoulders)

  1. Keep back straight and your arms at your sides.
  2. Lift one arm up overhead, and then bend your elbow and reach your hand down your back as far as you can. Use your opposite hand to give gentle assistance until you feel a stretch. Exhale and hold for 2-seconds.
  3. Relax and return to the starting position.
  4. Complete the set on one side before repeating with the opposite arm.

Trunk Rotation (stretches your trunk and hips):

  1. Sit on the ground with legs straight.
  2. Cross right leg over left, bending the knee and placing the right foot on the ground to the outside of the right knee.
  3. Twist trunk to right placing the left elbow on the outside of the left knee.
  4. Exhale and hold for 2-seconds, relax and repeat six times.

Trigger Point – Chest (releases tension in your chest):

  1. Press a trigger ball (tennis ball, for example) against your pec just above your armpit with your opposite hand.
  2. Adjust your position until you find a sore point.
  3. Holding pressure on this spot, slide your free hand overhead and back down.
  4. Re-adjust your position and repeat the movement on any other sore spots you find.
  5. Complete the set on one side before repeating on the other side.

Ys – (works your shoulders and upper back):

  1. Raise your arms overhead to form a Y. Keep your torso tight and thumbs back.
  2. Glide your shoulder blades towards your spine and pull arms slightly back.
  3. Return to the starting position.
  4. Repeat six times.

Ts – (stretches your chest):

  1. Raise your arms overhead to form a T. Keep your torso tight and thumbs back.
  2. Glide your shoulder blades towards your spine and pull your arms slightly back.
  3. Return to the starting position.
  4. Repeat six times.

Ws – (works your shoulders and upper back):

  1. Raise your arms overhead to form a W. Keep your torso tight and thumbs back.
  2. Glide your shoulder blades towards your spine and pull arms slightly back.
  3. Return to the starting position.
  4. Repeat six times.

This comprehensive warm-up will help prevent muscle spasms and cramps.

Compound Movements Wheelchair Exercises

Balance the workload across the body by breaking the workout into the two primary muscle groups to be worked: core and upper body. To further spread the load across each muscle group, focus on the arms’ arms’ direction during the exercise.

Compound Movement Exercises

Overhead Press – Dumbbell (Works your shoulders):

  1. Back straight, chest up, holding a pair of dumbbells at your shoulders with your palms facing forward.
  2. Press the weights overhead while keeping still.
  3. Lower the weights to your shoulders.
  4. Do two sets of eight reps (2×8).

Row – Cable (Works your upper back, shoulders and torso):

  1. Attach two handles to the cables. Sit facing the machine, just farther than arm’s length away.
  2. Keeping your torso stable, pull the handles to your body by driving your elbow back and close to your torso.
  3. Return to the starting position.
  4. Continue for the full set.
  5. Complete two sets of eigh reps (2×8).

Core Movements 

Having a strong core makes everything in life more manageable. For athletes that use wheelchairs, a strong core means more rotational stability and a strong base for propulsion.

Focus on rotational, diagonal pattern movements. Do moves that go from high to low. Then do moves that start low and go high. 

Core Movement Wheelchair Exercise

Rotational Lift – Low to High (works your shoulders, triceps and torso):

  1. Attach a rope handle to a low cable pulley. Holding the rope with both hands, sit with your side to the cable machine.
  2. Rotate your shoulders and arms toward the machine.
  3. In one continuous motion, pull the handles toward your chest, rotate your shoulders away from the machine and push the rope up and away.
  4. Reverse the movement back to the starting position.
  5. Complete the set on one side before repeating on the other side.
  6. Complete two sets of eight reps (2×8).

man in wheelchair next to workout gear

Isolated Movements Wheelchair Exercises

Isolated movements build strong and defined muscles. Due to the focus on one muscle, few reps and sets can be completed before the muscle tires. To work specific muscles, begin with bicep curls, lateral raises and triceps extensions.

Isolated Movement Wheelchair Exercises

Bicep Curls – Alternating Dumbbells (works your biceps):

  1. Sit holding dumbbells in each hand at your side.
  2. Keeping your elbows at your sides, curl one dumbbell up to your shoulder.
  3. Lower the weight back down to the starting position. Repeat with the other arm.
  4. Continue alternating for the full set.
  5. Complete two sets of eight reps (2×8).

Tricep extension – Dumbbell (works your shoulders):

  1. Hold the dumbbell slighly behind your head with your elbows bent.
  2. Extend both elbows to push the dumbbell overhead.
  3. Bend your elbows to return to the starting position.
  4. Continue for the remainder of the set.
  5. Complete two sets of eight reps (2×8).

Cardio

The goal of cardio work is to elevate your heart rate for an extended period of time.

You could do this by doing a resistance movement at a low resistance for several minutes. One amazing cardio exercise for athletes that use wheelchairs is to head out for an extended time on your wheelchair. The movement is inherently aerobic! You could also try using a hand ergometer or swimming.

If using a resistance machine for cardio, set it to low resistance. Perform the movement for 10 minutes to start and work your way up to 20 minutes.

Cool-Down

A massage is great for cool-down. Focus on areas that feel like you really worked them. A massage tool is sufficient but a professional massage can do wonders for your recovery.

Perform the same exercises as in your warm-up to stretch out worked muscles and get your body’s recovery process kickstarted.

Include these muscle-boosting foods in your post-workout meals to recover quicker and build muscle.

Help us produce better content for you. What fitness and health topics specific for athletes with impairments would you like to learn? Leave a comment:

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