Best Exercises for Wheelchair Athletes

When you use a wheelchair to get around, exercising might seem like a lofty goal. While getting around a crowded gym might prove somewhat challenging, you shouldn’t let your wheelchair stop you from getting a great workout.

Whether you’re dedicated to the gym or prefer to take your conditioning outside, there are a number of exercise options you can perform. If you’re looking for ways to take your exercise up a notch, keep reading for a few useful tips.

Cardio Conditioning

As an athlete who uses a wheelchair, it’s important that you perform regular cardio conditioning exercises to maintain a strong and healthy heart and cardiovascular system.

To get the most effective cardio workout, aim for exercises that involve as many muscle groups as possible.

Compound movements—those that recruit more than one muscle group—get your heart pumping faster, circulate more oxygen throughout your body and burn more calories overall. Here are a few great options:

  • Using a stationary hand bike and cranking up the resistance.
  • Playing wheelchair basketball
  • Swimming
  • Using a punching bag or speed bag
  • Propelling your wheelchair around a track.

Focus on Range of Motion

Maintaining an adequate upper-body range of motion is critical to help avoid chest, shoulder, upper back, and arm injuries. You can use elastic bands and lightweight dumbells to help your shoulders stay strong and keep their range of motion.

Because you use your upper body muscles extensively, you also need to practice regular stretching to maintain your full range of motion. Focus on stretches that target your pectoral muscles, deltoids, and triceps; these muscles generate the most force as you propel yourself around.

Try these stretches to get started:

  • Keep your hips straight in your chair while gently twisting your body to one side until you’re looking back over your shoulder. Pause for a few seconds, then slowly twist to the other side to repeat the motion.
  • Reach both arms over your head, interlock your fingers, and push your hands upward as far as you can. Hold the position for several seconds.
  • Grasp your right elbow with your left hand. Gently pull your elbow behind your head until you feel a stretch in your deltoid and tricep. Hold for several seconds, then repeat on your other arm.

Strength Training

When you move your wheelchair, your anterior delts, triceps and pectoral muscles see a great deal of activity.

As such, these muscle groups naturally develop strength with continued daily use. However, you also need to strengthen their opposing muscle groups to avoid developing an unbalanced upper body.

Without dedicated strength training for your upper back and shoulders, those muscle groups will gradually become weaker, potentially leading to injury and dysfunction.

To maintain adequate posterior upper-body strength, try these exercises:

  • Lat pulldowns with a cable
  • Face pulls with a cable and rope attachment
  • Rear-delt flys with dumbbells
  • Lateral raises with dumbbells

You can also add weight training for your anterior delts, triceps, and pecs into the mix, along with exercises to build abdominal strength.

Since your muscles are essentially the motor behind your wheelchair, you’ll need them to be as strong and capable as possible.

Exercising in a wheelchair doesn’t have to be difficult, confusing or frustrating.

With just a few simple modifications, you can achieve a heart-pounding, muscle-building workout that will help you maintain good health and improve your body composition.

Whether you’re hoping to train for endurance or have aspirations to become a wheelchair bodybuilder, keep pushing yourself day in and day out. You can overcome any obstacle life throws your way.