Here’s What You Should Know about Exercising in a Wheelchair, Plus 7 Workouts to Try

Training in a wheelchair is one of the best and most varied ways to stay fit, build strength and move around every week. Whether you prefer strength training exercises, cardio workout blasts, or calming yoga flows, there is something for everyone.

We asked Adapt to Perform Personal Trainer and Director, Ben Clark, to break down what you need to know about wheelchair training and how it works for you.

What are the benefits of working out in your wheelchair?

“Exercising as a wheelchair user gives you the same benefits as a non-wheelchair user who improves areas such as cardiovascular health, strength and mobility depending on the type of exercise,” explains Clark.

“The aftermath of this can have a huge impact on your daily life. Better muscle endurance can mean you push your wheelchair more efficiently, or you have the strength and agility to pick things up off the floor. Improvements like this can have a huge impact on independence and mental wellbeing knowing that you have the ability to make things a little easier or even better. ‘

Should you be doing different types of wheelchair-based workouts?

Short answer, yes! Wheelchair workouts can be based on cardio or strength training – either they work on your cardiovascular (heart) health or they help to build muscle tissue or strength. Clark recommends a combination of the two for the perfect workout routine.

“How often that changes depends on your disability and fitness background. A great place to start is with two workouts per week that increase your heart rate but also do resistance training. As you progress and feel ready, this can increase to three to five times a week. ‘

  • Cardio workouts: Start five to ten minutes at a moderate intensity and increase over time to 20 minutes at a vigorous intensity.
  • Resistance training: Start with lighter resistance (lower weight) and higher repetitions, then over time you increase the resistance and decrease the repetitions. Start with one or two sets of each exercise and build three sets at a time. “This could be using the wheelchair to push or doing moderate boxing with cardio, followed by some dumbbell and resistance band training, or something more intense like intervals on a handbike, followed by resistance training with fitness equipment,” suggests Clark.

How to start exercising in a wheelchair

If you are a beginner or just starting out with a wheelchair, Clark has some tips to get you started.

Keep track of things

“I recommend everyone, disabled or not, to start small and focus on being as consistent as possible over time and building when they can,” he says. “Often times, people are more focused on immediate results or the perfect routine than on sustainable lifestyle changes.”

Make it social

“I also highly recommend finding a way to make fitness a social endeavor that can be as simple as making friends at your local facility, having a workout partner, or even joining a sports team. The reason for this is twofold. ‘

“First, it helps on those days when you are less motivated to exercise but still want to see your friends, it can help with that consistency. Second, the right friends can help us build up and teach us new things, especially those in similar situations. When I became disabled for the first time, I started doing wheelchair rugby and learned so much from my teammates in similar situations who had over 20 years of experience. ‘

7 workouts for wheelchair users from cardio to strength training

The following workouts for wheelchair users are designed differently. Before you begin, review all of the workout to make sure it works for your needs.

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