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Effective Exercises If You Are In A Wheelchair

Effective Exercises If You Are In A Wheelchair

For people who are constricted to a wheelchair effective exercise may seem impossible, however, whatever your level of mobility there will be an activity or exercise you can do. As a wheelchair user, getting active can bring important health benefits to you, which includes physical and mental wellbeing as well as opening doors to meeting new people.

The kind of activities or exercises you do will depend on your physical ability. You may want to strengthen your upper body muscles or improve your physical function to help with everyday life, whatever you aim to achieve you should take up an exercise or activity which you enjoy. If you are a beginner to wheelchair exercise you should start with 10-minute exercise sessions and gradually move up to 20-minute exercise sessions

Exercises That Strengthen The Muscles In The Upper Body And Chest

When you want to strengthen the muscles in your upper body, you should focus on certain groups at one time. If you are using a self-propelled wheelchair your chest and shoulder muscles may become tight whereas your back muscles may become weak as they aren’t working as much. Due to this, it may be a good idea to exercise smaller muscles such as the shoulder muscles which can aid with the pushing motion and help prevent injury.

Arm Cycle

There are many different gym machines that have been adapted for wheelchair users, one of which is an arm cycle. An arm cycle is a piece of equipment that is like a bicycle that you can pedal with your arms and is a great tool for working on and strengthening your upper body strength. This piece of equipment can be used with a seat and without a seat if you prefer to stay seated in your wheelchair.

arm cycle

Chest Squeeze

If you prefer to work out from the comfort of your own home instead of a gym, there are many exercises you can do. A chest squeeze can be performed with or without a medicine ball, if you prefer to do the exercise without a ball you can press your palms together.

Sit up straight, either in your wheelchair or with your back against a flat surface, make sure to engage your abs as this will support your back muscles and hold the ball or press your palms together at chest level. Squeeze the ball to work on the chest muscles. Push the ball forward and continue squeezing until your elbows are almost straight. Bring the ball back to your chest slowly and repeat the exercise.

Tummy Twists

Tummy twist are a seated wheelchair exercise that strengthens your core and ab muscles. For this exercise you should sit up straight with your abs engaged and your feet flat on the floor. Once in this position, you should hold your arms in from of you with your elbows by your side and your forearms extended at a 90-degree angle in front of you. Twist your upper body to the right for as far as you can comfortably go, twist back to the center then repeat the motion to the left.

Shoulder Retractions

Sit up straight and engage the abs to support the back muscles. Howl both of your arms out in front of you at shoulder level with your palms facing downwards then make a fist with your hands. Bend your elbows and pull your arms back until your elbows are slightly behind you, squeeze your shoulder blades as you do so. Repeat the motion.

Exercises That Strengthen The Leg Muscles

Sitting in a wheelchair can cause a loss of strength in leg muscles. Here are a few limited mobility exercises which you can do whilst staying sat in your wheelchair.

Toe Taps

Sit up straight with your abs engaged and your feet flat on the floor. Push your toes up to the ceiling then back down to the floor. Repeat this action.

Once you are ready to make this exercise harder. Extend one leg out straight In front of you, do the toe taps with the foot on the floor then switch legs.

Knee Raises

Start with both of your feet flat on the floor. Bend your leg and raise one of your knees to the highest comfortable position for yourself. Lower the leg and repeat with other one.

If you would like to make this exercise harder for yourself you can count to 5 before lowering your leg.

Pedal Exerciser

The Pedal Exerciser has been designed for low-impact rehabilitation and exercise. It features a Digital Display on-board computer that shows exercise time duration, calories consumed, cycles and revolutions per minute. It also features adjustable levels of resistance that you can increase or decrease the effort required to use the exerciser, this tool allows you to progressively increase in effort and fitness and is ideal for leg or arm muscle exercising.

Pedal Exerciser with Digital Display


Many swimming pools offer pool therapy programmes for people in a wheelchair, If you have mobility in your legs a water aerobics class can help you to stay fit. Many people who are in a wheelchair find exercising in a pool especially beneficial as it supports your body and reduced the risk of muscle or joint pain.


If you feel like you are ready to participate in activities or look at joining a Parasport group, you can take a look at the groups which are local to you using the Parasport Find An Opportunity

There are many groups in which you can join such as seated dance classes, wheelchair tennis or wheelchair basketball which are a fantastic way of meeting like-minded people, staying active and doing something you love!

How To Stay Safe While Exercising In A Wheelchair

Staying safe while you are exercising should be one of the main priorities for you. Here are a few tips and tricks to help you stay safe.

If You Experience Pain - Stop

If you experience any pain while you are exercising you should stop immediately. This will prevent injury or pain in your muscles. You should also stop exercising if you experience any lightheadedness, discomfort, chest pains, dizziness or nausea.

Drink Plenty Of Water

Staying hydrated should be a high priority when you exercise, especially if your body is not used to it. Your body performs best when it is well hydrated.

Wear Appropriate Clothing

You should wear clothing and footwear you feel most comfortable in that won’t restrict your movements or cause you any discomfort.

Avoid Exercising On A Injured Body Part

You should avoid exercising an injured body part in case you injure it further. If your upper body is injured you should exercise your lower body or vice versa. If you are exercising again after an injury has healed you should start slowly and gradually build up the weight again.

Stretch Before You Start

Warming up and stretching before you take part in any physical activity can prepare your body and can help prevent sore muscles and joints. Similarly, after your exercise, you should cool down and stretch

Chair Yoga

A lot of Yoga poses can be adapted depending on your mobility, weight, age and any injuries you may have. Chair Yoga is ideal to improve flexibility, increase your strength, boost your morale and reduce joint strain. 

You can do chair yoga nearly anywhere, either on a chair or sat in your wheelchair

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