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WHY IS STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING IMPORTANT FOR WHEELCHAIR USERS?
Category: Stories

Whether you use a wheelchair or not, strength and fitness provide a plethora of health advantages, including the following:

 

Improved bone density

 

  • Reduced risk of heart and cardiovascular diseases

  • Reduced risk of injury

  • Improved mental health

  • Weight management

  • Muscle strength and flexibility

Strength and training also assist wheelchair users in retaining their independence and reducing the energy required to manage daily life. Amplifyfitness.com.au Living in a wheelchair demands more consideration and planning than it does for our able-bodied colleagues - will there be stairs, will there be disability facilities, will the terrain be simple to navigate? Daily duties are also more difficult for persons with impairments. Showering, toileting, dressing, and even walking need significantly more energy and effort for wheelchair users. Strength and conditioning enhance physical fitness, which has a significant impact on how fast and efficiently daily chores may be completed. I fell in love with fitness when I realized that the stronger and fitter I was, the faster and simpler it got to complete all these mundane activities. Showers of twenty minutes become ten-minute showers. Transfers became more efficient, and my spasms had less of an effect on them as well. I discovered that I could push my chair up steeper slopes and required less and less assistance while out and about. I achieved independence in every part of my life and reclaimed time to pursue my passions. Strength and training can also assist wheelchair users gain confidence. For me, the sensation of appropriately lifting bigger weights, self-sufficiency, and the cosmetic improvements I experienced all led to a newfound confidence in myself.

 

STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING FOR WHEELCHAIR USERS

 

Being in a wheelchair requires us to employ different muscle groups than non-wheelchair users. Rather than relying on our legs to move, we rely primarily on our triceps and shoulders and engage at least one of these muscle groups for practically everything we do - from moving our chair (if we use a manual wheelchair) to sustaining our bodyweight when transferring in and out of our chair. A focus should thus be to ensure that our upper body'push' muscles (shoulders, triceps, and chest) are as strong and stable as possible, in order to provide the necessary strength and endurance for daily living Amplify Fitness. It is critical to not just concentrate on these muscles. Constant misuse of the chest, triceps, and shoulders can result in poor posture and rounded shoulders; therefore, strengthening your core (if possible) and back can help minimize and avoid severe shoulder rounding and posture degeneration. I previously discussed wheelchair users' core strengthening exercises here. While you may believe that gyms are better suited to able-bodied individuals, they contain a vast array of equipment, both free weights and resistance machines, which means that regardless of your training experience or disability, there will always be something you can do. Training in a gym vs at home provides for greater progression (which is critical for muscle growth) and access to Personal Trainers who can demonstrate how to execute exercises properly if you're unsure. Regardless of your level of training expertise, I always advocate training with a friend - it's good to have someone alongside you to assist with alignment, lifting, and competition while training!

 

WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE RESISTANCE MACHINES

 

Resistance machines are extremely beneficial to both novice and expert lifters. They train the relevant muscles in a safe and regulated manner by following a predetermined movement pattern. As a result, practically all resistance machines may be utilized without requiring you to engage your core. At PureGym, we often employ Matrix or Precor resistance equipment, which requires you to shift out of your wheelchair in order to place yourself on the machines. Certain computers will be more difficult to access than others, depending on your transfer ability. Bringing a sliding board can assist in making these machines more accessible, or you can always ask a training partner for assistance. The following resistance machines can assist in strengthening your chest, triceps, and back:

 

  • Chest Press

  • Seated Tricep Dip

  • Lat Pulldown

  • Pec Fly/Rear Delt

  • Seated Row

     

FREE WEIGHT EXERCISES

 

Even if you're unable to get up and move about, you can still lift weights using dumbbells and barbells while seated in your wheelchair. A wide variety of free weight exercises that can be done in your chair are also available, and it's worth trying them out to find which one works best for you. It's possible that some of these activities require some kind of aid or modification if you can't utilize your core/abdominal muscles, like I can't.

 

  1. Flat Bench Barbell Press

     

    • Set the bar to a weight you’re comfortable with. Most bench press racks use a 20kg Olympic barbell. 
    • Lie on the bench with your head under the barbell and squeeze your shoulder blades together.
    • Grip the barbell with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. 
    • Push the barbell up to take it off the rack, and then press it towards the ceiling by extending your arms upwards, making sure to keep your wrists straight.
    • Inhale while lowering the barbell in a controlled, smooth movement, stopping when it’s resting just above the bottom half of your sternum and your triceps are parallel with the floor.
    • Pause before driving the barbell back up as you exhale.

     

    While lying on your back, it might be difficult to hold a barbell in place without using your core. You might tumble off the bench if the barbell strays significantly from its center or if your legs don't stay in place. To prevent this from happening, have your workout partner step over and spot you with one leg on either side of your core.

     

  2. Clean and Press

     

    Wheelchair users can execute the upper portion of this exercise, which is normally done standing up.

     

    • Set up a squat rack so the safety guards sit slightly higher than your Rest the barbell in front of you on the guards.
    • Place your hands on the bar slightly wider than shoulder-width apart with your palms facing towards you.
    • Rotate your elbows and curl the barbell up to shoulder height, then press the bar towards to ceiling by extending your arms upwards.
    • Return to the start position.

    Do this exercise with your training partner if you are unable to use your core. In order to keep yourself from falling forward throughout the workout, have them stand with their arms over your shoulders and their hands on your chest.

 

  1. Skull Crushers

     

    • Lie flat on the bench holding a dumbbell in each hand. The top of your head should be level with the edge of the bench.
    • Carefully extend your arms above your shoulders so the weight is above your head. 
    • Bend your elbows to slowly lower the dumbbells down and behind your shoulders.
    • Return to start position and repeat.

     

    If you have trouble stabilizing yourself with two dumbbells because you can't utilize your core, consider switching to a barbell instead. To increase your sense of security, have a training partner step over and spot you with one leg on either side of your core.

     

  2. Bicep Curls

     

    • Sit tall with your back against your chair support or a bench, holding a dumbbell in each hand. Your arms should be pointing towards the floor and palms facing your body.
    • Bend your elbows to bring the dumbbells upwards towards your shoulders, rotating your wrists as you curl so your palms face upward at the top of the movement. 
    • Slowly lower the dumbbells back to the start position and repeat. 

    If you are unable to use your core, try only working one arm at a time and use your other hand to hold onto your wheel to keep your balance.

     

  3. Side Raises

     

    • Grab a dumbbell in each hand and sit with a tall neutral spine, dumbbells hanging at your sides. Lean forward slightly if you can.
    • Lift each arm out to the side simultaneously, while keeping a slight bend in your elbows. This should be a slow, controlled movement.
    • Hold at the top for a moment before carefully easing back down.

     

    If your core isn't cooperating, try working with only one arm at a time and using the other hand to grip onto your wheel for balance. This should help.

 

CARDIO FOR WHEELCHAIR USERS

 

Your cardiovascular health is equally as vital as your strength training, so be sure to incorporate cardiovascular exercises into your workout program. In most gyms, wheelchair users are unable to utilize treadmills, rowers, and stair-climbers, which are all common cardio equipment. This makes it challenging, but not impossible, to enhance our cardiovascular health in a gym setting - we simply need to think outside the box! If your gym has the necessary equipment, you can accomplish the following:

 

 

  • Use the hand bike/windjammer

  • Use the cross-trainer – position your chair behind the cross trainer and use your arms to move the mechanism

  • Use the battle ropes

  • Use the slam balls

  • Use the rope pull

Try a wheelchair sport if your gym doesn't have the aforementioned equipment or if you can't perform the exercises specified here. Playing and coaching wheelchair basketball and wheelchair tennis are two of my favorite ways to get my cardio fix while also increasing my fitness and coordination, and they're also great ways to meet new people!

 

HOW OFTEN SHOULD WHEELCHAIR USERS EXERCISE?

 

If you want to get fit, you don't need to hit a certain number of workouts every week. How active you are already, how much training experience you have, and what your training goals are all have a role in this figure. As a wheelchair user, I ensure that I undertake at least four hours of cardio and four strength training sessions each week in order to maintain my strength and mobility. This might be too much or too little for certain folks! If you want to bulk up, you should work each muscle group at least twice a week, taking a day off between sessions to allow your body to recover.

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