5 Exercises for Wheelchair Users

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Everyone should be able to stay active. It isn’t just important to our physical health, but also to our emotional and mental wellbeing. However, for wheelchair users, this can seem like a far from straightforward proposition, especially when it comes to key areas such as aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercise. 

However, using a wheelchair doesn't have to be an obstacle when it comes to getting regular and enjoyable exercise activities into your daily routine. And to demonstrate just that, here’s our list of some useful and invigorating exercises for wheelchair users.

1. Spinal Twists

Spinal twists are effective exercises when it comes to releasing tension in your lower back, as well as providing a workout for your core. The key is to ensure that your abs are engaged throughout the workout, and keep the focus on that area of your body as you move during the spinal twists.  

In order to execute a spinal twist you should;

  • Sit up straight in your wheelchair, and while keeping your lower body as steady as possible, begin to slowly and gently twist towards the left hand side of your body, steadying your chair with your right hand if possible 

  • Instead of pulling yourself fully around, maintain this stretch position with your right hand

  • After holding this for a few seconds—at a length that feels comfortable for you—return to sitting and breathe deeply, taking a short break before repeating for the opposite side 

2. Side Bends

With a side bend exercise, you will be able to work the side of your waist in its entirety, as well as providing a secondary workout for your arms and chest. Once you’re well-practiced and comfortable with the movement you can incorporate dumbbells for additional resistance training. 

In order to perform a side bend exercise:

  • Sit up in your chair, ensuring your posture is as tall as you can comfortably manage, with your shoulders pointed back and down, and both arms held straight down by your side 

  • Making sure your arm is kept straight, engage your core muscles and bring your left hand out to the side and upwards in one motion until it’s pointed directly vertical with your palm facing rightwards 

  • Maintaining this position with your arm, begin slowly bending rightwards until your body resembles a ‘C’ shape 

  • Holding this position, push your right arm gently towards the floor until you can feel a stretch taking hold in your left hand side 

  • Hold this stretch for a few seconds, before bringing your body comfortably back to the starting position, and repeating the same motions for your other side 

3. Back Extensions

Back extensions are a great exercise for helping maintain the mobility in your spine, as well as easing tension that may have accumulated in your back. The key for making the most of back extensions is to ensure that your movements are slow and controlled while focusing on your core and ab regions. 

To perform a back extension exercise:

  • Begin by sitting with your back as straight as is comfortably possible, with an engaged core, back and down shoulders, and arms pointed straight down at your sides 

  • Keep your upper body in parallel while hinging at the hip, leaning your torso as far forward as possible while still having control over your movements and body 

  • As you make these movements, hold your arms backward so that they’re in line with your torso 

  • Hold this position for a few moments before slowly returning back to the starting position 

4. Static Away from Body Holds

While this movement may seem simple, it’s a great way of engaging your core as well as working on your abs, back, arms, and shoulders. This movement will require some form of counterweight for resistance, such as a dumbbell or a kettlebell, however if you don’t have access to these, you can use a similarly weighted household object instead. 

Alternatively, if you are worried about this being too strenuous, start off with a lighter object such as a pillow before working your way towards something heavier as you get more confident. 

In order to perform these exercises you should:

  • Begin in a strong position with a straight spine, shoulders back, and an engaged core. Hold this position throughout the duration of the exercise 

  • Hold your chosen weight in both hands, stretching your arms out as far as you can in front you

  • Stay in this position for at least 30 seconds and up to a minute before returning to your starting position 

  • Take a short rest of around 20 seconds before repeating the exercise 

5. Away from Body Movements

Similar to the static holds detailed above, this exercise adds additional movement that will help you incorporate different muscles into the workout. Depending on which muscles you want to focus on, you can switch up the movements you use, and ideally you’ll want to utilize some form of hand weight, whether a dumbbell or an improvised DIY option. 

Here is just one potential way you can work in an away from the body movement exercise:

  • Begin as you would for the static hold: with a straight posture, shoulders back, and an engaged core 

  • From this position you can attempt a chest press motion, by keeping the weights at the same height and slowly straightening your arms outwards, holding for a moment before returning your arms to your chest 

Why Exercise is Important for Wheelchair Users

Wheelchair users are often faced with an increased demand and strain on their shoulders and arms, which can lead to a number of problems and difficulties in those areas. Using upper body resistance exercises can build strength, improve conditioning, and better the range of movement in those areas. 

This increased activity in those areas can also create imbalances, which is why it’s important to work on areas such as the core that may not be used as much in regular daily life. 

Another thing that can significantly help is having a wheelchair that is comfortable and easy to use, and here at Island Mediquip, we have a wide range of wheelchairs to suit all needs. To find out more, browse our website or get in touch today.