Runner with Amputated Leg

FITNESS TRAINING FOR PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES

Our Approach

Our fitness programs for persons with disabilities are designed for you. If you have a disability, severe weight problem, chronic breathing condition, diabetes, arthritis, or any other ongoing illness, we have a fitness program fit for your physical health and emotional needs. When you exercise, your body releases endorphins that energize your mood, relieve stress, boost your self-esteem, and trigger an overall sense of well-being.

Types of Exercise Programs

It’s important to remember that any type of exercise will offer health benefits. Mobility issues inevitably make some types of exercise easier than others, but no matter your physical situation, you should aim to incorporate three different types of exercise into your routines:

  • Cardiovascular exercises – Raise your These can include walking, running, cycling, dancing, tennis, swimming, water aerobics, or “aquajogging”. Many people with mobility issues find exercising in water especially beneficial as it supports the body and reduces the risk of muscle or joint discomfort. Even if you’re confined to a chair or wheelchair, it’s still possible to perform cardiovascular exercise.

  • Strength training exercises – involve using weights or other resistance to build muscle and bone mass, improve balance, and prevent falls. If you have limited mobility in your legs, our focus will be on upper body strength training. Similarly, if you have a shoulder injury, for example, our focus will be more on strength training for your legs and abdominals.

  • Flexibility exercises – help enhance your range of motion, prevent injury, and reduce pain and stiffness. These may include stretching exercises and yoga. Even if you have limited mobility in your legs, for example, you may still benefit from stretches and flexibility exercises to prevent or delay further muscle atrophy.

Our steps to exercise success

To exercise successfully with limited mobility, illness, or weight problems, we will begin by conducting a clinical assessment, speak with your doctor, physical therapist, or other health care provider about activities suitable for your medical condition or mobility needs.

Paraplegic Sporting Event

Overcoming mental and emotional barriers to exercise

As well as the physical challenges you face, you may also experience mental or emotional barriers to exercising. It’s common for people to feel self-conscious about their weight, disability, illness, or injury, and want to avoid working out in public places. Some older people find that they’re fearful about falling or otherwise injuring themselves.

Wheelchair Sports

If you want to add competition to your workouts, several organizations offer adaptive exercise programs and competitions for sports such as basketball, track and field, volleyball, and weightlifting.

How to exercise with an injury or disability

Since people with disabilities or long-term injuries have a tendency to live less-active lifestyles, it can be even more important for you to exercise on a regular basis.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, adults with disabilities should aim for:

  • At least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity cardiovascular activity (or a combination of both), with each workout lasting for at least 10 minutes.

  • Two or more sessions a week of moderate- or high-intensity strength-training activities involving all the major muscle groups.

 

If your disability or injury makes it impossible for you to meet these guidelines, aim to engage in regular physical activity according to your ability, and avoid inactivity whenever possible.

Workouts for upper body injury or disability

Depending on the location and nature of your injury or disability, you may still be able to walk, jog, use an elliptical machine, or even swim using flotation aids. If not, try using a stationary upright or recumbent bike for cardiovascular exercise.

When it comes to strength training, your injury or disability may limit your use of free weights and resistance bands or may just mean you have to reduce the weight or level of resistance. Consult with your doctor or physical therapist for safe ways to work around the injury or disability and make use of exercise machines in a gym or health club, especially those that focus on the lower body.

How to exercise in a chair or wheelchair

Chair-bound exercises are ideal for people with lower body injuries or disabilities, those with weight problems or diabetes, and frail seniors looking to reduce their risk of falling. Cardiovascular and flexibility chair exercises can help improve posture and reduce back pain, while any chair exercise can help alleviate body sores caused by sitting in the same position for long periods. They’re also a great way to squeeze in a workout while you’re watching TV.

  • If possible, choose a chair that allows you to keep your knees at 90 degrees when seated. If you’re in a wheelchair, securely apply the brakes or otherwise immobilize the chair.

  • Try to sit up tall while exercising and use your abs to maintain good posture.

  • If you suffer from high blood pressure, check your blood pressure before exercising and avoid chair exercises that involve weights.

  • Test your blood sugar before and after exercise if you take diabetes medication that can cause hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).

Cardiovascular exercise in a chair or wheelchair

Chair aerobics, a series of seated repetitive movements, will raise your heart rate and help you burn calories, as will many strength training exercises when performed at a fast pace with a high number of repetitions. In fact, any rapid, repetitive movements offer aerobic benefits and can also help loosen stiff joints.

  • Wrap a lightweight resistance band under your chair (or bed or couch, even) and perform rapid resistance exercises, such as chest presses, for a count of one second up and two seconds down. Try several different exercises to start, with 20 to 30 reps per exercise, and gradually increase the number of exercises, reps, and total workout time as your endurance improves.

  • Simple air-punching, with or without hand weights, is an easy cardio exercise from a seated position, and can be fun when playing along with a Nintendo Wii or Xbox 360 video game.

  • Many swimming pools and health clubs offer pool-therapy programs with access for wheelchair users. If you have some leg function, try a water aerobics class.

  • Some gyms offer wheelchair-training machines that make arm-bicycling and rowing possible. For a similar exercise at home, some portable pedal machines can be used with the hands when secured to a table in front of you.

Overcoming mental and emotional barriers to exercise

As well as the physical challenges you face, you may also experience mental or emotional barriers to exercising. It’s common for people to feel self-conscious about their weight, disability, illness, or injury, and want to avoid working out in public places. Some older people find that they’re fearful about falling or otherwise injuring themselves.

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Strength training

Many traditional upper body exercises can be executed from a seated position using dumbbells, resistance bands, or anything that is weighted and fits in your hand, like soup cans.

  • Perform exercises such as shoulder presses, bicep curls, and triceps extensions using heavier weights and more resistance than you would for cardio exercises. Aim for two to three sets of 8 to 12 repetitions for each exercise, adding weight and more exercises as your strength improves.

  • Resistance bands can be attached to furniture, a doorknob, or your chair. Use these for pull-downs, shoulder rotations, and arm and leg-extensions.

Flexibility exercise

If you’re in a wheelchair or have limited mobility in your legs, stretching throughout the day can help reduce pain and pressure on your muscles that often accompanies sitting for long periods. Stretching while lying down or practicing yoga or tai chi in a chair can also help increase flexibility and improve your range of motion.

 

Chair yoga and tai chi

Most yoga poses can be modified or adapted depending on your physical mobility, weight, age, medical condition, and any injury or disability. Chair yoga is ideal if you have a disability, injury, or a medical condition such as arthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, osteoporosis, or multiple sclerosis. Similarly, seated versions of tai chi exercises can also be practiced in a chair or a wheelchair to improve flexibility, strength, and relaxation.

 

Cardiovascular workouts

  • Weight-bearing activities such as walking, dancing, and climbing stairs use your own body weight as resistance. Start with just a few minutes a day and gradually increase your workout times. Make activities more enjoyable by walking with a dog, dancing with a friend, or climbing stairs to your favorite music.

  • If you experience pain in your feet or joints when you stand, try non-weight bearing activities. Water-based activities such as swimming, aqua jogging, or water aerobics place less stress on your feet and joints. Look for special classes at your local health club, YMCA, or swim center where you can exercise with other larger people. Other non-weight bearing activities include chair exercises (see above).

  • A portable pedal exerciser is a simple device that you can use while sitting in any comfortable chair at home while you watch TV—or even under your desk at work.

Strength training

  • Many larger people find that using an exercise ball is more comfortable than a weight bench. Or you can perform simple strength training exercises in a chair.

  • If you opt to invest in home exercise equipment, check the weight guidelines, and if possible, try the equipment out first to make sure it’s a comfortable fit.

  • While strength training at home, it’s important to ensure that you’re maintaining good posture and performing each exercise correctly. Schedule a session with a personal trainer or ask a knowledgeable friend or relative to check your form.

Flexibility workouts

Gentle yoga or tai chi are great ways to improve flexibility and posture, as well reduce stress and anxiety.

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Jemima enrolled in our SAT preparatory course among others in her junior year of high school and graduated as the valedictorian. She is currently enrolled in our pre-college program and has earned 21 college credits with a GPA of 3.67.

Jemima S.