How to exercise with limited mobility: fitness for people living with disabilities

Published Jan 25, 2023


You don't need to be fully mobile to reap the rewards of exercise for your health.

There are several methods to use exercise to improve your mood, alleviate melancholy, reduce stress and anxiety, increase your self-esteem, and broaden your view on life even if an illness, accident, handicap, or weight issues have restricted your mobility.

You could believe that your health issues make it hard for you to exercise properly, if at all, if you have a handicap, a serious weight problem, a chronic respiratory ailment, diabetes, arthritis, or another continuing sickness.

Another possibility is that you’ve grown feeble with age and are reluctant to exercise because you fear falling or hurting yourself.

"The reality is, regardless of your age, present physical condition, and whether you've exercised in the past or not, there are lots of methods to overcome your mobility challenges and enjoy the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of exercise," says Dom Thorpe, a personal trainer who specialises in working with disabled individuals to help them get fit and healthy and founder of Disability Training, one of London's largest personal training facilities with a specific focus in Multiple Sclerosis.

He has been requested to pick the best five workouts for individuals of all abilities so that you may reach your long-term fitness goals or just stay active. According to Thorpe, “there are a wide variety of workouts for persons with impairments, and just as many methods to customise them to match your requirements.”

“You should perform three sets of the exercise or exercises you select. Without pausing, repeat each repetition ten times. Then, take a 30- to 1-minute break. Repeat ten more times, take a break, and then repeat three more times. Try to wait at least 48 hours between exercises to give your muscles and joints enough time to recover. Stressed tissues require time to heal,” he cautions.

You should always strive to increase your level of intensity from your previous performance. To put it another way, if you can perform three sets of 10 repetitions with a given weight, aim to go up to the next weight. Alternatively, if you don't have access to larger weights or resistance, try to increase the number of repetitions or sets.

The only way to get fitter is to always strive to improve. Remember that raising the number of repetitions will increase your endurance while increasing the amount of weight will increase your strength. Determine which one you want to emphasise in order to accomplish your goal.

Seated tricep dips

Your triceps, chest, and shoulders' front muscles will all get stronger from this workout. It will be very helpful if you are able to transition from a wheelchair if you strengthen certain areas of your body. Suitable for situations where you have strong upper body power.

While seated, lay your hands on your wheelchair or another chair's armrests. They must be precisely below your shoulders. Once you are completely upright with your arms fully extended, carefully return to your original position in the chair.

Modifications: You may use your legs to help you a little bit if you don't quite have the arm strength but do have some leg strength. However, attempt to delegate as much of the job as you can to your arms.

Reverse crunches

When your abdominal muscles need strengthening but you aren't strong enough to perform a traditional crunch or a sit-up, this exercise is a suitable option. If you have some control over your abdominal muscles, you can perform this exercise.

Sit down on the floor and bend your knees to a 90-degree angle to start. As you lie flat on the ground facing up, slowly drop your upper body rearward. In whichever manner you can, return to your sitting posture. Then, lower yourself again. As you squat down, make an effort to rotate your spine so that each vertebra makes contact with the mat one at a time.

Modifications: To aid with your gradual movement, grab hold of your thighs or knees with your hands.

Back exercises: Dorsal raises and seated back extensions

Exercises for the abdomen should be rounded out with ones that target the muscles in your lower back. For people who feel comfortable getting down on the ground and climbing back up, the dorsal rise is appropriate.

Start the workout by laying on your back. Spread your elbows wide and touch your fingertips to your temples. As you lift your thighs off the ground, do the same with your head and shoulders. Slowly lower yourself while keeping your arms from contacting the ground.

For folks who use a wheelchair and can't go down onto the floor, seated back extensions are a good option.

Bend over from the waist so that your upper body is facing down toward the floor when in your wheelchair or seated on any other secure platform. Repeat the motion while gently extending your head and back to stand up from the seated posture.

Modifications: If you have trouble standing back up, you can help yourself by pressing your hands on your thighs.

Resistance band leg press

If the "sit to stand" exercise is beyond your ability, this exercise is a simple approach to begin building your glutes and thigh muscles. When you have some control over your lower body, this is appropriate.

While seated, coil the middle of a resistance band under one foot while holding either end in each hand. Make sure the band is tight enough to bring the leg into a bent posture with the knee pointing in the direction of the chin. To straighten the foot and stretch the band, keep the tension in place and press it toward the floor. Draw the leg back to a bent posture gradually with the help of the band.

Modifications: Change the tension or amount of slack in the band to change the level of difficulty. If you don't feel comfortable sitting, you can do this exercise while lying down.

Try completing the aforementioned exercises in a circuit for a cardiovascular workout, with little to no breaks in between sets. Before going on to the next exercise, complete one set of each. When you have finished them all, take a little pause before performing the circuit a few more times, concludes Thorpe.