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Workouts for Wheelchair Users: 7 Seated Exercises to Add to Your Routine

wheelchair crossfit

Because most exercises are designed for non-disabled people, it can be challenging to find exercises intended for wheelchair users. That doesn’t mean that wheelchair-friendly exercises don’t exist, however. 

There are countless exercises that wheelchair users can employ to improve their strength, cardiovascular conditioning, mobility, muscular endurance, and overall health. 

Giving “weight loss” a new meaning

Tasks like exercising, grooming, and navigating public spaces become laborious when you have a fifty-pound wheelchair to contend with. Indeed, transporting your wheelchair everywhere you go can be a struggle in itself. Trying to exercise comfortably in a heavy chair can be enough of a stopgap to put you off of the fitness regime altogether. 

Fortunately, manufacturers have begun to address these sorts of inconveniences by offering stripped-down, ultralight mobility aids, such as those from So Lite Mobility.

Made from military-grade magnesium and weighing in at an astonishing 16.5 pounds, these lightweight wheelchairs take much of the difficulty out of getting around, allowing you to channel that energy into activities like working out. 

Now that you’ve swapped your chair for a more lightweight option, here are seven exercises commonly recommended for wheelchair users. 

7 superior seated exercises for wheelchair users

Each of the following exercises is designed to target one or more of the body’s major muscle groups and can be performed easily from a seated position almost anywhere. You don’t even need fancy equipment to feel the burn.

Chest stretch

Let’s start with a simple stretch: open your arms wide like you’re about to hug someone and lean back slightly against the backrest of your chair. You should feel the tension in your upper chest and the front of your shoulders instantly release.

Doing this stretch two or three times throughout the day can significantly alleviate the cumulative discomfort of sitting down for long periods.

Shoulder protraction/retraction

Straighten your arms out in front of your body and push your shoulders as far forward as they’ll go (protraction). Then, pull your elbows behind you as though you were trying to pinch your shoulder blades together (retraction). Alternate between these two positions, holding each for one to two seconds.

Arm circles

Extend your arms straight out to your sides and trace small circles in the air with your hands. You should feel your shoulder muscles beginning to burn after just a few short moments. Keep circling continuously for ten to thirty seconds, then reverse direction.

Toe raises

Curl the forefoot of one leg up toward the ceiling, making sure that your heel remains firmly in contact with the floor. After holding the foot in the elevated position for two to three seconds, relax and pick up your other foot. Aim to complete between fifteen and twenty repetitions on each side.

Knee lifts

This exercise is excellent for building core strength if you have sufficient mobility in your lower body. Simply lift one knee and pull it towards you like you were trying to touch your thigh to your chest, pausing briefly at the top. Then, lower it back down and pick up the opposite knee. 

Trunk twists

Begin with your palms pressed together in front of your chest. Hinge forward at the waist while rotating clockwise so that your right elbow touches your left thigh. Straighten back up in a controlled manner and twist counterclockwise, touching your left elbow to your right knee.

Side bends

Raise one arm overhead and tilt sideways slowly in the direction your palm is facing, arching your torso into a gentle “C” shape. Hold this lengthened position for a minimum of twenty to thirty seconds, then use core strength to return yourself upright and repeat on the opposite side.

Become stronger in every way

By integrating the exercises highlighted here into your day-to-day life and making it a point to maintain other healthy habits, you stand to enhance not just your physical fitness but your mental and emotional wellbeing, as well.

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The Rx Review is an independent fitness website, reporting on the Sport of Fitness, functional fitness news, The CrossFit Games, health and diet related information, and also provides reviews on sports performance products.