Last Updated on May 1, 2017
Whether you’re injured, disabled, or have an illness which leaves you with limited mobility, you can still reap the full benefits that come with regular exercise. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. In this article, we’ll go over a number of limited mobility exercises which you can easily incorporate into your daily routine.
These limited mobility exercises are designed for anyone to be able to accomplish — regardless of age, physical condition, or prior exercise experience. After reading this, we’re confident you’ll have the guidance and motivation you need to overcome your physical limitations and enjoy an active lifestyle.
Benefits of Regular Exercise
We realize we may not be preaching to the converted here. While some of you may be used to an active routine and are looking for limited mobility alternatives, we understand most reading this are likely looking to begin an exercise routine for the first time. Perhaps your doctor recommended it, and you’re left wondering why bother with limited mobility exercises in the first place.
In addition to the numerous physical health benefits — such as weight loss, improved strength, and healthier cardiovascular system — the mental health benefits are just as prevalent. In fact, exercise can be as effective as antidepressant medication at treating mild to moderate depression. It can also reduce stress and anxiety, boost self-esteem, and enhance your overall outlook on life.
What Types of Limited Mobility Exercises are Possible?
First off, let’s preface this section by stating your exercise routine should be suited to your current level of fitness. The beauty of regular exercise is, no matter where you start, you can always improve. So even if you have to start with low impact workouts for now, you can always increase the intensity later as you get more comfortable.
Knowing that, here’s a look at the types of limited mobility exercises you should strive to fit into your weekly regimen.
- Cardiovascular: This involves exercises which raise your heart rate over an extended period of time. Even if you’re confined to a wheelchair, you can still fit cardio workouts into your routine — such as doing laps around a track or water aerobics.
- Strength Training: This involves exercises which use weights and/or other types of resistance to strengthen muscles. Again, if you’re confined to a wheelchair, there are plenty of upper body strength training exercises you can perform.
- Flexibility: This involves exercises which are designed to improve your range of motion. Flexibility exercises could include anything from basic stretching, to chair yoga and Tai Chi.
Before You Begin: Getting the Right Equipment for Limited Mobility Exercises
Set yourself up for success right from the start by ensuring you have the right limited mobility exercise equipment. You’ll need these in order to perform the limited mobility exercises we’ll go over later in this article.
- A stable armless chair: It’s paramount that you have an armless chair without wheels which allows for stability and unrestricted upper body movement. That is, of course, unless the exercise itself calls for a wheelchair
- Resistance band: Begin your strength training using a resistance band until you’re able to move up to higher intensity exercises.
- Weights: If and when you’re ready to increase the intensity of your workouts make sure you’re prepared by having small hand weights, or wrist and ankle weights.
- Clothing: Don’t underestimate the importance of wearing the right exercise clothing. Breathable, unrestrictive clothing will allow you to move about more freely and make your workout more enjoyable overall.
How to Perform Limited Mobility Exercises
Now we’re starting to get into the nitty-gritty details of this article. The section you’ve been waiting for. It’s time to discuss types of limited mobility exercises and how to perform them. First, let’s go over how much exercise you should aim for per session and how frequently you should exercise throughout the week.
How Much and How Often?
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends adults with disabilities should aim for:
- At least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity cardiovascular training.
- Or 75 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity cardiovascular training.
- Cardiovascular workout sessions should be at least 10-minutes in length.
- Two or more sessions per week of moderate to high-intensity strength training.
- Incorporate all major muscle groups (if possible).
If you’re not able to meet these guidelines, do not get discouraged. Fit in as much physical activity each week as you’re able to. Remember, the main goal is to avoid inactivity as much as possible.
Types of Limited Mobility Chair Exercises
Limited mobility chair exercises are ideal if your disability or injury involves limited mobility in your lower body. Cardiovascular, strength training and flexibility exercises can all be performed from a seated position.
Cardiovascular Chair Exercises
Repetitive seated movements, otherwise known as chair aerobics, will raise your heart rate and engage your cardiovascular system. In addition, strength training exercises with light weight and high repetitions can also make for good cardio exercise.
Here are some more specific examples of limited mobility exercises you can try:
- Resistance band exercises: Secure a resistance band to your chair and perform rapid movements, such as arm curls or chest presses, for a count of one second up and two seconds down.
- Incorporate a variety of movements, with at least 20-30 repetitions per exercise.
- As fitness levels improve, incorporate more exercises, more reps, and extend total workout time.
- Air Punching: This might look and/or sound funny to you, but simply punching the air repeatedly can be a good cardio exercise. This is particularly ideal if you’re just starting out and building up your cardio fitness levels.
- Laps: Look into finding an accessible gym or outdoor track which will allow you to do laps in your wheelchair. Go at your own pace to start, and increase your speed as your fitness levels improve.
- Water Aerobics: If your physical ability permits, look into joining water aerobics classes which are offered by many swimming pools and health clubs.
- Arm-Based Cardio Machines: Most gyms offer arm-based cardio machines which are well suited for wheelchair users. This includes equipment like arm-bicycling and rowing machines.
- Wheelchair Sports: You can add some competition to your workouts by joining an organization which offers wheelchair sports, such as basketball and volleyball.
Strength Training Chair Exercises
You can engage most upper body muscle groups with limited mobility exercises from a seated position. This will require equipment such as hand weights and resistance bands. Here are some examples of types of limited mobility exercises you can incorporate into a strength training routine:
- Overhead presses
- Bicep curls
- Tricep extensions
- Lateral raises
- Chest presses
In order to build strength, you must aim for using heavier weight, or stronger resistance bands, than you would for cardio exercises. Ideally, your muscle group should feel like it’s been sufficiently worked out after 3 sets of 8-12 repetitions.
Flexibility Chair Exercises
Flexibility exercises involve anything which is designed to improve your range of motion. Depending on your level of fitness this can include anything from basic stretching to more advanced exercises like seated yoga or Tai Chi. For more inspiration please see our article on wheelchair yoga, which describes a number of poses you can do from a seated position.
Finding the Motivation for a Regular Workout Routine
If this sounds like a lot of work so far, well, no one ever said exercise was easy. Whether of limited mobility or not, everyone faces the same challenge when beginning a workout routine — finding the motivation!
We completely empathize with the fact that there may be a number of mental barriers weighing you down at the beginning. Don’t let this stop you from beginning a routine of limited mobility exercises. The important thing is that you put in the effort. Just do something, even if it’s only a little bit at first. We promise it will get easier and more rewarding over time.
Here is some further advice on how to find the motivation to break through those mental barriers:
- If you’re feeling self-conscious, you can stick to working out at home in the beginning. Going to the gym during non-peak hours also helps, or joining a class with other individuals who have the same physical limitations.
- If you’re scared of injury, begin with low-risk activities.
- If you’re not experienced, begin with exercises that require the least amount of skill and work your way up.
- If you miss a day or two, don’t get discouraged. It happens to everyone, so just pick up where you left off. It takes roughly a month for any kind of new activity to become a habit.
Final Words of Advice
It’s time to leave you with some parting advice before you embark on your fitness journey. You’re almost ready to begin, there’s just a few more things you need to know. Remember, no matter what, you need to listen to your body at all times. You’re probably familiar with the phrase “no pain, no gain”, but try not to take it too literally.
On the contrary, it’s highly recommended that you stop exercising if you feel pain. Some muscle soreness is to be expected, but if the pain becomes excruciating, or you experience pain in your bones or joints, this is a cause for you to stop, take a break, and reevaluate. Trying to power through a workout when you’re in pain can only lead to injury.
Speaking of preventing injury, it’s a good idea to begin each workout with a quick warm up and stretch, and end each workout with a brief cool down period. Warming up with some light activity and stretching will prepare your body for what’s to come, while a cool down period will help return your heart rate back to its regular resting pace.
Lastly, drink lots of water. You lose a lot of fluid through sweat, so drinking plenty of water will help prevent dehydration while helping your body perform at its best.
Remember that it’s never too late to start exercising. Do what you can, when you can, and the results will come. Start by setting small, achievable goals and you’ll be amazed as you watch yourself progress from week to week.
For more information about limited mobility exercises, we recommend reading some of our previous articles: