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Last Updated on October 13, 2015

Wheelchair exercises are designed for people with limited mobility to get the full benefit of a fitness routine. By adopting a creative approach, wheelchair exercises can help you overcome your wheelchair-exercisesphysical limitations with a variety of enjoyable new ways to exercise.

Whether you have full mobility or limited mobility, a fitness routine should contain three distinct types of exercise. This is no different for wheelchair exercises — your routine should contain these essential exercise types:

  • Cardiovascular: Also referred to as the abbreviated “cardio”, this includes exercises that raise your heart rate for an extended period of time.
  • Strength: Includes exercises that involve the use of weights and other types of resistance training, designed to build muscle and bone mass.
  • Flexibility: Includes exercises that help to improve your range of motion — such as stretching and yoga.

Wheelchair Exercises: Before You Begin

Before beginning any type of exercise routine you should always speak with your doctor and get their medical clearance. In addition, they may be able to suggest specific types of exercises you should focus on, and which you should stay away from.

“How often and how long should I exercise for?”

Since sedentary lifestyle are common in people with disabilities or long-term injuries, it’s important to make exercise a part of your regular weekly routine.

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 it’s not physically possible for you to meet those recommendations, do as much as you feel comfortable with. The important thing is getting some kind of regular physical activity.

Recommendations for Wheelchair Exercises

If you can, when performing wheelchair exercises try to use a chair that keeps your knees at 90 degrees when seated. If in a wheelchair, secure the brakes and ensure the chair is immobilized. Sit up straight while exercising, use your core (ab) muscles to keep good posture.

With that in mind, you’re ready to begin. Here are some suggestions for wheelchair exercises broken down by the three types listed above.

Cardiovascular Wheelchair Exercises

A series of repetitive movements while seated will raise your heart rate, burn calories, and also help to loosen up stiff joints.

Here are some recommendations:

  • With a lightweight resistance band wrapped under your chair, you can perform rapid resistance exercises as a form of cardio exercise. Try starting with chest presses for a count of one second up and two seconds down with 20 to 30 reps per exercise.
  • 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.
  • If you have some leg function, many community pools and health clubs offer pool-therapy programs for wheelchair users.
  • Some gyms offer wheelchair-friendly cardio machines that allow you to do arm-bicycling and rowing.

Strength Training Wheelchair Exercises

Most of the traditional upper body exercises can be done from a seated position. All you need to have on hand is dumbbells, resistance bands, or anything else with weight that provides some kind of resistance.

Here are some recommendation:

  • Shoulder presses, bicep curls, and triceps extensions. Aim for two to three sets of 8 to 12 reps for each, adding weight as necessary.
  • Use resistance bands for pull-downs, shoulder rotations, and arm and leg-extensions. Follow a similar routine as noted above.

Flexibility Wheelchair Exercises

Our recommendation for a tremendous flexibility exercise is wheelchair yoga. This can help increase flexibility, improve your range of motion, and reduce the pain in your muscles that results from long periods of sitting.
For more information about wheelchair exercises, see our article about wheelchair yoga.

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