Balancing Act - Exercises for Wheelchair Users
by Marcie Davis
Most of us continually juggle work, family, health,
and other daily ventures that life throws our way. Exercise and
proper nutrition is something we all strive for, but finding the
time to work out and eat properly can seem impossible to achieve.
As a wheelchair user, I know that it is important
for me to make the time to exercise at least three times a week.
As I am struggling with my own weight loss and exercise regimen,
I am reminded that everything in life demands balance including
our emotional, physical, and spiritual health.
When thinking about the highs and lows of workouts,
the word "balance" keeps coming to mind. We want to share with you
our thoughts on body balance in order to help you plan, implement,
and maintain a healthy exercise program that will strengthen your
physical and mental balance.
Living Well Fitness is more than just strength,
endurance, and flexibility. Balance plays a major role in how we
function, and for some people poor balance can become an obstacle
to functional living. Think about transferring in slow-motion as
you levitate between your wheelchair and another chair. In those
few seconds, you are, in a sense, suspended between two objects.
That takes balance and coordination. You are able to do what you
can because of proprioceptors- muscle receptors that tell your brain
the position of your joints and muscles, as well as your position
and that of the two objects. You must train your proprioceptors
just like you do any muscle. Balance and coordination are equally
important and, just like muscle training, both improve with practice.
The way to improve your balance is to challenge your senses with
creative exercises. Your level of paralysis will determine the kind
of balance exercises you are able to do.
Because I have a T2 injury, balance is an issue
for me but Delia Carper helps me work on it with various activities.
We encourage you to create your own balance exercises by modifying
the examples listed below. Remember to customize these for your
specific needs by making them easier or more difficult.
- Sitting unsupported on the edge of a therapy
table. I lift my arms (with and without weights) and slowly move
them in different directions. If I use weights, they are usually
3-5 pounds (you can use bottles of water); I also uses one weight
at a time as I moves my arms. This challenges my proprioceptors
and uses the abdominal and back muscles. If you do not have a
massage or therapy table, remove your arm rests to increase the
- Transferring with eyes closed. Carper has me
do this in a safe environment with her husband nearby. This creates
more proprioception awareness as the visual senses have been turned
off. The auditory and core musculature have to be more aware of
what is going on around you. The muscles have to now learn to
work differently, keeping them stimulated and challenged.
- Carper instructs me to bend over and pick up
a light-weight from various angles. I bends forward, to the sides,
and even reach for things behind me. This has tremendous benefit
to the core musculature.
- Ball tossing is a fun exercise. As I sit on the
edge of a therapy table, Carper and I throw a weighted ball (about
2-3 pounds), the size of a baseball. I catch with one hand and
then the other. The ball is tossed in different planes to use
A lot can be said for proper planning regarding
your exercise needs and activities. Not only does it save precious
time, but you should also not go to the gym without a conscious
plan regarding what muscle groups you are going to work and what
exercises you will do. For example, if you plan to take an outside
stroll, decide on a route that will maximize the effect of this
workout session. Before going to the gym, select specific exercises
such as weight lifting, bicycling, etc. Make a list of what you
complete during each session to help you track your program and
to provide some variety to your workout sessions.
The following is a sample program design for four
weeks. If you have questions, talk to a certified personal trainer
for additional ideas and safety techniques.
Week One: Train your major muscle
groups three times this week. Choose 1-2 exercises for each major
muscle group. Do 10-12 reps with a weight heavy enough to cause
momentary fatigue within this range. Do 1-3 sets of each exercise.
Also, do three days of cardiovascular activity - 30-40 minutes each
time in a lower heart-rate range. To find your target heart rate,
do an Internet search and plug in your personal information. In
addition, vary your cardio sessions to avoid tedium. You want to
keep your body and mind challenged and continue moving toward your
Week Two: Train each body part
twice, choosing 2-3 exercises for each major muscle group. Do 2-3
sets of 15-20 repetitions with a weight heavy enough to cause fatigue
within this range. Rest 60-90 seconds between sets. Do five cardio
sessions this week- 30-40 minutes at a moderate heart-rate range.
Week Three: Flexibility training
can greatly enhance your range of motion, therefore decreasing the
chances of injury and enhancing your workouts. Dedicate 20-30 minutes
to stretching all the muscle groups you train throughout the week.
Before stretching, warm up 5-10 minutes. When stretching, remember
to execute each move slowly, do not bounce, and keep proper body
alignment (neutral spine, keeping shoulders, hips, and knees in
line.) Do 4-5 cardiovascular sessions this week - 25-30 minutes
at 75-80% of your maximum heart rate.
Week Four: Do balance workout every
day this week. Combine Week 2 and Week 3 into Week 4 for strength
and flexibility training. Do 2-4 cardiovascular sessions this week
at moderate intensity.
Remember to consult your physician and develop a
safety plan before beginning any exercise program and above all,
About the Author
Find out how Marcie
Davis and href="http://www.davisinnovates.com">Delia Carper
can help you at http://www.davisinnovates.com.
Davis is President of Davis
Innovations, Inc., an organizational consulting firm. Carper
is a certified personal trainer and registered dietician.
Exercise Equipment Resources
Measures & Tests - Track your fitness progress using this comprehensive
set of fitness tests.
Fitness Program - A fitness program specially designed to maintain muscle
mass and joint flexibility
Fitness - Perfect your golf swing using advanced biomechanical golf fitness