Best Exercise for Wheelchair Users (Exercise with Limited Mobility)

Just because someone is confined to a wheelchair does not mean that he or she cant stay fit.  In fact, a lot of people who are in wheelchairs work extra hard at keeping fit and strong.  Keeping in shape allows you to feel better and move easier among other things.  So what is the best exercise for wheelchair users

Some of the best exercises for wheelchair users will be the ones that strengthen your shoulders, chest, and core of your body.  These are the body parts that will take a lot of the stress when manually moving your wheelchair.

Some of The Best Exercise For Wheelchair Users

ExerciseMuscle Group WorkedLevel
Shoulder OpenersDeltoids
Rotatory cuff muscle
Reverse FlyTrapezoids
Posterior deltoids
Front Raise & Lateral Raises For ShoulderFront & outside shoulderBeginners

Abdominal Hollowing
Core / AbdominalBeginners
Basic bicep CurlsBicepBeginners
Overhead Triceps ExtensionTricepsBeginners to Intermediate

Benefits of Exercising in a Wheelchair

There are many reasons to exercise while in a wheelchair.   From feeling good to increase the distance you can travel in your chair without getting tired.  With that said there are some key reasons you should be exercising while in a wheelchair.

  • Alleviate joint and muscle pain
  • Increase your ability to move
  • Prevent injury to your arms, shoulders, and hands by strengthing the muscle
  • Built muscle
  • Improve balance
  • Increase your range of motion

Keep Your Shoulders In Good Shape

When someone is in a manual wheelchair this means that they propel themselves using their own body (mostly upper body like the shoulders, and triceps) to move.  Or someone pushes them from the handles.  Because of this developing and maintaining a healthy upper body is important.  While wheelchair accessories like cushions and other products are good to have to keep you comfortable exercise is something that you should strive to do daily to maintain a healthy and easier time while in your wheelchair. 

Shoulder Openers

Muscles that get worked:

  • Deltoids
  • Pectoralis major & minor
  • Rotator cuff muscle 

What you need:

  • Broomstick or equivalent to a broomstick

Instructions to do shoulder Openers:

  • Step 1: If possible remove your armrests
  • Step 2: With a wide grip about 5 inches wider than your shoulders hold the broomstick 
  • Step 3: Keeping your arms straight raise the stick above your head.
  • Step 4: Hold for at least 5 seconds and then return to the start position.  Try to do at least 10 reps daily.

Reverse Fly’s Are Some of The Best Exercise for Wheelchair Users

Muscles that get worked:

  • Trapezius
  • Rhomboids
  • Posterior deltoids

What you need:

  • Resistance band

Instructions to do reverse fly’s:

  • Step 1: At around shoulder level take your resistance band and wrap it around something sturdy like a column or pole.
  • Step 2: At shoulder levels, you want to hold the band securely with each hand and then raise your arms out in front of you. 
  • Step 3: Sit up tall and move your arms straight out to the side.  Keep your shoulders down and back allowing you to fell the squeeze between the shoulder blades.
  • Step 4: Complete 12 to 15 reps with some rest in between.  Try to repeat for 3 sets

Front Raise & Lateral Raises For Shoulder

Muscles that get worked:

  • The front muscle of the shoulder
  • Outside shoulder muscle 

What you need:

  • Two dumbells (5 lb or higher depending on your strength and conditioning)
  • Or just your arm weight for beginners and elderly

Instructions to do front raise & lateral raises:

  • Step 1: Remove the armrest if you can.
  • Step 2: Holding the weight in each hand at your side slowly raise your hands up just so they are even with your shoulders.
  • Step 3: Slowly bring your arms back to the start position 
  • Step 4: Try and complete 10 reps and repeat 3 sets. 

You can modify these moves by using a single weight and holding them with both hands and lifting your arms up to shoulder level.  You can also use no weights and follow the same motion.  Follow the below video for instructions.

Abdominal Hollowing

Muscles that get worked:

  • Strengthen core stomach muscles 

What you need:

  • Just you.  No props or weights needed.

Instructions to do abdominal hollowing:

  • Step 1: Sit up as straight as you can.
  • Step 2: Breath in while trying to pull up your diaphragm.
  • Step 3: Hold that for a second and slowly release the breath and repeat the steps 2 more times.

Basic Bicep Curls

Muscles that get worked:

  • Biceps 

What you need:

  • Small dumbbell weight 

Instructions to do bicep curls:

  • Step 1: Remove the armrest if you can.
  • Step 2: Grab the dumbbell with either your right or left hand to start.  If you are using two dumbells then grab one in each hand.
  • Step 3: Start with the dumbbells at your side.
  • Step 4: Slowly bend your elbows up.  You will feel your bicep muscle working.   Slowly drop the weight back down in a controlled manner.  

Watch the below video from I FIT on how to properly do tricep extensions.  They have great instructions on how to perform this while in your wheelchair.

Tricep Extensions

Muscles that get worked:

What you need:

  • Small dumbbell weight 

Instructions to do tricep extensions:

  • Step 1: Sit up as straight as you can.
  • Step 2: Grab the dumbbell with both hands and carefully lift it over your head.
  • Step 3: Move your elbows closer to your head.
  • Step 4: Slowly bend your elbows so the weight slowly drops below your head.  You will feel your tricep stretch.
  • Step 5:  Slowly lift the weight back up while keeping your elbows in place.  

Watch the below video from I FIT on how to properly do tricep extensions.  They have great instructions on how to perform this while in your wheelchair.

Caution Before Exercising

While exercising is excellent to keep your body in shape and get your cardio stronger we believe you should always consult with your doctor before beginning any type of exercise program. 

Anyone with heart issues, dizziness, high blood pressure, or any other underlying condition should speak to their physician before starting any type of exercise program. 

If you feel any type of pain or discomfort while exercising please stop immediately and seek help.

Takeaway on Some of the best exercise for Wheelchair users

Staying active and fit in your wheelchair is something that can be done with some basic exercise and discipline.  Strengthening your shoulders, arms, and core will make your wheelchair experience easier when your body is more in shape.  You’ll be able to manually use your wheelchair easier and move farther. 

Be sure to start slow and before you start any workout routine be sure to consult with your doctor.   

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About ASmith

Adam Smith is the main researcher and contributor at Mobility Medical Supply. Adam has many years of research in public data, and software security. With Mobility issues within Adam's family, he decided to dedicate in-depth guides on mobility products to anyone looking to improve movement and gain independence.