How Do You Work Out?

by Amy Saffell

In our “How Do You…” series, our writers, real women with disabilities, give their real life experiences and advice on how to get more out of living life from a chair. After  indulging throughout the holiday season, our writers answer the question “How Do You Work Out?” might be the perfect topic to kick off the year! Do you have your own tips, or do you have questions about the advice given? Head over to our Facebook page, and tell us what you think.

Work Out/Maintain Physically Fit?

I have a Ergys bike and Vitaglide in my home. I also turn and move my body in any direction that I can take it. I start with my head and move down- side to side and work out with my non paralyzed parts. In the cool down, I choose easy listening and meditate a bit.

I have loved participating in races with the help of Achilles International. Achilles pairs people with and without disabilities to be able to run, and running is defined as any forward mode of locomotion. It’s great getting outside and moving. Achilles doesn’t care if you’re first or last; it’s participating that’s most important. There are chapters around the country, and I highly recommend checking it out. I also go to the local YMCA for weight training a few times a week.

I have to admit since having my daughter (almost 11 years ago) it is very hard to lose the baby weight since I can't walk it off or do the other exercises that would help lose it!  However, in order to avoid pressure sores, I routinely do wheelchair push ups ,and to keep my arms up to par, I have a hand cycle that I use. I am a regular fan of Judge Judy, so I do my hand cycling while watching her program! It's an hour a day.

In addition to dance, which is a great work out for me, I work out almost daily at home with leg weights and a small ball I use to strengthen my abs and legs, as well.
I love to work out and have different outlets to do so. First and foremost I study dance weekly so when dancing, I practice for an hour and a half every week and get a good upper body work out when practicing my moves and grooves in relation to the dances that I am learning.  Examples include using my arms, upper body and on occasion lower body/legs to assist with movement of the chair, creating quick sharp or smooth moves to enhance the dance or if dancing with a partner, assisting to keep the chair in control and create beautiful moves that will enhance the quality of the dance.
I also work out daily at home with weights for legs, a ball for my legs and to help assist with stomach crunches when doing sit ups and pushups as well.  But I am most excited as I will begin working with a trainer one to one from home who has spent time working with persons with disabilities and although a personal trainer now, is a physical therapist by training. So all of these events help keep me in shape.

Working out is extremely important for me both physically and mentally. It helps me to destress and I even feel like I think better when I’m moving! Since I’m in my chair and not very active throughout the day, I make it a priority.

I have an FES bike, an RT300 which was extremely expensive but I believe that biking has
kept me healthy for many years. It’s an excellent cardio workout and definitely improves my circulation. I try to ride every other day for 1 hour. You can also find the bike at some physical therapy centers that specialize in spinal cord injuries where you can try it out and pay for a session at a time, instead of purchasing your own bike.
On the alternate days, I try to workout my arms. I use different options such as resistance bands like Thera-band tubing which is inexpensive, lightweight so perfect for traveling or weights that can be velcroed to my arms or a Vitaglide or work with a trainer who manually resists me. 

I also try to get out of my chair and get on my stomach. I have a body cushion that elevates my chest off the bed which is a wonderful stretch but also enables me to exercise my back (very important to balance your muscles since most wheelchair users have strong chest muscles from pushing but a weak back which can lead to injuries.)  by lifting my arms off the bed above my head or out to the side. A physical therapist recommended the bodyCushion to me which I prefer because it supports my head but you could also use pillows or a small wedge under the chest.

Lastly, standing is really important if you are able to access a standing frame, as it has many important medical benefits including increased range of motion, improves skeletal integrity, and pressure relief.(Plus it feels good!)

I have been using a personal trainer for the last several months, but that can get pretty expensive. There is a wonderful website that has videos that are geared toward individuals working out in a wheelchair or sitting position. It is called There is a monthly fee, but it is very reasonable. All the videos are put to music, but you can also mute their music and play your own.

Now that you have some options so no matter what your situation is, get moving!. What a positive way to kick off the year and you will feel fantastic!

Columnist Amy Saffell lives in Nashville, TN and works in the music industry. She enjoys spending time with friends, concerts, and volunteering for a local youth wheelchair sports and independence group.


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