Strength & Conditioning Training and Fitness Motivation!

By Lucy Lawrence
mobileWOMEN's Cheryl Price using the Vitaglide
Everyone needs exercise, but it's especially important that wheelchair-mobile women get a regular workout because it helps maintain good spinal posture and muscle tone. New research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that only 57% of American adults with limited mobility exercise regularly, while those who do maintain consistent physical activity are 50% less likely to develop a range of diseases and medical problems, including higher rates of stress and mental illness. Fortunately, women who use wheelchairs for mobility, can tap into a range of health and wellness resources for their basic health and help them to focus towards a fitness plan modified to fit their individual needs.  

Embrace Strength and Conditioning Training

Velcro Cuff Weight
The primary goal of strength/resistance type of exercises for wheelchair users, is to increase or maintain good muscle mass, and fortunately there are a variety of inclusive tools that can help achieve this goal: Exercise Physiologist Kate Helfrich, owner of Merge Fitness, LLC (an adaptive personal training business) explains, "Free weights (aka dumbbells), cuff weights, resistance bands or tubing are some of the kinds of strength equipment we use with our clients. Client goals, abilities and environment are a few things that dictate which pieces or combination of equipment we will use." Each piece of equipment has different pros and cons: large rubber bands/tubing (resistance bands), are versatile for in home use by fixing them to a stable object, and pulling until the band is taut. You can use resistance bands to do upper and lower body exercises. This is a good idea for wheelchair-users who lack balance because it does not necessarily require moving out of place once the band is affixed to an object, especially paired with a chest strap. Dumbbells/cuff weights provide consistent resistance throughout a range of motion are a great way to objectively measure progress by the amount of weight being moved or lifted. If grasp is an issue, using adaptive devices such as Active Hands products, will enable one to lift weights and remain safe. For newcomers to strength conditioning, pilates is a strong option because this class of exercises focuses on increasing the body's flow of movement, which improves movability while in a wheelchair. Pilates is a particularly good workout for women, who may lack the upper-body strength needed to keep good posture intact. The workout system targets your core muscles, therefore improving posture throughout your spine and increasing muscular control of your back and limbs.
Kate goes on to explain the concept of conditioning, "Conditioning is a broad term that can be used to describe exercises or activity that aims at improving cardiorespiratory fitness (elevating heart and breathing rate for a planned, extended period). It is best to incorporate both strength and conditioning components into your program (sometimes there is a bit of overlap) as each has specific purposes and benefits, regardless of ability level. Propulsion, upper body ergometers, swimming, walking or using other cardiovascular equipment are one of many ways to accomplish such conditioning. If you're not sure how to get started on the appropriate strength and/or conditioning program, reach out to a qualified exercise professional!"
mobileWOMEN's Robyn Keller doing wheelchair push-ups
Get Into A Routine

The #1 problem with maintaining a workout plan is that people fall behind on their schedule and lapse into inactivity. To begin, start slow. Try lifting dumbbells for 10 reps at a time for 3 rounds. Classes and fitness groups, particularly ones designed for mobileWOMEN, are a good idea because they offer motivation in a group setting. Apps like Freewheel or SmartHub, can help wheelchair-users regain mobility by tracking their health, including heart rate, calorie consumption, sleep quality, and physical activity. Fitness apps for wheelchair-users are designed to meet a number of individual accommodations and craft a workout plan accordingly. Alternatively, if you still struggle to exercise, your doctor may refer you to see an Exercise Physiologist or personal trainer who will be able to assess your physical status and identify ways to improve your strength and conditioning in a manner that you can enjoy and stick with!

mobileWOMEN can rely on a number of tried-and-true methods to maintain physical activity, including innovative technology suited to accommodate their needs. And, the right routine and regimen, strength and conditioning workout plans, give those with disabilities, a strong outcome for building muscle tone, minimizing injury and chronic disease risk and reducing stress.

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