Wheelchair Workouts 9 of the Best Exercises for Wheelchair Users

Updated on November 3, 2021
Wheelchair Workouts

Are you a wheelchair user who wants to get moving and get your blood pumping? It’s time to start an exercise routine! There are plenty of effective wheelchair workouts that are great for anyone with mobility challenges.

But where do you even start? How do you know how to modify workouts to suit your specific needs? We’re here to offer some suggestions so you can start working out today.

Keep reading for our favorite exercises for wheelchair users.

1. Chair Yoga

Yoga is one of the best gentle exercises that you can do for your body. It’s great for both your body and your mind. Many people think that yoga is only for people who are able-bodied, but this isn’t true. 

Chair yoga is an accessible type of yoga practice that many instructors offer at their studios. Chair yoga is perfect for anyone who struggles with lower-body mobility, regardless of whether or not they’re using a wheelchair. 

During chair yoga, the moves that use the legs and hips are replaced with upper-body positions. While you could have someone help you to get out of your chair and try to participate in standard yoga to the best of your ability, chair yoga will help with your specific strength needs.

Yoga is a great way to practice mindfulness and breathing exercises. During a yoga routine, your instructor will teach you about yogic breathing (which is helpful for staying calm in stressful situations and keeping yourself grounded). 

Yoga, even when you’re doing it from your wheelchair, is also great for your strength and flexibility. While it might seem as though it would be too gentle to make any significant changes, many people discover that yoga improves their core strength, upper body strength, and mobility. 

Luckily, there are plenty of chair yoga videos from yoga instructors online, even on sites like YouTube (where you can watch them for free). You could also look for local chair yoga classes in your area so you can start practicing with a group.

2. Arm Raises and Circles

Many people look at arm raises and arm circles and think that they look like “weak” exercises. Rest assured, once you try this sneaky little exercise, you’ll realize that it’s hard than it looks.

Arm raises are easier than arm circles, so start there. There are two types: lateral and ventral raises. Lateral raises go out to your sides while ventral raises are in front of you. 

Start without weights. For lateral raises, slowly lift your arms up from your sides until they’re in line with your shoulders. Then, lower them back down.

For ventral raises, you’ll do the same thing but in front of your body. Do each of these exercises ten times per set, and make sure that you’re moving at a slow pace. The slower you move, the more effective the exercise will be.

If this feels too easy, grab some weights. Even small weights will make a huge difference. If you don’t have weights, grab two cans of soup or beans.

If you feel like you need something extra, try moving onto arm circles.

For this, you’re going to raise your arms straight out so they’re in line with your shoulders. Make small circular motions with your hands, as if you’re trying to draw a circle that’s about the size of your shoulder joint. 

Do this for about 30 seconds. You’ll find that this is more tiring than it looks, especially if you do several sets. Again, if it’s too easy, you can add small weights or hold cans. 

3. Twists

Are you trying to strengthen your core while you’re in your chair? Luckily, twists are easy to do no matter where you are. They’re great for stretching and strengthening alike.

For a basic twist, you don’t need anything aside from yourself. Sit up straight and put your arms in front of you, bent at the elbows (so your fists are in front of your chest or face). 

Twist your torso back and forth from side to side. Don’t go too fast or you might hurt yourself. This is a great way to stretch out a stiff back.

If you want it to be a heavier core exercise, we recommend holding weights. You can hold one weight with both hands. Twist slower and with more intention and you’ll feel your core working harder to keep you stable. 

You may experience some soreness the next morning after doing this exercise, but that means that it’s working.

4. Wheelchair “Hikes”

When we think of going hiking, we think of walking, right? In 2021, people in wheelchairs can also hike as long as they have the right wheelchair exercise equipment. 

Your standard chair might not be up to the task of hiking on new terrain, but an outdoor chair with some added accessories will be perfect for taking you wherever you want to go. 

Hikes are great for your mind and body. They’re also great opportunities to bond with friends or pets in the great outdoors. Why not get some fresh air and go for a wheelchair hike?

When you go on a hike, you also get the benefit of soaking up some serious vitamin D. Vitamin D is great for your mental health and your immune system.

Hiking in a wheelchair is a great cardiovascular exercise. It will get your heart pumping and strengthen your arms. Bonus: it’s so fun that you won’t even feel like you’re working out. 

5. Overhead Presses

It’s time to hit the gym. What kinds of exercises can you do from your chair? 

We suggest trying out overhead presses. They’re great for strengthening your shoulders and getting your heart rate up! You can do them at any gym and if you have access to a smith machine, you can lift heavy!

Start with light weights. Hold one in each hand and start with your hands level with your shoulders. Lift straight up slowly and pause at the top. Bring the weights back down and repeat ten times or until your form begins to suffer. 

This exercise is great for back and shoulder strength and may also help with core stabilization. 

6. Wheelchair-Friendly Sports

Who said team sports aren’t for wheelchair users? 

There are plenty of sports that are perfect for people in wheelchairs. Look into local casual sports teams for people in wheelchairs to see if there’s a community for you.

Common wheelchair sports include basketball, track races, golf, rugby, and even tennis. If there’s a sport that you’re interested in, it’s almost certain that someone has figured out how to do it in a wheelchair.

Team sports are some of the best exercises for wheelchair users because they’re fun and social. The best exercise is the one that you do. If you’re having fun while working out, and building a community, you’re going to keep coming back for more. 

If you don’t find any local wheelchair sports teams, no problem. You can make your own! Plenty of people would love to play team sports if they had the opportunity. 

8. Water Activities 

Water exercises are fantastic for people who struggle with mobility. They’re easy on the joints and they’re great for having fun and burning calories. 

Depending on your specific mobility struggles, some water exercises will be better than others. It’s always best to start off in a group and with a qualified lifeguard nearby to keep you safe.

There are wheelchair-friendly water aerobics and even swimming classes for people who use wheelchairs. When you’re in the water, you’ll feel free and relaxed. 

If you’re not sure what to do, consider talking to a physical therapist or personal trainer about water exercises that are suitable for your level of mobility. 

9. Arm Cycling

While riding a standard bike might not be in the cards, arm cycling is a great way for wheelchair users to get their hearts pumping!

Many gyms have static arm cycling machines. They look like the standard bike machines, but instead of moving the wheels with your feet, the pedals are for your hands. Move your arms in cycling motions to turn the wheels.

You can also get custom outdoor handcycles. It’s a lot of work to move with a hand cycling bike, but it’s another great way to get outdoors and enjoy your workout.

Make sure to wear protective gear if you’re exercising outside!

What Are Your Favorite Wheelchair Workouts?

We love these workouts for wheelchair users. They’re fun, effective, and you can do them almost anywhere. Whether you have access to a gym or you’re working out at home, you can assemble a simple routine of wheelchair workouts that’s efficient and effective. 

Start gathering your equipment and get ready to sweat!

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