Fitness Articles

Strength Training with a Disability

More Strength Means Greater Independence

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Whether you have a disability or a chronic condition that limits your mobility, exercise doesn't have to be out of reach or even painful. In fact, depending on your condition, your health care provider has probably recommended that you increase your physical activity. That may have you wondering, "How am I supposed to move more when I have these limitations?"

Exercise provides so many health benefits, from decreased risk for heart disease to a better ability to maintain a healthy weight, and even a more positive body image and outlook—and these benefits extend to individuals with limitations as well. In fact, exercise may even help alleviate pain and degenerative symptoms associated with chronic conditions like arthritis, helping many people increase their mobility and independence while decreasing pain.

Why Strength Training?
Strength training exercises help increase your overall muscular strength, making everyday tasks and caring for yourself, others, and your household easier. Overall, maintaining your strength can help you remain independent and enjoy life experiences. For more details on strength training and its benefits, read SparkPeople's Strength Exercise Reference Guide.

Keep Your Safety in Mind
Before starting any exercise program, always check with your health care provider first—especially if you have a chronic condition or disability. Your doctor knows firsthand about your condition and health history and she can provide not only exercise ideas but also limitations based on your condition. This is especially important if you suffer from a condition that directly affects your muscles (such as cerebral palsy or multiple sclerosis) and requires specific modifications.

In addition, remember to listen to your body and not to attempt any form of exercise that makes you uncomfortable or puts your safety at risk. For example, some individuals are comfortable swimming with only the use of their upper body to propel them. If you lack swimming training or upper body strength, or fear counting on your arms alone to keep you afloat, don't attempt this form of exercise—especially without help or supervision.

Remember to start out slowly. If it's been awhile since you've exercised or lifted heavy weights, always try strength exercises with no weights first so that you can ensure proper form. When you can complete 1-3 sets of each exercise with no weight, then move on to light weights, and gradually increase from there as you build strength. Remember that to build strength and stamina, you have to push your body past its limits, a principle known as overloading.
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About The Author

Nicole Nichols Nicole Nichols
Nicole was named "America's Top Personal Trainer to Watch" in 2011. A certified personal trainer and fitness instructor with a bachelor's degree in health education, she loves living a healthy and fit lifestyle and helping others do the same. Her DVDs "Total Body Sculpting" and "28 Day Boot Camp" (a best seller) are available online and in stores nationwide. Read Nicole's full bio and blog posts.

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Member Comments

  • Thanks for this one. - 5/14/2013 7:56:59 AM
  • Perfect timing now that I've severely injured my knee. - 5/13/2013 8:52:33 PM
  • I can try yhis when my hip is hurting. - 5/13/2013 10:15:21 AM
  • This is a great article for me; I can use these exercises while my fractured ankle is healing. - 3/29/2013 3:48:36 PM
  • Eureka! I've been looking for these articles and links. Now, I can do some strength training that's appropriate! Thank you! - 2/28/2013 1:56:41 PM
  • HAPPYONENOW
    I have been dealing with physical limitations since I had surgery for cancer, I no longer have adductor muscles, along with other missing parts, hip, bones etc... So alot of the exercises that are on here are not possible for me to do..however, there are some that I can do. Bottom line, I will do what I am capable of doing and keep exercising despite the pain(everyday thing). Thanks for the encouragement. - 2/20/2013 6:36:33 AM
  • Very helpful for me since I have limited mobility and balance. I also cannot stand more than a minute without just collapsing due to severe back problems caused from damage from Osteoarthritis to my lumbar sacral spine region. - 1/27/2013 3:24:18 AM
  • Nice - I might be able to talk husband into exercise again - 11/3/2012 11:28:22 AM
  • Thank you for this article. Great ideas. I propel myself in my wheelchair for cardio, but needed ideas for strength training - these are great! Thanks! - 5/6/2012 1:25:21 PM
  • Thanks for thinking of physically challenged individuals!!! - 4/4/2012 4:02:49 PM
  • Nice to know SparkPeople is thinking about those who have disabilities. I'm not disabled but know of those that are, including my daughter who has down's syndrome. Thanks for the article it's nice to know others care. - 3/13/2012 2:25:04 AM
  • Not bad, I wonder if there is any cardo ideas as well. - 1/18/2012 12:56:08 AM
  • This was great, Coach Nicole. I'm not disabled, but it's good to know (hey, anything can happen) that it's possible to stay in shape, even with physical limitations. I just saw a television program featuring a man named Craig Dietz, who has no arms or legs. He lives alone, and competes in a variety of sports, including long distance open water swimming. What an inspiration! - 9/19/2011 3:08:28 PM
  • great article - 9/19/2011 12:48:02 AM
  • I am disabled and let me say there isn't anything really out here for us. I do admit this article does give you some great ideas but often that gets boring and mundane. There are videos out here for chair exercises. Also, many trainers don't want to take on someone that is not fully functional. It seems to much of a hassle. I have been through it enough times. I had enough I started my own workouts and modified them for me without the help of pros. Watch through a workout tape/dvd and see how you can modify it for your needs. IT CAN BE DONE. - 8/31/2011 7:50:37 AM
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