Fitness Articles

Strength Training with a Disability

More Strength Means Greater Independence


Last but not least, always warm up and cool down during each exercise session.

Special Considerations
Ninety-four percent of gyms do not offer machines that are accessible by wheelchair, according to recent surveys. But more progressive gyms are taking deliberate steps to be more inclusive to individuals with disabilities and mobility issues by making their layouts and equipment wheelchair-accessible. Before joining a gym, find out if their space and features are accessible to you. Freemotion, for example, is one major brand that makes weight machines that are accessible to both wheelchair and able-bodied exercisers. You may be more likely to find these features in university or hospital fitness facility, many of which offer memberships to the public.

If you have trouble using your hands, wrist cuffs that help secure weights in your hands can help. You may also want to consider using wrist weights or weighted gloves (instead of dumbbells) if this is the case.

If you suffer from a condition that causes your limbs to move involuntarily, try to use strength training machines instead of free weights. Machines (both those with wheelchair access and those without it) are designed to help your body stay in good form and offer more support so that you work in good form and within a safe range of motion.

SparkPeople's Seated Exercises
You can perform almost any strength training exercise from a chair or seated position. Virtually any upper body exercise can be done while seated instead of standing, and you can also strengthen your legs and abs from a chair as well. Many of SparkPeople's exercise demonstrations involve sitting in a chair and several standing exercises for the upper body can be modified to be done while seated, whether you're using dumbbells, resistance bands, or even no weights at all.

The following list includes strength training exercises (and the muscle groups they work) with demonstrations that already involve sitting on a chair. These are great for individuals with limited mobility. SparkPeople's Adaptable Exercises
The following list links  to exercise demos that you can easily modify to perform while seated in a chair. Each exercise lists the muscles worked and a note for how to modify it to meet your needs (sitting or standing). Not only will exercise tone your muscles and strengthen your heart, but working out can also help to improve your self-esteem and your feelings about your body. Talk to your doctor about starting your strength training program today!
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About The Author

Nicole Nichols Nicole Nichols
A certified personal trainer and fitness instructor with a bachelor's degree in health education, Nicole loves living a healthy and fit lifestyle and helping others do the same. Nicole was formerly SparkPeople's fitness expert and editor-in-chief, known on the site as "Coach Nicole." Make sure to explore more of her articles and blog posts.

Member Comments

  • Thanks for this article...I will give it a try. I will also be starting a water workout soon. I have limited mobility & use a wheelchair due to 2 back surgeries (lower & upper) that didn't do much but left me with severe back pain still, osteoarthritis & trouble with my knees & hips. I also have lost grip strength & have numbness in my right hand. I get some cardio by walking & rolling in my wheelchair. - 3/15/2015 9:58:06 PM
    Thank you for this as I need to be able to exercise but am limited what I can do so now I feel I can do more so bless you. - 1/4/2015 4:50:19 AM
  • 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
    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

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