Simple Exercises You Can Do in a Wheelchair or Sitting Down

This post is part of September’s My Mighty Month Challenge. You can learn more about the challenge and sign-up here.

With the right adaptations, anyone can exercise. Whether you use a wheelchair, other mobility aids or have difficulty standing for long periods of time, there are plenty of exercises you can do from a seated position.

Finding a workout that’s best for you depends on your goals, said Tyrell Eddy, who teaches at The Axis Project in New York City. Once you set a goal — getting stronger, increasing your range of motion, etc. — you can take steps towards achieving it.

“Being disabled, we always have to adapt,” Eddy told The Mighty. “Start small, start at home, lifting bottles of water or buying bands to stretch out. Stuff like that can get you started.”

In general, many exercises can be adapted to be wheelchair-friendly. “I started at home. I actually used to look at videos and I put my own stuff together,” Lisa Rivera, who also teaches at The Axis Project, said. “I’d look for ways I can modify that exercise and make it work for me.”

You don’t have to move a lot to see a difference, either. “The smallest movement makes such a big difference,” Rivera said. “A lot of the time, if [you] continue doing it, you’ll see an improvement.”

“Even if you have no mobility, but can move your head, keep moving your head,” Eddy added. “Keep moving something, The more you do it, the better it gets, the stronger you get.”

If moving on your own is difficult, you can also ask a friend or family member to help you move or stretch. “You can have people help you, even if you can’t move a muscle,” he said.

To get you started, Eddy and Rivera shared seven exercises you can do from home. 

1. Core Rotations and Crunches

Eddy: So this is core rotations [moves torso in a circular motion.] You can do it as small as you can and as low as you can. You can keep this up or you can go right into side crunches [crosses arms behind head]. You don’t have to bring up your arms [puts arms crossed against chest] you can put them against your chest and just do crunches. Or leave your arms on your lap and just crunch [moves body from side to side]. You can go in front too. You don’t have to use your hands at all. You can just leave them on your lap and lean forward. Just tucking your head if you can, if you can’t, just lean forward and back. It will all work out the same thing.

2. Toe Touches

Rivera: You don’t have to start down here [touches toes]. I’ve just been doing it for a while. So, even if you start here [touches knees] and you go like this [raises arms]. You’re stretching and come down as slow as you can. [Repeats toe touch and arm-raised movements.]

3. Arm Raises

Eddy: For this exercise, you should have a ball or something in your hands, light or nothing at all. You go straight arms all the way up and then all the way down as far as you can go. [Repeats arm movements several times.]

4. Arm Presses

Eddy: [Moves bent arms up and down] You can do this with dumbells, water bottles, bags, book bags, stress balls, medicine balls, anything.

5. Raised Arm Stretches

Rivera: [With arms raised overhead] Take your hand, pull it up as much as you can. Then you hold it for 15 seconds. Then you do the same thing with your other arm. You can also put your hand behind [your neck] and pull on your elbow, and you’ll feel the stretch right here [points to ribcage]. Also for 15 seconds, no more than  20 seconds on each side.

6. Wheelchair Lifts

Eddy: [No Audio] Uses arms to raise self a few inches up from his wheelchair and then down.

7. Seated Jabs

Eddy: [No Audio] Does boxing moves from a seated position.

Rivera: [Out of frame] Upper cut. Do this for a few minutes and you can use these moves to get some cardio.

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