The "Famous" Physical Therapists, Bob Schrupp and Brad Heineck have put together a very
informative video series on wheelchairs and selcting the right one for you or a loved one, as well as several
useful tidbits of information for the general wheelchair user. Take some time to watch the videos above in any
order to better enhance your wheelchair education and / or user experience.
If you’re a wheelchair user, it can be easy to overlook physical fitness and exercise.
But getting active will bring you important health benefits and can help you manage daily life,
Wheelchair users can face particular challenges when it comes to fitness and
But regular aerobic exercise – the kind that raises your heart rate and causes you to
break a sweat – and muscle-strengthening exercise are just as important for the health and wellbeing of
wheelchair users as they are for other adults.
Whatever your preferences and level of physical ability, there will be options that are
right for you.
Physical activity doesn’t have to mean the gym, or competitive sport, though these
can be great options. Activity can take many forms, and happen in many places.
Why you should get active
Regular physical activity is good for physical and mental wellbeing, and can be a great
way to meet new people.
Philip Gill is a specialist tutor at YMCAfit, an organisation that trains fitness
professionals. He specialises in training fitness professionals who work with wheelchair users and people
with other disabilities.
He says that getting active is important for wheelchair users for a range of reasons:
“Using a wheelchair can make it more difficult to do cardiovascular physical activity that raises your
heart rate and makes you warm enough to break a sweat. This kind of exercise is important for the health
of your heart and lungs. Missing out on this kind of exercise can contribute to weight gain
“Manoeuvring or pushing a wheelchair can also put particular strain on certain
muscles in the upper body, making strains or other injuries more likely. Muscle-strengthening exercises
can help you to manage your wheelchair in daily life, and avoid these kinds of
How much activity?
The Department of Health says adults between the ages of 19 and 64 should do at least
150 minutes of moderate-level aerobic activity a week, and muscle-strengthening activity on two or more
days a week.
If you’re a wheelchair user, getting active regularly will bring you important health
Philip Gill says these general guidelines can help wheelchair users, too: “In the
absence of specific guidelines, wheelchair users can compare their activity levels to the general
guidelines for adults,” he says.
“Many wheelchair users will not be doing anywhere near that volume of physical activity.
If that’s you, then see these guidelines as a goal, which you should take small steps towards.
“Remember: even small increases in physical activity will bring health
What kind of activity?
Philip Gill says the kinds of physical activity that are right for you depend on your
level of physical ability, and the types of activity that appeal to you.
“Your aim might be to improve certain aspects of physical function, to help with daily
life. Or you may be seeking improved fitness, or involvement in competitive sport," he says.
“Whatever your level of physical ability and confidence, there are activities you can
do to improve fitness.”
There's a range of options available for taking cardiovascular exercise in a
“The aim is to raise your heart rate, and be warm enough to break a sweat,” says Gill.
“You should be slightly out of breath: enough that you can still hold a conversation, but not sing the
words of a song.
“If you’re unused to exercise or you haven’t exercised for some time, aim to start
with 10-minute sessions, and gradually build up towards 20 minutes.”
Gill suggests these ideas:
wheelchair sprinting, in a studio or at a track
using a rowing machine adapted for wheelchair use
wheelchair sports, such as basketball, netball and badminton
When it comes to muscle-strengthening exercise, Philip Gill says you should pay special
attention to certain muscle groups.
“The repeated pushing motion that is used to push a wheelchair means that the chest and
shoulder muscles can become tight and prone to injury. Meanwhile the back muscles, which are not involved
in this pushing motion, can become weaker, because they are never worked.
“Because of this, it’s a good idea to focus on exercises that work the smaller muscles
that support the pushing motion, such as the shoulder muscles: this can help prevent injury. You
can also strengthen the back muscles by doing exercises that involve a pulling motion.”
Gyms with equipment adapted for wheelchair users are a great place to do
Some wheelchair users also find that they can do muscle-strengthening exercises at home,
using resistance bands.