How To Exercise If You Are Wheelchair Bound

Life in a wheelchair, for whatever reason, can be difficult to accept. Mobility is severely limited and I’m sure that some days it all seems too much effort to even think about exercising.

However, it can be even more important to begin an exercise regime as muscle tone will quickly be lost and the possibility of increased risk of blood clots and pneumonia can occur. Also,without movement the body can develop sores, which are difficult to cure.

Not only will exercising help keep the body as healthy as possible it can take your mind off being tied to a wheelchair and consequently help avoid depression. When you exercise your body releases endorphins, which are natural mood enhancers.

These are like your bodies own natural anti depressants.  Even without these mood enhancers exercise helps to improve your mood by getting your mind busy with something else

Naturally the physical constraints of the wheelchair make it difficult to exercise in the same manner that a mobile person can but there are many ways to exercise your upper extremities. Not only will you keep the muscle tone you currently have, but it’s possible to increase muscle strength.

How to get motivated

Often getting motivated is the most difficult part of exercise. If you start slowly and think of the benefits that you will reap from exercising its easier to get motivated.

Set a certain time of the day to  exercise. Make it a habit.

Group exercises are also easier to be excited about.  If you have other friends that are wheelchair bound doing group activities is a great way to motivate all of you to exercise.

Wheelchair basketball and other team sports are highly motivational and excellent exercise.  If you are unable to do strenuous exercise, group stretches and stretches with your spouse or a partner are other ways of including others in your exercise routine to help you stay motivated.  Goal setting is also motivational. Just remember to set reasonable, obtainable goals.

The Benefits

  • Increase muscle tone
  • Improve overall health
  • Helps  control weight
  • Aid digestion
  • Help alleviate shoulder, back and neck pain
  • Fights depression
  • Improves mood and overall outlook on life
  • Creates opportunities to make new friends

While getting out of the wheelchair or lifting something heavy might be difficult, these simple exercises will be beneficial to most disabled.

Resistance training

Use a resistance band secured to a door handle or other firm object and pull towards or away from you in a smooth non jerky manner t. These bands are available in various strengths.

Strength training

Wheelchair Pushups

To begin, put the brakes on your wheelchair and place both hands firmly on your arm rests.

Using your arms lift your body slightly, so that your bottom just rises up off of the seat, and then in an even motion return your body to the chair.

Repeat this motion in sets of five, taking breaks between each set.  Do several sets daily, but don’t overdo it and injure your arms.

Use free weights or dumbbells in repetitions of 5-10

Before you begin your exercise regime you should warm up for 5 minutes with gentle stretches and cool down the same way at the end.

How to get into wheelchair sports and what is available

There are wheelchair sports available for youths and children from ages 5 to 18.  These Special Olympic sports are made for children who are incapable of walking or unable to walk for the whole game.  These events are held annually.

Basketball and other team sports for adults are available in certain areas.  A quick search online for events in your area is the quickest way to find out what’s available.

You can also contact your local department of human services and they will be able to tell you what is available in your area.

Before beginning any wheelchair exercise regime it is important to consult your doctor or physical therapist.

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Unique Mens Gifts August 22, 2007

Congratulations on talking about people who are wheelchair bound, so many ignore it.


Gregg August 22, 2007

Hey Jacks,

Great article. There are a ton of fitness magazines out there and they all pretty much ignore the topic of staying fit and healthy when you’re wheelchair bound. It’s great to see someone talking about the topic. And in a way that is motivating as well.


Shawlene Duke September 25, 2007

Thanks for all the information you have given on exercising. I had polio at 16months of age and am now 56. I have gained weight over the years and am trying to lose and exercise too. This has been a very big help. Thank you and God bless.


Jaks September 25, 2007

Hi Shawlene

I am so sorry that you have suffered from polio. Even if you haven’t had an illness, you can still gain huge amounts of weight from just not eating properly and not exercising.
I am going to write more on wheelchair bound exercises in the near future and I hope it will help you to lose the weight that you obviously want to.
The very best of luck to you



Itsy December 21, 2007

What is this wheelchair bound business? I am a wheelchair user and I am NOT bound to my chair, it is a means of transport that is all. I would also like to comment that I am not depressed about being as you put it ‘tied’ to a chair. There are no handcuffs, chains or straps to be seen on my wheelchair.
The article is both patronising and insulting, my life is rich and very full. I am married, I drive, I work fulltime 9-5 and have a very hectic social life and no I am not tied to my chair!


Ria February 1, 2008

I have loose ligaments that tend to allow my knees to do whatever they want and cause injuries to my ankles and hips, but have been determined to stay fit and dance.

While in the midst of training for my first 5k, my hip was wrenched in my sleep and I was totally lying here, dispairing of being ready in time.

Then I found this article.

Thanks! Now I can workout while I heal and still fulfill my promise to complete a run as my birthday present to myself this May!


Karla Schneider July 7, 2008

I need to know HOW OFTEN I need to do particular excercises. Someone told me, the SAME ONES SHOULD NOT be done Everyday. Any truth to that? Karla Scheider


Jaks July 9, 2008

Hi Karla

Its entirely up to you how many times you work on one particular exercise. You should always listen to your body.

The possible downside is that you will be working one muscle area to the detriment of another.

My advice to you would be to try and combine some varied resistance and strength training but never work yourself to the point of exhaustion.


kris August 18, 2008

I understand her term of being bound. Being a disability advocate. The IL centers of the nation are trying to do away with such terms.Though people still use them because it is like everything else it takes time and awareness.I also use a wheelchair do to a condition called E.D.S. rare and not well known I fall apart easy lack of the right collagen. I do find it hard to work out and keep my weight down. Swimming is a good choice for me. With winter around the corner is there any thing you can recomend that will not stress or cause sublications of my joints. Only 36 and not ready to reside to no muscle tone in the next few years.


Jaks August 18, 2008

Thank you for your email and, of course, we are sorry to learn of your disability. It must be especially difficult to suffer at such a young age.

Firstly can we respond to your observation concerning the term “wheelchair bound”. It is understandable that this description may be a cause of sensitivity and we apologise for its use. Please accept that we were completely unaware that this was a sensitive issue as it has never before been brought to our attention.

We would however be grateful if you would let us know of the acceptable words and phrases to describe the condition in order that we do not repeat the error.

We suggest that you discuss your exercise options with the medical consultant who is overseeing your condition. We would be out of order to make exercise suggestions to sufferers of serious medical conditions, particularly in your case, as we do not even have a layman’s knowledge of EDS. Sorry we are unable to help.


Diana January 10, 2009

Itsey don’t be so defensive. My 25 yr old son is ‘bound’ to his wheelchair. He is a quadriplegic and does suffer from depression due to his condition. I am glad to read that your life is rich and full but there are many whose lives are not. We caregivers try our best to let them know that their life is not over but we do not live in their bodies and have to deal with day to day struggles. God bless you for your gung ho attitude.


Lallous March 14, 2010

Stretching is the most important exercise if you cannot move your limbs. Remember that joints get stiff and ligaments get tight. The best thing to do is to stretch at least twice a day. One exercise that is very beneficial is swimming. Many people in wheelchairs suffer from frequent spasms that are painful and uncomfortable. Swimming reduces the frequency of spasm and is a great for your heart. A hand cycle is also important as a cardio exercise.


Jenn June 11, 2010

I’m 31; have a rare disorder that causes my bones to break easily. (Sometimes I fracture from a cough, or from breathing and other times Its getting dressed or sometimes from a accident like falling etc)
I have gained some weight after being on bed rest after a bad hip fracture and I am trying hard to lose the weight but due to a reconstructed spine surgery where my spine; Stomach were cut to help me I Lost all the use of my stomach muscles. I am unable to arch my back & its very unsafe for me to lift even a 1lb weight. BUT I have figured out a great exercise to help my stomach muscles to get stronger.

Sitting with my back against my wheelchair I let all the air out of lungs and Pull my stomach muscles in and Hold them as tight as i am able to for the count of 5.

Now this is a exercise Almost Anyone can do because part of it is thinking about the exercise in your mind as you try your best to pull the muscles in. It really does help to visualize the exercise because if you believe that you can do it, your body will eventually come around and cooperate.

Another exercise that is important for wheelchair users is tightening your butt; holding it for the count of 5. Since most of us sit all day we need to help keep the muscles working for us. I Hope these exercises help and If you want to talk with me please email me


Jaks June 12, 2010

Thanks Jenn

These are great exercises and I’m sure that some people will find them beneficial.

Good luck with your own injuries.


camille July 22, 2010

hello. my name is camille reeves im 16 years old 5ft 95 pounds and size 7 pants i want to get down to a size 2 i am currently water fasting for 20 days and im trying to get my donk and thighs to shrink. i have AMC. i can move and everything i can get out of my chair and my arms are deformed but i can use them and complete most tasks though i cant walk. what are some thigs i can do to lose weight and what are some things i can do to make my but and thighs go away? if any one can help email me at or text me at 936-444-9287


Alex July 27, 2010

Hi im alex im 13. I know i’m overwieght by about 40 pounds. I’m on a basketball team but it still isnt enough to lose weight. I’m One Hundred eighty pounds but i can easily move my weight. I want to be at 140 pounds how could i do it?


Jaks July 27, 2010

Hi Alex
At 13 years old you may still lose weight normally simply as you get older. It sounds as though you are doing plenty of exercise so if you really want to lose more weight you should simply eat healthily. That means no junk food or snacking between meals.
For an adult, a weight loss of between 1 – 2lbs per week is normal but at your age I would advise just following the advice above, carry on exercising and lose it gradually.


Lori January 30, 2011

seriously in the 21st century you would use the term wheelchair bound? Like the people said above, i use a wheelchair for transport, but not bound. AND paralympics and Special olympics are two COMPLETELY different venues.


Editor March 8, 2011

You write as if you are ashamed of being in a wheelchair and have become over sensitive. Your own, or any other disability that means using a wheelchair to a greater or lesser degree of dependancy, can happen to any of us at any time, and, of course, those who have with the mental toughness will make the most of whatever life throws at them.

They will not fall back on whinging over their considered misuse of a harmless and commonly used expression to describe their circumstances. Or perhaps, sadly, you think you are being Politically Correct!

As for the other matter, the intention is to indicate to and encourage the disabled Worldwide that there are many avenues for them to participate competetively in many activities despite their handicap. Splitting hairs over the location of venues is hardly relevant to the intention and not worthy of comment.


enda mclaughlin March 9, 2011

Thank you all for bring this great advice and list of exercise’s to light, as I’m Paraplegic since the 7th of june 1999, I came off a motorbike, I’m T5, T6 adn T7, this is the first exercise routine that I’ve gotten interised in, so Bravo you are all Saints to give me the heart and energy to exercise, Bravo to you all ;-)


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