If you typed “How to exercise with limited mobility” into your preferred search engine, then you’re probably reading this blog for one of two reasons:
- You have dealt with limited mobility your entire life, and you have been told (whether explicitly or subliminally) that fitness isn’t for you.
- You have recently developed limited mobility due to an accident, an illness, or old age and need to learn new ways to stay active and healthy.
To the first point: We’re glad you’re here! Because it also means that you know now that what people have told you isn’t true. Fitness IS for you. It’s for everyone, regardless of their differing abilities.
To the second point: We understand this must be a confusing transitional period for you, and we’re here to help!
Here’s how to exercise with limited mobility:
Step 1: Get into the Right Mindset
If you’re reading this, then you’re already off to a good start. Because you wouldn’t be reading a blog about exercising with limited mobility if you didn’t believe you could do it! Not to sound completely cliche, but believing you can do something is absolutely the first step to accomplishing any goal.
Here are some things you can do to get into the right mindset and motivate yourself to workout:
- Say affirmations. Try telling yourself out loud that you can do it, that you’re strong and capable. You’re going to feel silly, but trust us, it really helps!
- Change into workout clothes. If you’re sitting around in your jeans, thinking about maybe working out, there’s at least a 50% chance that you won’t do it. If you change into workout clothes, then you increase your chances. By a lot, we’d say.
- Make a playlist. The best way to start a new habit (like working out regularly) is to find a trigger that signals when you should act on the new habit. A specific playlist can do just that for you.
Step 2: Warm Up
It’s really easy to injure yourself during a workout if you’re not properly warmed up, especially if you have limited mobility. You want to make sure your muscles and joints are warm and limber, so you don’t pull anything or put any strain on your body. Here are some limited mobility warm-up exercises to try:
- Put one arm out straight across your body, with your bicep pressing against your chest. Gently pull on your extended wrist with the other hand. Repeat with the other arm.
- Reach one arm above your head, then bend it at the elbow, so that your hand is dangling behind your head. Gently push on your elbow with the other hand. Repeat with the other arm.
- Grab onto your toes and pull against them. Your legs don’t have to be straight out. The important thing is that you’re grabbing onto something stable and pulling against it to stretch your shoulders.
- Sit in a chair or stay in your wheelchair, if you’re in one. Using your hands, lift one thigh off of the seat of your chair and pull your knee as close to your chest as possible. Repeat with the other leg.
- While sitting in a chair (or your wheelchair), reach for your toes again, but this time do stretch your legs out as much as you can first.
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Step 3: Try These Exercises
Now that you’re motivated and warmed up, you’re ready to rock and roll! These are some limited mobility exercises that our clients love:
If you’re able, press your thighs together as tightly as you can for three full counts, then release them. Repeat this exercise for a set of eight to help build your endurance. You can add more reps later if you’re feeling up to it!
If you’re not able to move your legs, use your hands to press your thighs together. This not only works out your arms, but also helps strengthen the muscles in your legs to keep them from becoming atrophied.
You can do a lot of things with dumbbells!
- Air punches
- Arm raises
- Overhead pumps
- Arm curls
- Arm holds
Stay seated and get the ab workout you’ve been looking for! You can try this with or without a medicine ball. If you choose, you can hold a medicine ball with both hands around your diaphragm (roughly between your chest and your stomach) and twist at the waist slowly from right to left. If you choose to opt out of using the medicine ball, you can just clasp your hands at your diaphragm.
In a chair with arms or using the arms of your wheelchair, grasp the arms and lift yourself up! Repeat for a set of eight reps to build endurance.
Step 4: Be Gentle With Yourself
We know you’re a workout warrior. You don’t have to prove that to anyone — not even yourself! It’s best to listen to your body and rest when you need to, so you don’t hurt yourself. It’s hard when you first start a fitness routine because you want to start with killer endurance and get abs right away (or whatever your fitness goals are!), but fitness takes time. Be patient with the process and with yourself.
Step 5: Cool Down
Very similar to the warm up, take some time to engage in deep stretching to wind down your workout. Not only does this help protect you from injury after the workout (even making your muscles less sore the next day), but it’s also a restful time that gives your body space to release Dopamine.
You probably got a rush of Endorphins in between workouts, and they can make you feel pretty good. But Dopamine is a pleasure receptor that gives your body positive feedback. It’s the thing that will make you want to work out again! Do yourself and your body a favor and enjoy the cool down time.
Want to Go Further?
Check out some of our related blogs (and related blogs from our partners!) on exercising for those who are in wheelchairs or have gait issues:
- Top 10: Adaptive Exercise Equipment
- Adapted Fitness Exercise Workout Plan (Home or Gym)
- 3 Exercises for People in Wheelchairs
- The Best Home Workout Equipment for Special Needs
Are you ready to take your fitness to the next level? Sign up for personal training with Special Strong. We’re an organization that believes fitness should be accessible to all, and we’re passionate about making that happen for you. Work with a personal trainer who is uniquely certified to work with those who are differently-abled, both physically and intellectually. We set up a workout plan that’s fitted to your special needs.
Unleash the Special Strong within today.
Special Strong provides nutrition and adapted fitness for special needs children, adolescents, and adults with autism, Down Syndrome, and other disabilities. Through our online training platform, we also provide special needs certification courses for educators, professionals, and parents who want to learn how to adapt fitness to serve the special needs population.