“I tried 5 different wheelchair-friendly home workouts – these are my honest thoughts”

If you think you’ve got to head to a specialist gym if you want to get strong as a chair user, think again. Writer Hannah Langford has been putting five at-home, disability-friendly workouts to the test.  

As a powered wheelchair user, I’ve always shied away from the chat around fitness and gym workouts, feeling that it wasn’t for me.It always seemed to be linked to extreme physical training or achieving the ‘perfect body’. 

Physiotherapy was part of my childhood, but during my teenage years, I had a difficult relationship with it.At high school, physiotherapy was available but was often painful or it clashed with my lessons.Succeeding academically was something worth focusing on so that I wouldn’t just be seen as the ‘girl in the wheelchair’, and in a bid to get to university,  I made the decision to stop physiotherapy. 

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When I was around 18, I discovered the NeuroMuscular Centre (NMC) in Winsford, Cheshire, and found that physiotherapy and exercise shouldn’t be painful and that you can (and should) be involved in the treatment.Since then, I’ve had regular physiotherapy until I began shielding in March 2020.

Missing more than a year of physiotherapy and exercise is a much bigger deal now than it was when I was a teenager, and I have lost a lot of mobility.As part of my new year’s resolution to be more active, I’ve been trialing a number of different accessible workouts that can be done at home.Here are my honest thoughts.

Day 1: NMC Therapies arm exercise

This was enjoyable and quite challenging.I liked the range of different upper body exercises included in the workout.This is my favourite of the online workout videos posted by NMC that I have tried so far, which also include leg exercises and adapted pilates. 

Three versions of each exercise are shown, so that different levels of ability are catered to.I switched between versions during the workout, depending upon whether I found that particular exercise manageable or more difficult.The length (just over 13 minutes) is ideal when you don’t have the time or energy to commit to a longer exercise programme. 

Day 2: Leanne’s Chair Workout DVD

This workout is split into different sections (eg disco, resistance and conditioning) and in total is about an hour long.I got a lot out of tackling each part in turn and going at my own pace, rather than following the whole workout in one go. 

The DVD includes a real variety of different exercises, and while I found some parts unsuitable for me, I still felt that I had worked hard. The chi breathing at the end is super relaxing (and much needed).A couple of sections required equipment such as resistance bands, but alternatives like water bottles are shown.The backdrop of the Eden Project was also a refreshing change from a dance studio or gym.

You can buy the DVD on Amazon for the bargain price of £1.01.

Day 3: No Equipment Beginner HIIT Workout for Wheelchair Users (Adapt to Perform)

I haven’t done any HIIT workouts before and so was a little nervous about how I would find this video.I liked the fact that this workout didn’t require any equipment and can be used to build up gradually to increase one’s heart rate. 

The workout focused on the upper body and would be good for many people looking for a seated workout. Saying that, I still had to alter some of the exercises to suit my specific needs.With my own adaptations, this workout raised my heart rate and it was a good introduction to the HIIT technique. 

Day 4: THERA-Trainer Tigo

This workout requires specialist equipment, which you can buy or rent from Thera-Trainer.

Prior to the pandemic, I used this equipment at NMC on a regular basis.I was anxious about using it again after such a long break, but to my relief, I was able to start with five minutes of leg cycling without any discomfort.You can use this adapted bike from your wheelchair (or a chair) for both your legs and arms and there are different adjustments depending upon your individual requirements.It can assist you with the movement or you can cycle independently, even adding resistance if necessary. 

I felt a real hit of dopamine after my short five-minute cycle and I realised how much I had missed using it.I can now build up my usage of this equipment gradually and I plan to use it for both my legs and arms next time.The only thing missing was a VR headset so I could imagine that I was cycling along the seafront!

Check out the workout here. 

Day 5: Seated Dance with Rachel #1 (Get Yourself Active – at Home)

This is the first Get Yourself Active – At Home workout video that I have tried.The video has subtitles and there is a sign language interpreter signing throughout, which makes this even more accessible. 

I enjoy dancing, so it was a nice change to do this type of workout.I particularly liked that it included a warm-up at the beginning and stretches at the end.Some of the moves were slightly hard to follow because of the speed, but with repetition there was an opportunity to pick them up. 

These videos have been designed following feedback from those with disabilities and long-term health conditions, so I am looking forward to exploring their other videos. 

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Taking part in this range of different accessible workouts has been both surprising and enjoyable.I have found myself more motivated and inspired to explore different ways of working out at home.Hopefully there’ll be even more resources available in the future that cater to the widest range of individuals. 

Movement and exercise mean better health and more independence in my life. And with these workouts, I’m feeling more confident about the future.

For more fitness stories, visit the Strong Women Training Club.

Image: Getty

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