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Keeping Fit in a Wheelchair

Adapting to life in a wheelchair can be difficult and may take some time to adjust. To stay healthy both physically and mentally, it’s important to stay active. Retain muscle tone and stay fit with easy, daily exercises.

Please note: Be sure to check with your physician before starting any exercise program.
Resistance and Strength Training

Organized Sports

Basketball, volleyball, golf, bowling, and many other sports are adaptable to wheelchair users. Excellent for cardio, joining a team can also help you meet other wheelchair users. Many communities have wheelchair sports organizations. You can find one in your local area by contacting your municipal recreational department, or learn more about wheelchair sports by visiting the Wheelchair Sports Federation or Disabled Sports USA.

Resistance and Strength Training

Resistance and Strength Training

Keep your muscles toned with resistance and strength training exercises. Easy to do from home or with a group, these types of exercises are a great way to build muscle in your arms. For resistance training, all you need is a resistance band, which is available at most sporting stores. An easy one to start with is a rowing motion. Simply tie the resistance band to a door handle, or any other anchored object, and bend your elbows in a smooth motion, pulling away and towards yourself.

Strength training typically involves free weights or your own body weight. Stretching for about 5 minutes before and after exercising is highly recommended to prevent injury. A good starting exercise is an in-chair pushup. Apply the brakes on your wheelchair and place your hands securely on the armrests. Then lift your body a few inches off the seat and slowly lower back down. Start with a small number of reps and work your way up, taking breaks as needed. You can also use free weights for lateral raises and bicep curls.

Workout Videos

There are a number of free workout videos available online ranging from seated cardio workouts to core and strengthening exercises. offers free accounts, which includes access to multiple seated workout videos, as well as a convenient calorie counter to easily incorporate diet into your workout routine. Rob Smith, a silver medalist in the European Championships of wheelchair racing, has a number of seated cardio and strength videos for all ages and abilities, and Pinterest has multiple pins and ideas for keeping fit.

Get Outside

Get Outside

Many state and national parks and forests have wheelchair friendly paths, which are great for getting fresh air and exercise. Being outdoors is a great way to stay motivated and work out your arms rolling up and down small inclines. Even local parks are becoming more wheelchair friendly and ADA compliant.

Get Outside

Stay Fit, Healthy, and Active

There are numerous resources and tools available to individuals confined to a wheelchair, and multiple support networks, like Wheely Good Fitness, to keep you motivated. The United Spinal Association and Wheel Life are both excellent resources to connect with other active wheelchair users in your area.