We know that all people can benefit from strength training, but those in wheelchairs often have limited options because most traditional exercise equipment is created without considering the 7 Priniciples of Universal Design. HUR believes everyone should have access to Lifelong Strength. In this first of three blogs, we will be looking at strength training using resistance bands for wheelchair users or those exercising from a seated position. These blogs will focus on different muscle groups: (1) Upper Body, (2) Core, and (3) Lower Body.

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Wheelchair Exercises Using Resistance Bands

Resistance bands are an inexpensive way to get started with strength training. They can be used by beginners or the most advanced for strength, cardio, balance, flexibility, and more. Resistance bands are great because of their constant resistance through the full range of motion of both the concentric (muscle contraction) and eccentric (muscle lengthening) movements. This type of resistance is similar to pneumatic strength training machines and is easy on joints and connective tissues, lowering the risk of injury. While there are many different types of resistance bands, we will be focusing on non-looped bands. Some of these have handles and others do not. You will need to decide which one works best for you and the particular exercise. Resistance levels can go from light thin flat bands (2-40 lbs) to heavy tube-shaped bands (10-200 lbs).

As with any exercise, safety is very important. Some of these exercises require securing your resistance band to, or around, a sturdy object (such as a pole or door). You will need to find what works best for you and the resistance level being used. Keep in mind that you can increase resistance by shortening the length of the band being stretched. This can be done by changing where you position your hand on the band, but DO NOT wrap the bands around your hands. This can cause bruising or skin tears. One last thing, never stretch the bands directly toward your face. These bands can break and snap back, so replace old bands. Now that we have all of that out of the way, let’s dive into the upper body strength training exercises.

Upper Body Strength Exercises

Reverse Butterfly: Targets the rear shoulder and upper back muscles.

With this exercise, hold the band in both hands with your arms straight out in front of you even with your shoulders, leaving some slack in the band between your hands. Keeping your arms straight, move your hands out away from one another as you stretch the band until it touches your chest. Some may be able to go further back. Hold for a two count, then with your arms remaining straight, slowly come back to the starting position. Repeat this 10-12 times, eventually working your way up to 2-3 sets, depending on your fitness level. You could always start with 8-10 reps if needed. This type of exercise could also be performed on a pulley machine.

Biceps Curls: Targets the biceps muscles

To perform this exercise, there are a few options for securing the band before you start. If you are able, you can loop the band beneath your feet or under the wheelchair footrest. If this cannot be done, it may work to loop the band under your thighs, close to the back of your knees. You just need to find what is most comfortable for the activity. Once in place, with your back against the seat, grab the band in both hands with your arms at a 90-degree angle in front of you, palms facing up. Slowly do a biceps curl, pulling your hands up toward your shoulders. This is a similar movement to the HUR bicep curl machine. As with the first exercise, repeat this 10-12 times. Eventually, you can increase the number of sets to 2 or 3. An alternative is to turn your hands to where they are making hammer fists and performing hammer curls that build your elbow flexor muscles as well. You could also work one arm at a time if you prefer.

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Shoulder Press: Targets multiple muscles: chest, shoulders, arms, and upper back.

For this exercise, you have a couple of options for securing the resistance band. Depending on its length, you can either hold the band down with your feet or under your wheelchair footrests, or you can loop the band under your chair’s seat. One other alternative is to sit directly on the band itself. Holding the ends of the band with your arms bent, your hands should be near your shoulders with your palms facing forward. Slowly push your hands upward over your head until your arms are straight, then return to the starting position. Repeat this move 10-12 times, working your way up to 2-3 sets. This is similar to one of the movements on our HUR Push Up/Pull Down.

Seated Row: Targets upper/middle back, neck, and biceps muscles.

Before you start this exercise, it is important to find a stable, fixed object (such as a bedpost or pole of some sort) about chest high. You can also do high or low rows by anchoring the band higher or lower. Loop or tie the resistance band around the object so that each end is the same length when holding it in your hands. Face the fixed object and lean slightly forward with your arms straight out in front of you. You want the band to be taut (no slack). With your palms facing downward, slowly pull each side of the band back toward you at a 90-degree angle. As you are doing this, spread your hands slightly apart and lean back, then return to the start position. Repeat 10-12 times, working up to 2-3 sets. You can also vary this by having your palms face inward towards each other, similar to the different hand positions on the HUR Optimal Rhomb.

Chest Press: Targets chest, front shoulder, and triceps muscles.

You will have a few options for securing the resistance band for the chest press. Similar to the seated row, you can have the band around or tied to a stable fixed object, only it would be behind you with your back toward it. Another alternative is to loop the band around the back of your wheelchair, preferably under the handles if you have them to prevent slippage. Next, bring the band around both sides and grab the ends with your hands. Taking up the slack, your arms should be out at a 90-degree angle, similar to the end position of the seated row. Press forward until your arms are fully extended in front of you, then slowly bring them back to the starting position. This mimics a chest press machine. Repeat this action 10-12 times, and work your way to 2-3 sets.

Butterfly – Targets the chest muscles.

Similar to the chest press, you will want to have your band securely looped or tied to a secure object behind you with your back towards it. Take the ends of the band in each hand, remove the slack, and hold your arms straight out to the sides. Keep your arms straight, bring them together in front of you until they touch, then move them back to the beginning position. Repeat this 10-12 times, working your way up to 2-3 sets. This exercise is a similar workout to a pec deck machine.

Need Help Finding Accessible Equipment? Check out our free accessible strength training equipment checklist to ensure the equipment you buy is accesible to all.