16 Things To Remember When Exercising With MS

Exercising with MS can be tricky. You don’t know where to start, what to do, what’s good for you, what’s bad for you. You know you should be exercising but sometimes you feel a bit clueless. You can get help, guidance  and support in my Facebook Group, but before that, check out these tips!

Below I’ve tried to summarise some simple guidelines for people with MS in all stages of the condition.

  1. Start ASAP! The best time to exercise is as soon as you’ve been diagnosed. Not easy when you’ve just received such bad news and it’s understandable that you may want to hide away and escape your emotions, but the biggest challenge I face is working with people who’ve been diagnosed and done nothing to counter the progression of the illness, leaving them in a far worse state than they would have been if they’d trained regularly since their diagnosis.
  2. Employ the 80:20 rule. By this I mean that 80% of your exercise should be resistance (weight training) and 20% should be cardiovascular. Too often people who do seek exercise after a diagnosis go straight to the treadmill or exercise bike. These are both good for you but you really need to focus on exercises which promote muscle growth or maintenance as that’s the area where the condition will affect you the most.
  3. Allow recovery time. As with any fitness regime, you should factor in sufficient recovery time between workouts, however you may require even longer. A good way to manage this is to break up your muscle groups and work each separate muscle group once a week.
  4. Align your diet with your activity levels. If you are particularly active, you’ll need to eat more fuel. If you spend most of your time in a wheelchair it’s likely you’ll need far less fuel so reducing your portion sizes or number of meals per day might be a sensible option. The main indicator is your waistline. If it’s getting bigger you’re eating/drinking too much. If it’s getting too small or if you’re low on energy you may be eating too little. (sorry, I appreciate the irony of the phrase “low on energy”)
  5. Build Strength prior to a relapse. The best preparation for a relapse is to increase your strength and muscle mass before it occurs. That’s why I encourage the 80:20 rule 😉
  6. Rebuild strength after a relapse. Don’t leave it long before you recommence your training regime after a relapse. your aim should be to try and get back to your former strength levels, or improve upon them if you can.
  7. Be consistent! Perhaps everyone’s biggest challenge? Consistency is one of the three main drivers behind improvements in health and fitness. There’s no point doing a few weeks of intense training followed by a few weeks of nothing. Make it a habit. Except when you’re having a relapse. You’re allowed to take a break then 😉 – but note point 6!
  8. Aim to progress!  The 2nd of the three main drivers behind fitness improvements is progression. When you train, you should be trying to improve upon your last performance. Lift more weight, do more reps, cycle faster or for longer. Progression is what make sour bodies adapt. Don’t let MS make you believe that you can’t improve. Unless you were at peak fitness in the first place, there’s always room for improvement – with or without MS.
  9. Don’t ignore weak muscles! You should probably focus on them actually. If there’s an imbalance between left and right, it’s sensible to work each limb individually but be sure to work each part of the body to it’s full potential.
  10. Use adaptive apparatus. If you struggle with grip for example, you can try dumbbells with velcro straps, wrist weights or grip assist bands for pulling exercises. One of my clients uses these to help with lat pull downs and seated rows in the gym. I even use them when I’m deadlifting. Need to work on my grip strength!
  11. Improvise! Sometimes you need to think out of the box a little. With one client who has limited leg strength, I use her son’s skateboard as an exercise. No, I don’t send her skateboarding around the park. She sits in her wheelchair with her foot on the skateboard and pushes it back and forth. It’s a small but significant way to get some activity though her lower body muscles.
  12. Don’t ignore the core! Working the core is always important – if you don’t know that, where have you been for the past 15 years? However it’s particularly good for helping with bowl movements in situations where you may be slightly constipated, and helps with seating stability if you’re using a wheelchair.
  13. Practice moves which help transference. Getting from wheelchair to bed or the sofa can be challenging so ensure the correct muscles are being worked by doing tricep dips or other “pushing” exercises.
  14. Watch your weight! Equally, getting from one place to another becomes increasingly difficult if you’re carrying unnecessary weight. Keeping your body fat levels low ensures that you’re as light and efficient as possible and should help you remain mobile for as long as possible.
  15. Regulate your temperature! Having MS often means that you’ll have a super tight temperature window in which you feel comfortable. Manage your recovery periods carefully to allow cooling time between exercises. If it’s cold outside, take a break outdoors to cool down for a sec. Make sure you choose clothing which has moisture management properties (Dri-FIT, Climacool etc.) and drink plenty of water! You can try and lurk under the air-con between sets, and finally, taking a wet towel into the gym with you can be a great way to cool you down too!
  16.  Last of all, remember that in most cases, the same rules of fitness apply for everyone! You may just need to think outside the box and adapt the principles a little.

If you found this helpful, I provide more info in my Facebook group where you can ask questions, gain advice and support from others in a similar position, get regular updates from me and notifications of any new posts I write.

I’m also working on an online fitness programme for people with MS to use in the home or gym. I use the Facebook group to gather feedback on what aspects people would most like to see in the programme. If you think you have some valuable input, I’d be very grateful to hear it. Join my Facebook Group here.

p.s. don’t forget to share or tag people in the original post. The more people I can help, the better!