Tips for Exercising with a Disability

Extracted from my interview with Disability Horizons

What things do you need to consider when training someone with a disability?

When training someone with a disability you really need to think outside of the box. The same fitness principles apply, but you can’t just dish out the usual tricks. An obvious example is the fact that a wheelchair user can’t simply go for a run, and many people think that running is the only form of cardiovascular exercise out there. In these cases, it’s about working out ways to raise the heart rate without using the legs. Often a simple circuit switching between abdominal exercises and upper body exercises can achieve the same result.

Sometimes it’s about taking a step back and working on simple movements, such as standing up from a seated position. For those with a weak lower body this is a great exercise and, when done in the right quantity, can work on both strength and cardiovascular aspects of fitness.

In many cases, fitness training is simply about showing people that they CAN do exercise despite their disability. The first thing I try to do when meeting someone is focus on what they CAN do, not what they can’t do.

What advice do you have for disabled people who wish to be fit and healthy, but don’t know where to go or where to start?

For disabled people who wish to get fit and healthy, the biggest thing to remember is that there’s always something you can do. Whether it be related to exercise or related to diet and lifestyle. You just need to follow the basic principles of health and fitness and make them work for you.

And if you’re really stuck, look for local classes for people with similar conditions, or try to locate a suitably qualified personal trainer.

What are your top exercise tips for disabled people?

Cardio doesn’t mean just running! Anything which gets your heart rate up is a cardiovascular exercise. It can be done with weights, arms, abs, legs or a combination of all of those. It just needs to be consistent or repetitive. The higher the heart rate, the more fuel you will burn.

Focus on strength exercises 50% of the time and cardio 50%. Often people either focus on purely cardiovascular fitness such as running, handbike etc, or the other extreme and just do weight training without a cardiovascular aspect. Your health will benefit more if you do both strength and cardio. Cardio keeps you alive and healthy, limiting the risk of cardiovascular disease. Strength keeps you strong, functional and helps prevent weight gain and boosts your immune system.

Remember the fundamental rules – and the same rules of health and fitness apply to both disabled people and non-disabled people.

These are:
a) For weight loss, burn more fuel than you consume and vice-versa for weight gain.
b) For strength gains lift more weight than you are used to lifting.
c) For endurance perform an activity for longer than you are used to doing.
d) In every case, you must progress. Doing the same thing repeatedly won’t result in any increase of fitness. Go longer, lift more, move faster train more frequently.

What are your top 5 tips for keeping fit and healthy?

The right diet! If you have excess body fat it’s because you’re eating/drinking more than you need or you have done in the past. Diet is for weight control, exercise is for fitness.

Book regular exercise sessions into your diary. It’s far more likely that you will be consistent this way.

Carry out a varied workout. Weights and strength should make up as much if not more of your regime than cardio.

Be consistent. Exercise is a way of life. It’s not something you pick up and put down when you’re feeling in or out of shape.

Find someone to train with. Whether it’s a friend, family member, work colleague or a personal trainer. You’re far more likely to succeed if you have a companion.

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