Strength Training Exercise Routine for Wheelchair Users

Owing to the increased demand on the shoulders and arms, manual wheelchair users typically suffer from pain and dysfunction. As such, exercises which focus on strength and improving mobility such as upper body resistance exercises are incredibly important to wheelchair users. An ideal daily routine should include exercises which focus on training the larger muscles of the upper body and stretches for the shoulders and chest.

Cardiovascular Exercises

Besides strength training and mobility, cardiovascular exercises should be included in your weekly exercise routine to improve overall fitness. The aim of cardiovascular exercise is to raise the heart rate enough to break a sweat, but you should still be able to hold a conversation. Wheelchair users are encouraged to get at least 150 minutes of exercise a week, which can be broken down into daily increments. Here are some ideas for cardiovascular exercises:

  • Swimming
  • Sitting exercises
  • Wheelchair sprinting
  • Wheelchair sports such as netball, badminton, or basketball

Shoulder Openers

  1. Remove wheelchair armrests if possible
  2. Make yourself comfortable and hold a broomstick in your hands in a wide grip, approximately 15cm wider than your shoulders
  3. Keeping your arms straight, raise the broomstick above your head
  4. Continue the movement until your hands are behind your head and you feel a stretch
  5. Hold for 5 seconds
  6. Return to starting position
  7. Complete 10 reps, once a day

Lat Pulldowns

This exercise requires a resistance band and an anchor point (which can be purchased with your real money online pokies winnings) such as a bar or hook 90-120cm above your head.

  1. Remove wheelchair armrests if possible
  2. Sit underneath and slightly in front of the resistance band hanging from the bar or hook
  3. Sit up tall and engage your core by pulling your bellybutton up and in towards your spine
  4. Holding the ends of the resistance bands in each hand, pull your hands towards you, keeping your elbows wide
  5. At the end of each movement, bring your elbows towards your body, squeeze your back muscles for a second, and then return to the starting position
  6. Complete 15 reps
  7. Rest for 1 minute
  8. Complete 3 sets, once a day


Reverse Fly

This exercise requires a resistance band.

  1. Loop the resistance band around a sturdy object in front of you at shoulder level
  2. Hold the ends of the band tightly in each hand and raise your arms out in front of you to shoulder level
  3. Move your arms straight out to the side and focus on sitting up tall while keeping your shoulder down and back
  4. Squeeze the area between the shoulder blades at the end of the movement
  5. Complete 15 repetitions
  6. Rest for 1 minute
  7. Repeat 3 times, once a day

Hand Cycling

This exercise requires a hand bicycle.

  1. Set the tension of the hand bicycle to cycle
  2. Start off easy and increase the tension as you gain strength
  3. Move the pedals in a forward motion with your hands
  4. Continue for 5-30 minutes
  5. Repeat once a day