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Wheelchair And Upper Body Exercises For Paralyzed Lifters

Last updated: May 23, 2022

Any walking aids take a certain amount of upper body strength. For manual wheelchair users, maintaining health, strength, and good posture is vital because of the increased demand on the arms and shoulders.

Shoulder pain or impingement happens because of the repetitive motions involved for the wheelchair user.

Let's narrow in on some exercises done from the sitting position that raises your heart rate and build valuable muscles.wheelchair exercises

Elbow Extension Exercises

Elbow Extension Exercise with Resistance Band - From the sitting position, grab one end of the resistance band while your elbow is straight until you feel stabilized. Hold the band using your other hand while that elbow is bent. You will keep the bent elbow behind your side and straighten the other until you pull the band backward. Repeat on the other side.

Wheelchair Exercises with Weights

Biceps curls - Make sure you sit upright while holding two dumbells at your sides with the palms facing outwardly. Bend your elbows and raise the dumbells upwardly towards your shoulders. 10 reps for 2-3 sets is recommended for beginners. 6 sets is the max anyone should do.

Bicep Curl to Overhead PressFrom the curl position, rotate your hands until your palms face away from your body. Lift both of your arms and extend your elbows into an overhead press.  Repeat the same movement for 20 seconds, and then rest for 10 seconds. 2-3 of 10-15 sets is the recommendation.

Military Press vs Shoulder Press

Shoulder presses focus on one muscle group - deltoids. And the overhead exercise can be done with a barbell or dumbell.

The military press is different in both regards. It is done with only barbells, and it works with the deltoids and triceps.

Triceps Exercises without Weights

Lateral Pull Downs - You will need a resistance band with handles. And an anchor point - a bar or hook 3 to 4 feet above your head. If possible, remove the armrests of your wheelchair. Sit under the and a bit in front of the resistance band. Straighten your body and pull your stomach towards your spine to engage your core. Grip the handles of the resistance bands, stretch your hands towards your body, and keep your elbows wide. Once you've finished the movement, pull your elbows back towards your body and squeeze back muscles for a moment. Lastly, return to your starting position. Trainers recommend 15 reps for 3 sets.

Hand Cycling

Hand cycling isn't going to bulk you up, but it is a great place to start with beginner lifters. And it's an exercise that works as a warmup to get your heart pumping before doing the heavy lifting.

Hand Cycling - Get a comfortable distance between yourself and the handcycle. Position yourself in front of it. Move the pedals forward with your hands for 5-30 minutes. You can set the tension and increase it as you feel more comfortable and stronger.


If you're looking for something a bit more advanced, boxing is a great way to get the heart pumping while building and toning arm and shoulder muscles. Boxing is a great way to strengthen your core, too.


Whether on an indoor machine or in a boat, rowing works on back muscles that many exercises don't provide, along with many more muscle groups.

  • Deltoids
  • Triceps
  • Biceps
  • Pectoral muscles
  • Glutes
  • Quadriceps
  • Hamstrings
  • Calves


You will need to consult your physician before you begin any workout program. Regardless of physical limitations, every lifter should check with their healthcare provider before starting an exercise program.

If you experience any pain or extreme discomfort, stop the activities and seek medical attention. Pushing yourself isn't worth the pulled muscle, or worse.

A spotter or supervisor is the safest way to exercise when anyone is handling weights. You never know when you'll need a hand.


What is a good core exercise for paralyzed lifters?

Medicine ball squeeze -  Finding a medicine ball that is a comfortable weight. Hold the ball to your chest. You will squeeze it as hard as you can to work chest muscles. Then, push the ball away from your body until your arms are straight and pull it back.

What leg exercises help build muscle for paralyzed lifters?

Leg muscles are as important as any other group. Depending on your mobility, knee lifts are great for strength training.

If you can't move your legs, lift them with your arms to increase blood flow and strengthens leg muscles.

Do parasports help build muscle?

Sports increase endurance and strengthen muscles. And cardiovascular health is as important as getting strong.

Some wheelchair sports are played with manual wheelchairs, while others utilize electric wheelchairs.

Wheelchair sports 

  • Basketball
  • Tennis
  • Badminton
  • Bowling
  • Hockey
  • Football
  • Baseball



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