6 Simple Exercises for Wheelchair Users

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Having a regular exercise routine is vital for anyone who uses a wheelchair. By including some moderate physical activity in your daily life, you can help improve your overall health and reduce your risk of developing a host of chronic illnesses. Though wheelchair exercises can be a little difficult to embrace, in many ways they are critical, as they are designed to prevent a wide range of potential ailments that are associated with long-term wheelchair use. By creating specific exercises for wheelchair users, our accredited exercise physiologists will help you get started with an exercise program tailored to your needs so you can begin enjoying a more active lifestyle.

While many people assume exercise involves walking and standing, exercises for wheelchair users are adapted specifically to suit people who use a wheelchair and may not be able to walk or stand. By integrating wheelchair exercise designed by our accredited exercise physiologist into your regular routine, you’ll find yourself better able to fulfil many of your daily tasks more independently, giving you improved function and a sense of achievement and greater overall satisfaction.

Our accredited exercise physiologists work with you, helping you achieve improved function, wellbeing, fitness, and health. Learn more about how an Active Ability accredited exercise physiologist can help you:



Why Exercises for Wheelchair Users are Important

While having a disability may make it feel like even taking care of the day-to-day basics is a challenge, there are likely still several ways you can include wheelchair exercises in your daily life. When you do so, you may begin to feel more capable in these other areas of your life, while also prioritising self-care. Exercise is critical for keeping your body strong, your mind alert, and ensuring that you have the energy you need to accomplish your day.

Through a program of exercises for wheelchair users designed by an accredited exercise physiologist, you will learn how to achieve improved fitness and management for a variety of underlying conditions, while promoting aspects such as weight loss or healthy ageing. Our team will also help you better understand the importance of exercise, when it comes to your overall health and well-being.

Improve your health with Active Ability’s exercises for wheelchair users

The accredited exercise physiologists, dietitians, and physiotherapists at Active Ability are trained health professionals who can come to your home anywhere in the Sydney, Sunshine Coast or Wollongong areas to provide you with wheelchair exercises tailored specifically for you and your personal goals.

Our mobile accredited exercise physiologist service helps you build good habits, such as including physical activity and wheelchair exercises in your daily routine, in the home environment, where you are most likely to perform them. This helps set you up for success, laying down positive patterns you can follow every day. No matter what your current level of ability may be, or what underlying conditions you may have, we can work with you to help you feel better physically, mentally, and emotionally.


How often should I exercise?

While the Department of Health does not have specific recommendations on physical activity for those with a disability, the general recommendation is to follow the baseline for your age group. Industry professionals such as accredited exercise physiologist, medical practitioners and physiotherapists can, however, provide a personalised program of exercises for wheelchair users based on your individual needs.

While the Department of Health does not have specific recommendations on physical activity for those with a disability, the general recommendation is to follow the baseline for your age group. For children (5 to 17 years), the recommendation for physical activity is 60 minutes each day.

While the Department of Health does not have specific recommendations on physical activity for those with a disability, the general recommendation is to follow the baseline for your age group. For children (5 to 17 years), the recommendation for physical activity is 60 minutes each day.

For children (5 to 17 years), the recommendation for physical activity is 60 minutes each day. Physical activity that combines cardiovascular work with strength work at a moderate to vigorous intensity is especially beneficial. As an example, this can look like incorporating wheelchair exercises that strengthen your upper body. Your accredited exercise physiologist can assist you in finding the best activities.

Adults (18 to 64 years) should engage in regular physical activity, preferably every day. Within the week, there should be 2.5 to 5 hours of moderate intensity wheelchair exercises, or vigorous activity anywhere between 1.25 to 2.5 hours per week. For example, swimming or modified rowing could be completed. Intense physical exercise as recommended by your accredited exercise physiologist can incorporate the use of weights. Muscle-strengthening activities should be part of the routine at least two times each week. Overall, your week should have a combination of moderate and intense activities.

Which types of exercises are best for wheelchair users?

There are a few different types of exercise which you may like to incorporate into your routine. All offer fantastic health benefits:


these wheelchair exercises raise the heart rate, increasing endurance. This may include running, dancing, cycling, walking, playing tennis or swimming.

Strength training:

this involves the use of weights or other resistances, building muscle tone and bone mass to improve balance and prevent falls. If you have limited mobility in your legs, focusing on upper body strength training will be most useful for you. While anyone with an upper body injury or immobility is best focusing strength training on the legs and core areas. Your accredited exercise physiologist will help guide you in the right direction, ensuring your wheelchair exercises program are best suited to your needs.

Flexibility exercises:

these are a great way to increase your range of motion, while preventing injury, reducing stiffness and even pain. Flexibility based wheelchair exercises may include yoga and pilates. If you have limited mobility in your legs, you may still find lower body stretches helpful as this will help prevent, delay or slow down muscle atrophy.

Before you start wheelchair exercises:

As a beginner, it is usually best practice to start with a small number of reps of each exercise. Your accredited exercise physiologist will teach you how to complete these exercises for wheelchair users and help you to manage fatigue if this is an issue for you.

Completing a circuit 2-3 times a week, with at least 1 day to rest in between will give you the best results.

Speak to your doctor and accredited exercise physiologist:

make sure you speak to your doctor, accredited exercise physiologist or health care provider before you begin exercising. You may want to ask them:

  • How much can I exercise per day and/or week?
  • Which wheelchair exercises will be best for me?
  • Which exercises may not be best for me?
  • Will exercising impact my medication routine?

Create a wheelchair exercises routine:

by beginning slowly, and gradually increasing your exercise reps and weights, you’ll set yourself up for success. Select an exercise activity which you enjoy and set manageable goals with fun outcomes. This way, when you accomplish even the simplest fitness goal, you’ll gain confidence and motivation.

Build an active lifestyle:

by incorporating wheelchair exercises into your daily life, you’ll create a more active lifestyle, rather than simply exercising for the sake of it.

Active Ability - Build an active lifestyle: by incorporating wheelchair exercises into your daily life, you’ll create a more active lifestyle

Active Ability – Build an active lifestyle: by incorporating wheelchair exercises into your daily life, you’ll create a more active lifestyle


Be consistent:

there will be days when you really don’t want to complete your wheelchair exercises, but if you stick with it, you’ll start to see the routine becoming easier to follow. It usually takes about a month to create a habit so discuss your goals with your accredited exercise physiologist and write them down as well as your reasons for exercising. Keep this list somewhere you’ll be able to see it. This will help keep you motivated. Rather than focusing on long term goals like weight loss, try to think about setting short term goals. If you’re enjoying what you’re doing, it’ll be easier to stay motivated so find ways to make it fun by watching your favourite TV show, listening to music or a podcast or working out with friends.

Be kind to yourself:

if you skip a few days or even weeks, don’t be discouraged. It happens to everyone. Just pick yourself back up and try again, slowly building up to where you left off. Don’t expect yourself to get right back there. Remember – this is a journey, not a race! Be flexible: your health journey isn’t straight-forward, and neither is your fitness journey! Keep the conversation open with your accredited exercise physiologist. Remember – we’re here to help!

Stay safe:

if you ever find yourself experiencing dizziness, chest pain, nausea, pain, lightheadedness, discomfort, clammy hands, irregular heartbeat or shortness of breath while working through your wheelchair exercises, listen to your body, stop exercising and contact a medical professional so that they can support you to eliminate any underlying issues before continuing.

Go easy on any injuries:

try not to overdo it if you have any injuries. If you have an upper body injury for example, try focusing on your lower body exercises while the injury heals. Once your injury has healed, begin slowly, with lighter weights and less resistance. Again, be sure to discuss any injuries with your accredited exercise physiologist who will help keep you on the track to recovery.

Be prepared:

always warm-up and stretch before you work out, cooling down afterwards. A warmup may consist of 5 minutes of light arm cycling, shoulder rolls and arm swinging as well as some light stretches. Cooling down can be similar, with some deeper stretching.

Drink water:

everyone says it and it’s true! Your body will do much better when it’s hydrated.

Dress for success:

comfortable clothing and supportive footwear will allow you to move freely and support you while you work out.



Struggling to get started with your wheelchair exercises?

Rather than focusing on the health or mobility issue, or the activities you’re unable to do, consider thinking about and researching activities that will work well for your situation. Think about the things you enjoy in daily life and get creative with your problem-solving ideas. If you think you may enjoy arm cycling or boxing but an injury, disability or illness makes this impossible, perhaps try something completely new. You may find something that you enjoy even more! Your accredited exercise physiologist will be able to help you if you’re struggling with ideas and motivation.

Most importantly – encourage yourself and cheer yourself on, whenever you take a step toward physical fitness. No matter how simple it may be – or how short the workout – progress is always worth celebrating!

Common barriers which may be keeping you from your wheelchair exercises:

Scared of being injured:

If you’ve been injured before, it can seem scary to get back out into the world of exercise. By selecting low-risk activities such as seated wheelchair exercises, and ensuring you complete a good warm up and cool down session each time, you’ll decrease your risk of injury.

Feeling unmotivated:

This is a big one but if you’re willing to talk to your friends, family or accredited exercise physiologist about your exercise goals and ask them to support and encourage you (or even workout with you!), this will make a huge difference to your motivation levels.

Feeling uncoordinated:

Not a problem! By selecting wheelchair exercises requiring little to no athletic skill, and by practicing and taking things slowly, you’re setting yourself up for success! Remember, the more you do it, the better you’ll get at these skills.

Just not interested:

Many people believe exercise is boring but with so many options available, there is sure to be something that will interest you! Consider activities like bowling, activity-based video games or involving friends.

Our Top 6 Exercises for Wheelchair Users

To help get you started, here is some simple exercise you can do today:*

*Please do not engage in any of the below exercise without exercise physiology supervision if you have an injury that could be made worse. 

Wheelchair Exercise #1: Upper Back Seated Row

Sit up as straight as you can with your arms straight out in front of you, palms facing down, your fingers holding imaginary bike handlebars.

Move your hands away from each other, without bending at your elbows, until your hands are behind your body.

Squeeze your shoulder blades together and open your chest.

Return your arms to the starting position.

Repeat 10 times.

If you’re ready to increase the intensity a little, try holding a light resistance band with both hands whilst following the above instructions.

You can also consider attaching a light resistance band to a doorknob or wall, holding it with arms extended out straight and pulling it toward your body while you bend your elbows slightly behind your torso.

Wheelchair Exercise #2: Chest

Sit up as straight as you can, holding a ball to your chest.

Squeeze the ball as hard as you can while you slowly push it out in front of you, almost straightening your elbows.

Keep squeezing but do not allow your body to move with your arms!

Pull the ball back to your chest slowly, while squeezing the ball.

Repeat 10 times.

Wheelchair Exercise #3: Core

Sit up as straight as you can, with your arms out in front, making sure your elbows stay at your side.

Focus on the core muscles in your torso while you slowly turn as far as you can to the right.

Hold, then slowly return to the center.

Keep focusing on your core muscles while you slowly turn as far as you can to the left.

Repeat 10 times on each side.

Wheelchair Exercise #4: Lower leg (only possible if you are able to move your lower limb)

Sit up as straight as you can, placing your feet flat on the ground or on your footplate. Keeping your legs still, move your toes towards the ceiling, then point them to the floor, feeling the pull at the back of your foot.

Repeat 10 times.

When you’re ready to increase difficulty, stretch one of your legs straight out in front of you, while the other foot is flat on the floor. Tilt your toes up and down several times before lowering your foot back down to the floor and repeating with your other leg.

Wheelchair Exercise #5: Modified Seated Bicep Curl

Sit up as straight as you can, either weightless or holding two dumbbells weighing 1-2kgs each.

With the dumbbells in your hands, and your elbows at your side, face the palms of your hands up. 

Fold at your elbows so that your hands meet your shoulder and then return back to the starting position. Move slowly and evenly in both directions, counting to 2 each way.

Repeat 12 times for 3 sets with a 1 minute rest between each set.

Wheelchair Exercise #6: Modified Tricep Dip

Sit up as straight as you can, engaging the core muscles in your torso.

With your hands on your wheelchair armrests directly beneath your shoulders, push yourself up until your arms are straight or fully extended.

Slowly lower yourself down until you’re seated again.

If this seems too difficult, try using your legs to help if you can, while allowing your arms to do as much of the work as you can.

Exercises for wheelchair users are ideal for those experiencing injuries or disabilities. Cardiovascular, strength and flexibility exercises help improve posture, reducing back pain and improving your function during every day tasks.

To get started with an exercise program that takes the whole you into account, contact Active Ability to chat with one of our accredited exercise physiologists. We are looking forward to working with you toward achieving your health and fitness goals!