Working out and exercising has many benefits for people with spinal cord injuries. By getting stronger, everyday living activities, such as transfers and pushing a manual chair, will become easier.
My exercise program started as soon as I was able to sit up in my wheelchair, and I was still in in-patient rehab in Spokane, Washington after breaking my neck. My therapists really guided me towards exercise while I was in rehab and I am very thankful for that. I can remember leaving therapy and continuing to work out regularly
One of my most vivid memories from working out was while I was still in college. I would go to the gym at my school. One such day, after leaving and heading back to my car, I decided to push up an awfully steep ramp. I had never made it up this ramp before without someone behind me helping me.
However, this day I felt great and thought I would try. I pushed right up the ramp with no one behind me. I knew this confidence was from consistently spending time in the weight room and getting stronger. It was such a great feeling of independence that I will never forget. I now work out 5-6 days a week. I am doing all types of workouts i.e.; lifting weights, pushing my chair, using a UBE (upper body ergometer), swimming, hand cycling, and, of course, playing tennis just to name a few.
Some of my favorite workouts are lifting weights in the gym, going for a push, and using the UBE. I enjoy these three exercises because they are things that I can and will do long after my tennis career is over. When I lift weights in the gym, I like to focus on muscles that I don’t always use. As a person with a spinal cord injury, and someone who pushes a manual chair, the front half of my body does most of the work, the majority of the time. My chest, biceps, and front of my shoulders are always working in a forward movement. When I go to the gym, I am working on a balance between the front side of my body and the back side (lats, traps, back of my shoulders, etc.). Since the front side of my body gets a lot of work while I’m pushing and playing tennis, I focus most of my time in the gym on my back muscles. This means I do a lot of rowing and pulling type exercises. By focusing a lot on my back muscles in the gym I have more balanced strength front to back on my body.
Going for a push is one of my most enjoyable exercises. I am very lucky to live where I have a flat 400 meter track within walking distance of my home. I enjoy pushing around the track almost every day. On certain days I work for speed while on other days I work duration.
On the days I work for speed, I will sprint (push) 90% of my max speed 200 meters 5 times, with 90 seconds rest, then repeat. On days I work on duration, I will look to push non-stop for one and a half to two hours. When I use the UBE, which is a stationary hand cycle, I also go for speed and duration. Again, depending on the day, I am either sprinting hard with rests in-between, or I am arm pedaling for one to two hours straight - going for duration. This is a small glimpse into the exercising that I do to stay in shape to be the best wheelchair tennis player I can be. This type of hardcore exercise isn’t for everyone, so if you are completely new and have never lifted weights, or exercised before, I would suggest you work closely with a trained professional to help get you started.
If you are going to start working out, I would also suggest you start slow and consider how much function you have. For example;
- Is your grip strength limited?
- Do you have use of your core and trunk muscles?
- Can you move your legs?
There are many assistive devices out there to help while working out. Since I am a quadriplegic, I have limited grip strength and no core muscles. I need help gripping when lifting heavier weights, so I use wraps around my wrists which have metal rounded hooks that go around the weight bar.
I don’t focus on what I can’t do, but rather I put all my effort into what I can do. Just get out there and have some fun!
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The opinions and experiences presented herein are for informational use only. Individual results may vary depending on your condition. Always consult with your health care professional. This individual has been compensated by Bard Medical for the time and effort in preparing this article for BARD’s further use and distribution. BMD/BMDA/0116/0129