3 Tips for Exercising with Multiple Sclerosis


by Lisa Snow

Sticking to new years resolutions to get fit are hard enough for the majority of people, but MS can make it an even bigger challenge.  Try these 3 tips for exercising with multiple sclerosis.

Raise the Bar

Smith Machine

Smith Machine

Many people with disabilities are a little intimidate by large pieces of exercise equipment, especially when they are new to working out.  But one piece of equipment that can really benefit you is your gym’s Smith Machine.  Even if you’re not (yet) strong enough to use it for traditional exercises like weighted squats, chest presses, or shoulder presses, you can still put it to use.  If you have someone set the bar for you at about chest height, you can use it as a grab bar to help you relearn to squat, lunge, and balance on one foot.


Avoid the traditional Smith Machine Squatphoto credit: pumpjunkies.com

Avoid the traditional Smith Machine Squat
photo credit: pumpjunkies.com

For the squat, put a chair or bench in front of the Smith Machine bar.  Face the bar and hold onto it while standing up from the chair.  Complete 15 reps (sit down and stand up 15 times).  In the beginning, grip the bar tightly, and use your arms to help pull you out of the chair.  As you get stronger, you can just place a couple of fingers on the bar for balance, completely relying on your legs to stand.  If you are very advanced, remove the chair, and perform the squat just holding the bar.

Avoid the traditional Smith machine squat, shown in the photo above.

For the lunge, hold onto the bar and take a big step back while lowering into the lunge.  Alternate your feet with every rep.  Again, 15 reps is a good number to shoot for.  If you are slightly more advanced, you could try this move with a TRX suspension trainer instead of the smith machine bar.  (Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LtihP4J0QuY  )

TRX step back lungePhoto credit: GoodlifeFitness.com

TRX step back lunge
Photo credit: GoodlifeFitness.com

For the single-leg balance, simply grip the bar, and stand on one leg as long as you can, or until you reach 30 seconds, whichever is sooner.  Then switch to the other leg.

If your gym doesn’t have a Smith machine, a ballet barre will work beautifully for all these exercises.  If you prefer to exercise outside, the back of a park bench or sturdy fence railing may work, too. 

Don’t Go It Alone

Regardless of whether or not you were physically active before MS, if you haven’t exercised much since your MS diagnosis, there are many benefits to working with a personal trainer.  An experienced, certified trainer can help you:

  • Choose the best exercises for your goals and ability level
  • Teach you correct form and technique
  • Reduce your risk of injury
  • Improve your balance and mobility, not just burn calories
  • Help you find specialized, “accessible” equipment, and teach you new ways to use mainstream gym equipment
  • Cheer you on every step of the way

Here are some questions to ask when choosing a personal trainer, yoga teacher, or fitness instructor:

  • What organization are you certified by?
  • Do you have insurance?
  • Have you trained other people with MS?  If not, have you trained clients with other disabilities?
  • How many years have you been training clients or teaching classes?
  • Are you willing to send progress updates to my physical therapist?
  • Can you give me references?  If they have glowing client references, that’s good.  But if they can give you a doctor, massage therapist, or physical therapist as one of the references, that’s even better.

Chill Out

People with MS are especially sensitive to heat.  Getting too hot during a workout session can slow your hard-earned progress.  If you are exercising at home, turn the heat or A/C down a few degrees before starting your workout.  If you’re at a gym where you can’t control the thermostat, consider wearing lighter clothing in winter, or bringing an ice pack in the summer.  A fun option to keep you cool and hydrated is to fill a plastic water bottle half full, then put it in the freezer.  Take it with you to the gym, and sip it as it thaws.  The remaining ice serves as an incognito ice pack.


Missed last month’s column? Read it now:

Fitness for People with Parkinson’s
Customized Exercises for People with Back Pain
What Should People Look for When Hiring a Personal Trainer?
How do trainers know what program is right for their clients?
Who Benefits the Most from a Personal Trainer?
Motivate Yourself to Better Health
Three Dimensional Fitness