Have a Home Gym Cheaply and with Little Space, Part 2, by Lisa Snow

lisa-snowIn Part 1 of this article, you learned about home exercise equipment for general fitness.  In this part, you’ll learn about home exercise equipment for wheelchair users and other people with disabilities. 

The average person often finds choosing home fitness equipment challenging.  For someone with disabilities, it can be even more frustrating.  Luckily, plenty of pieces of “accessible” equipment are actually quite affordable.  Now in the age of online shopping, anything you want can be delivered to your door, so there’s no need to worry about having to haul things home from a store.

This article focuses on home fitness equipment for wheelchair users.  However, all the same items are also excellent for older adults who need to do part or all of their workout seated.  While wheelchair users may be a small percentage of the population, they are among the most motivated and determined exercisers.  And when you factor in the number of men and women in their 80s, 90s, and even 100s who can’t (or shouldn’t) use most gym machines, you realize that millions of people are being left out by the fitness industry!  If you are the child or grandchild of an elderly person, the friend of someone with disabilities, a personal trainer, a group fitness instructor, or a leader in your church, synagogue, or community center, I challenge you to think how we can include more people!  I challenge you to come up with ways of getting people involved in fitness and wellness, to imagine creative solutions that governments or corporations would never consider.  Even if the only thing you do is buy $10 or $20 worth of fitness equipment for your grandparents or for an elderly or disabled person in your community (or show them where to buy it), you are doing something.  While institutions talk about how we should maybe do something for older adults and people with disabilities at some theoretical time in the future, you will be taking action.

Figure 8 Bands: Most people with disabilities have experience with Thera-Bands or other flat bands, but surprisingly few have tried Figure 8 Bands (a.k.a. Versa 8).  But flat bands have a lot of disadvantages. You have to wrap them around your hands, and if you don’t wrap them well, they can come off and snap back at you.  Some people with disabilities or arthritis may not even be able to wrap flat bands around their hands by themselves, and might have to have a friend or therapist do it for them.  Figure 8 Bands, however, don’t need to be wrapped—they’ve got handles.  Although they can be used for many different exercises, the simplest move to do with the Figure 8 Band is a reverse fly, which targets the rear delt (a very important but overlooked muscle on the back of the shoulder).

Neoprene Dumbbells: Any kind of dumbbells are better than nothing, but neoprene dumbbells  seem to work better than vinyl or uncoated dumbbells for people with disabilities because they’re nonslip.  (If your able-bodied friends don’t get this, just have them imagine the frustration of sitting in a chair, dropping a dumbbell on the floor, and not being able to pick it up again while working out alone.  Worse, imagine dropping a light dumbbell on your feet and not being able to dodge out of the way before it lands on you.  Even if it’s only 1 or 2 lbs, it still hurts.)  You can order these online, such as from PerformBetter.com. However, dumbbells are the one type of equipment that is just as good if you buy it at a bricks-and-mortar store like Sports Authority or Modell’s.

BOSU: The BOSU looks like a stability ball cut in half—the bottom is a solid plastic platform, and the top is a plastic dome filled with air.  If you’re working out with a friend, family member, or personal trainer, a BOSU ball is an outstanding addition to your home gym.  This incredibly versatile tool works equally well for athletes, dancers, older adults, people with disabilities who are up and walking, and wheelchair users.  When the average able-bodied person first sees a BOSU, it can be hard for them to imagine a wheelchair user getting much good out of it.  After all, the first thing most people do when they get a BOSU is try to stand normally on top (or maybe even try to stand on top with just one foot).  However, you don’t need to be able to stand to use the BOSU!  Set the BOSU on top of a sturdy step or plyo box, then slowly, carefully transfer from your chair to the BOSU.  Even if you’re pretty strong, “sitting still” on top of the BOSU is a tough workout for most wheelchair users!  Because the dome is filled with air, it moves and shifts, forcing you to use your abs, obliques, and other core muscles to stay balanced on top—you’ll find out quickly that while you can sit, there’s no such thing as sitting still!  Of course, once you’ve spent a few months mastering sitting, you can add all kinds of upper body exercises to your BOSU routine.

Although the BOSU can be a life-changing way for wheelchair users and able-bodied seniors to regain balance and core function.  Especially if you are a full-time wheelchair user, the BOSU can help activate core muscles you may not have been able to use in years.   However, I would not recommend people with disabilities to use the BOSU when they’re home alone!  Even if you are great at transferring (wheelchair to regular chair or wheelchair to bed, for example), transferring from a wheelchair to a BOSU ball requires more balance.  You absolutely need someone there to watch and give you a hand if you start to slip.

JC Travel Bands: While I already talked about this piece of equipment in Part 1 of this article, I wanted to include it again here because it’s so useful for not only wheelchair users, but also seniors who want to do part of all of their workout seated.  JC Travel Bands can allow you to do a whole range of seated upper body exercises: chest presses, low rows, high rows, flys, reverse flys, bicep curls, tricep extensions, lat pulldowns, straight arm pulldowns, twists, and many, many others.  Although the JC Sport Band is also a well-made product, the bands are a little too long for home use (they’re meant for a gym or the park); the “travel” bands are just as strong with just as good of an anchor, but are shorter so you can use them properly, even in a small room.  Double Cords  from Power Systems are a little longer than the JC Travel Band (so they don’t work as well in small apartments).  But the Double Cords have the advantage of padded handles!  Either product will provide you with years of fun, challenging workouts (you only need one or the other, not both).

People with other types of disabilities and health challenges will have different equipment needs and wants.  Because most workout equipment is visual, Deaf exercisers can use almost any exercise equipment, from free weights and bands to weight machines and cardio machines like a treadmill or elliptical.

Blind exercisers may have a hard time with cardio machines because you need to see the buttons to set the speed, time, and so forth.  (Of course, if you’re working out at home, you could put Braille signs beside each button.)  But I’m just not a big fan of cardio machines for anyone, abled or disabled.  You can get a much more effective cardio workout by running outside in a park, running stairs, or jumping rope, than by using a treadmill.  Don’t limit yourself to just cardio.  Many Blind exercisers have excellent balance and spatial awareness, making them naturals at free weight exercises with dumbbells or kettlebells, as well as bands/tubing.

For anyone who has trouble with their legs, a motorized exercise bike can be a great option.  It lets you pedal as long as you want to, then switches over to the machine doing the pedaling for you when you turn the power on.  If you can’t pedal at all, you can switch the power on as soon as you sit down at the bike.  This setup is perfect for a variety of patients, including:

  • People who are paralyzed from the waist down
  • Cerebral Palsy patients (who often have strong lower body muscles but poor motor control in their legs, regardless of whether they are walking or are wheelchair users)
  • Patients of all ages who have poor endurance
  • Older adults
  • People with ankle edema

Best of all, you can pick the bike up from the floor and set it on the tabletop, to use it as a UBE where you pedal with your hands.  For this function, you’ll want to leave the power off, so you can rebuild arm and shoulder strength by pedaling for yourself.

Lisa Snow, ACE, NSCA-CPT is a New York City personal trainer specializing in older adults, people with disabilities, post-rehabilitation for all ages.  http://www.eftpersonaltraining.com/

Missed last month’s column? Read it now:

Have a Home Gym Cheaply and with Little Space, Part 1
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