Fun Seated Exercise Ideas for Wheelchair Users


Don’t let a disability get you down. Being limited to a wheelchair for getting around might make it seem like exercise is impractical, however, that couldn’t be further from the truth. As a mobility aid, wheelchairs can empower people young and old with physical disabilities to stay active and keep exercising, not the opposite. According to the Census Bureau, over 30 million Americans have some type of physical disability that makes walking problematic, doubling the importance of exercise. 

Don’t miss these fun and effective seated exercise ideas for wheelchair users:

Chair Yoga

A growing number of seniors are taking to the mat each year as the practice of yoga grows in popularity. Yoga is one of the few low-impact exercises that can be adapted for a variety of ability and mobility levels, hence chair yoga that is completed either sitting down or bracing oneself against a chair.

As a mindfulness-cultivating practice, yoga incorporates gentle flowing stretches with held body positions, deep breathing, and meditation. Yoga practice has been shown to help lower risk for high blood pressure, build bone density, strengthen and tone muscles, improve flexibility and coordination, and provide stress relief. Seniors should check with their local YMCA’s, senior centers, or nearby yoga studios for senior-adapted chair yoga classes.

exercise ideas for wheelchair users

Pedal Exercising

If standing up to exercise or ride a bike, for example, is simply too taxing on weaker leg muscles and bones, pedal exercising may be the solution. Portable pedal exercisers are essentially like stationary bike wheels which can be pedaled with the feet or hands.

Great for getting the heart rate going and strengthening arm and leg muscles, pedal exercising can be done anywhere, including while you sit and watch TV or work at your desk. You can find many pedal exercisers online or potentially at your local drugstore or big box store.

Resistance Bands

Resistance bands are one of the most cost-effective pieces of exercise equipment, and for wheelchair users, they can be essential to maintaining upper body strength. Typically just flat bands of a rubber-type material, resistance bands often feature grip handles for users to hold onto when they pull and exercise with the bands.

Sitting in a wheelchair with the brakes on, you can wrap a resistance band around a pole in front of you or on a bar over your head and do exercises like bicep curls, arm stretches, or overhead arm raises. Connect with a knowledgeable instructor at your gym or senior center for tips on form, types of exercise, and best practices when using resistance bands.

Seated Cardio

One of the most powerful ways to stave off heart disease, diabetes, and even Alzheimer’s is routine cardio exercises that workout the heart muscle and strengthen the circulatory system. Cardio may seem impossible from the seated position of a wheelchair, however, the right combination of movements and exercises can give you a surprisingly effective cardio workout.

Engaging a host of muscle groups from the arms, to the core, back, and legs requires strategic movement of each including leg lifts, light weight lifting with the arms, and abdominal contractions. Simple reps while holding small bottles of water or canned goods may include practicing raising the arms over the head and back down, or extended out front and back to your chest.

When it comes to hitting the gym or local yoga studio for a wheelchair-tailored class, don’t forget these important reminders:

  • Always bring water to drink before, during, and after (to stay hydrated!)
  • Use wheelchair accessories like bags or overhanging pockets to carry personal items like keys, phone, pen, and water bottle.
  • If you have a question or concern, ask the instructor! They are there to help you, and you should never be exercising through pain.
  • Keep it up! The key to exercise is doing it regularly – whether it’s out at a class or in the comfort of your home streaming instructional Youtube videos, keep up with physical activity as routinely as possible.

Relying on a wheelchair to safely get around may seem like a hindrance to independence. Finding great seated exercises to help you burn calories, build muscle tone, and boost your own health can thusly be a huge confidence booster.

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