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Regular exercise is important for everyone, including those with physical disabilities. Strength training is not only beneficial for mental health, but it can also make daily activities easier to undertake giving independence to those with limited mobility.
Aside from upper body strength training, including a range of leg exercises will help to increase energy levels and muscle strength. Strong muscles help to increase bone density and protect your joints leading to an improvement to overall health.
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Lower body training can sometimes be difficult for those who have a limited ability to walk and often rely on a wheelchair. However, adding in a few minutes of exercise to your daily life specifically targeting the leg muscles may help to strengthen the legs and increase range of motion.
In this article we’ll suggest some strength exercises that specifically target the lower body muscles for wheelchair users.
Wheelchair Leg Exercises
Below are some of the best wheelchair exercises to improve leg strength. You can either perform these by yourself or with assistance from a family member or personal trainer.
Toe tapping is a great way of working the anterior tibialis. This is the long that muscle that runs from the outside of the lower leg down to the inside of the foot. Once this exercise becomes easy to perform you can make it more challenging by incorporating a resistance band.
How to Perform A Toe Tap:
- Simply place the resistance band over the top of the foot to be worked, position your resting foot over one end of the band and ask someone to stand on the other end.
- From here, raise your toes up against the resistance.
- Sitting up straight, keep your core muscles engaged.
- Keep your feet together and flat on the ground.
- Raise the toes up of one foot whilst keeping your heel on the ground.
- Repeat this movement for 10 repetitions before switching to the other foot.
Lower Leg Raises
The lower leg raise exercise will work the quadriceps and help to improve mobility to the knee joint. When starting out, perform this exercise without any weight. As the movement becomes easier, you can incorporate an ankle weight to the working leg which will increase the resistance making it a little more challenging.
Don’t be tempted to kick the leg up and move too quickly. It should be performed slowly and with control. Also be sure you complete a full range of motion by lowering the foot all the way back down so it’s flat on the ground.
How to Perform Lower Leg Raises:
- Start by positioning your feet around hip width apart.
- Keep your knees bent to 90 degrees so that your ankles are directly beneath your knees. This is your start position.
- Extend the knee of the right leg and raise the foot up so that your right leg is now straight.
- Pause briefly before slowly lowering back down to the starting position.
- Repeat the exercise around 10 times before doing the opposite side.
The ball squeeze exercise will work the hip adductor muscles. These are small muscle groups which are located on the inside of the thigh. By activating these muscles will help to better support the hip joint.
A slightly under inflated ball will make the exercise more effective. If it’s easier ask someone to hold the ball between your knees to prevent it from dropping during the workout.
How to Ball Squeezes:
- Take a soccer ball (or any inflatable ball of a similar size).
- Keeping your feet together and flat on the ground, place the ball between your knees.
- Squeeze your knees together as much as is comfortable.
- Perform 3 sets of 8 to 10 repetitions.
Banded Leg Curls
Leg curls are a great exercise for targeting the hamstrings and calf muscles. For this exercise you will need a theraband. These are a type of resistance band often used by a physical therapist. They are available in a range of colors, with each color indicating the level of resistance.
If you’re new to strength training, be sure to start with the lightest resistance and increase as you become accustomed to the exercise. If you don’t have someone on hand to help out, loop the band around something stable, such as a table leg, and then tie it together.
How to Banded Leg Curls:
- Start by positioning your feet flat on the ground around hip width apart. This is your starting position.
- Slowly raise up your working leg until your foot is just raised from the ground. Don’t lock out at the knee.
- Ask someone to place a Theraband around your raised ankle, they should remain holding either end of the band.
- The person assisting should then move back a little to create some tension in the band.
- From here, move you raised leg back to the start position. Hold briefly and then raise back up again.
- Perform 10 repetitions before switching to work the other leg.
Banded Hip Abduction
You’ll need a closed loop resistance band, sometimes called a glute band, for this exercise. Banded hip abductions, sometimes called clamshells, will target the hip abductors and the glutes helping to increase joint strength to the hips.
As with the Theraband, glute bands come in different colors to indicate their resistance. Choose the lightest one to begin with and as your strength improves move up to increase the resistance.
How to Banded Hip Abduction:
- Sit upright and engage your abdominal muscles.
- Keep your feet flat on the ground with feet and knees together.
- Place your resistance band around the bottom of your lower legs and just above the knees.
- From here, keep your feet in position but move your knees out and away from one another.
- The resistance should increase as you move your knees apart.
- Perform 3 sets of 8 to 10 repetitions.
When working on your new exercise program consider incorporating the suggested types of exercise into your daily routine. Remember, the importance of exercise for everyone is proven as not only will you improve joint health across your entire body, working out can help with weight management keeping body fat low.
Whatever form of exercise you choose, make sure movements are performed slowly and with control so you can maximise the benefits whilst reducing your risk of injury. Also, be sure to enjoy your training as fun workouts are much easier to stick to in the long run