Man doing wheelchair stretching exercises

Five wheelchair exercises you can try at home

We’ve asked Kris, founder of Wheely Good Fitness, to do a guest blog for us on his top five stretch exercises to help increase flexibility and movement.

Kris is taking part in the Virgin London Marathon 2016 – you can sponsor him online.

For those of us new to exercise or restricted by the side effects of disability and health conditions, starting can be extremely daunting. Many of us will be familiar with the saying ‘use it or lose it.’ So it’s important to try as much as possible to keep what we have and improve where we can, to prevent additional health problems.

One of the first things we can lose is our flexibility. Reduced flexibility can restrict our movements, causing stiffness and aches.  Performing stretches on a regular basis can help maintain and improve flexibility, and can easily be made a part of your daily routine.

Here are five important upper body stretches that can be done at home – you can sit either in your wheelchair or on any chair in your house. For all of them, remember to sit upright, with belly button pulled in tight, feet hip-width apart (if your wheelchair allows it).

Chest Stretch

  • Shoulders down
  • Take the arms out to the side of the body
  • Palms facing forward
  • Arms at shoulder heightMan in wheelchair performing chest exercise with arms outstretched
  1. Breathe normally throughout, with your head facing forwards.
  2. Keep your shoulders relaxed. Bring your arms slowly together in front of your body, so your palms touch.
  3. Keep them straight and at the same height as your shoulders.
  4. Slowly take the arms out to the side, with palms facing forwards, until you can feel a stretch across your chest.
  5. Try to hold the position for up to 10 seconds.

Back stretch

  • Shoulders relaxed
  • Take the arms forward slightly, rounding the back
  • Head tilted forward
  • Arms out straightMan in wheelchair performing back stretch, with arms stretched forward and head down
  1. Keep shoulders relaxed and avoid rolling them forward as you move into the stretch.
  2. Bring your arms in front of your body, keeping them straight, palms facing down.
  3. Imagine there’s a rope tied around your wrists, pulling you forward, so you can keep extending your arms.
  4. Allow your lower back to round a little and tilt your head down – you should feel a stretch through the lower and middle part of your back.
  5. Breathe normally, and be aware of your balance.
  6. Try to hold the position for up to 10 seconds.

Upper body stretch

  • Take the arms out to the side of the body
  • Bring the arms up and over the head
  • Head facing forwards
  • Take the stretch up through the bodyMan in wheelchair performing upper body stretch, with arms stretched upwards
  1. Keep your shoulders relaxed, avoid lifting them up to your ears when you start the stretch.
  2. Start with your arms down by your sides, then slowly bring them out to the side (like wings), taking them as high above the head as you can. As your arms reach shoulder height, lift your chest and torso with them and try to make yourself taller.
  3. Try to hold the position for up to 10 seconds.

Oblique stretch

  • Take the arms out to the side of the body
  • Bring the arms up to shoulder height 
  • Keep upper body fixed
  • Rotate the body to the sideMan in wheelchair performing oblique stretch, with arms bent out to the sides
  1. Keep your shoulders relaxed, avoid lifting them up to your ears when you start the stretch.
  2. Start by bringing your arms out to the side of the body, elbows flexed and at shoulder height. Keeping your arms, head and upper body fixed, rotate to the side using the lower part of your back until you can feel the stretch down the sides of your body.
  3. Try to hold the position for up to 10 seconds, then switch and do the other side.
  4. Breathe normally, and try not to lean into the stretch or you won’t get the full benefit.

Hand stretch

  • Shoulders down
  • Take the arms out in front of the body
  • Palms facing down
  • Arms out straightMan in wheelchair performing hand stretch, with arms stretched out forward
  1. Keep your shoulders relaxed, avoid lifting them up to your ears when you start the stretch.
  2. Bring your arms straight forward in front of your body, palms facing down.
  3. Extend your fingers and thumbs, widening as much as possible until you feel a stretch through the palm of your hand.
  4. Try to hold the position for up to 10 seconds, then switch and do the other side.
  5. Breathe normally, and keep facing forwards.

Some of these stretches can be adapted into exercise movements that you can perform to your favourite music:

  1. Begin by moving the arms in a gentle marching movement to the beat.
  2. Once comfortable change to a similar move as you did for the chest stretch, gently taking the arms out to the side and back in front again eight times, almost like a wide clapping movement and then go back to marching again.
  3. If you feel able to continue, you can then bring in a version of the upper body stretch by taking the arms to shoulder height and down again, repeating 8 times before going back to the march.
  4. The oblique stretch can then be added in for eight moves before returning back to the march.

This short sequence will give you a little bit of an aerobic workout and you can increase how long you perform it as it becomes easier to do.  Begin gently if only for a couple of minutes depending on how challenging you find it and progress as you feel able.

Kris is taking part in the Virgin London Marathon 2016 – you can sponsor him online.