Fitness Boot Camp for People with Disabilities

Attending a fitness boot camp when you live with a disability that affects your mobility might seem like an oxymoron. The high-intensity physical activity that boot camp attendees engage in could not be further from the day to day struggles brought on by living with a disability, right? Not necessarily.

If a disability prevents you from being able to stand for long periods or walk or run, you could be at a higher risk for developing lifestyle diseases like diabetes, obesity, heart disease, hypertension, or stroke. In fact, research shows that adults with disabilities are both more likely to be physically inactive and have a 50 percent higher risk of developing a chronic disease or cancer.

The high-intensity training you go through with fitness boot camps could be your ticket towards better health.

In fact, a 2016 study published in the Journal of Sport and Health Science references an accumulating body of evidence that highlights the positive effect high-intensity interval training (HIIT) has on people with chronic disease, like cardiovascular disease. HIIT was found in many cases to improve quality of life and functional capacity without increasing medical risk.

Benefits of Exercise for People with Mobility Issues

  • Enhancing overall health: no matter what condition or injury landed you in a wheelchair or using a walking cane or walker, exercise can help improve health outcomes.
  • Improving mental wellness: on top of the extra feel-good hormones exercise produces, physical activity has also been shown to enhance mood.
  • Less social isolation: exercising in a group setting, as you do with a fitness boot camp, can be the solution to the type of social isolation that so many people with disabilities face. You not only get out of the house and socially interact with other people who share similar interests, but you also build camaraderie, trust, and loyal friendships.
  • Reduced pain and inflammation: physical activity has long been shown to have deep effects all the way down to a microbiological level including combating arthritis inflammation or mitigating chronic pain associated with a disease or injury.
  • More independence: exercise is a huge confidence-builder, period. It not only makes you feel more fit and happier but also leaves you stronger, more flexible, and effectively more able to function independently.

Fitness Boot Camp Activities for People with Mobility Issues

High-intensity interval training for people with disabilities often involves plenty of upper body work. Exercising the arms, shoulders, back, and core is not just a great way to build musculoskeletal strength but with the right activities, you can also get a solid cardio workout in that reinforces good heart health too.

  • Hand-pedalling: like a stationary bike but for your arms instead of your legs, hand bikes (or upper body ergometers) are helpful for wheelchair users or other people with mobility limitations that require them to sit down. Not only can you stretch and strengthen your arms as you pedal with your hands, but you can also get your heart rate up significantly.
  • Medicine ball work: unlike free weights or dumbbells that are largely lifted and moved along vertical and horizontal planes, medicine balls facilitate strength-training across a wide range of motions. Work out your core and even improve your neuromuscular efficiency as your muscles learn to coordinate with more speed and force.
  • Equipment-free cardio: arm rotations, punching, swinging arms up and down . . . done in a methodical and timed sprint, a handful of equipment-free upper body repetitions can give you the HIIT workout you are looking for. You can find some knowledge instruction for beginners here.

Additional boot camp fitness ideas for people with disabilities include boxing, water aerobics, and resistance band training.

Don’t Forget Before You Go . . .

Before you launch into a brand new fitness boot camp experience, do not forget to run the idea past your medical professional first. They will be able to let you know what modifications you might want to request as well as help you set reasonable goals based on your current physical condition. In the same vein, seek out a fitness boot camp that is geared towards helping people who want to put in the work but require some adaptations.

You will also want to make sure the equipment you use to help manage your disability is in great shape and will keep you safe, i.e. your wheelchair. Look for travel-friendly mobility aids that might be easier to take to and from the gym as well as accessories like a wheelchair bag with bottle holder or a wearable water backpack that could simplify the “running around” you might have to do at boot camp.

And finally, do not forget to warm up and cool down. High-intensity exercise is the most beneficial (not to mention easier on your body) when you properly warm your muscles up prior to a workout.


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