An exercise plan that actually makes me sweat
May 26, 2014 5:39 AM   Subscribe

So, I'm currently on a self-improvement kick that I'm looking to turn into a marathon. You might imagine that having cerebral palsy and being in a wheelchair adds a speedbump or two, and you'd be right. One of the things I've wanted to work on for a while has been my weight, flexibility and physical independence. I'm about 100 lbs overweight right now, and I know that much of the decrease in quality of life that I've experienced over the past few years has been my own doing. I either sit in the wheelchair, or a desk chair, or on a couch/bed. I never move. Ever. I know that needs to change, and I've spent considerable time researching wheelchair fitness, but haven't really found anything that fits my very particular needs.

Most of what I've found has either been geared toward people who can't leave their chair at all/ aren't able to use certain muscles at all, older folks (I'm 24) for whom building muscle and losing weight isn't a priority and would be happy just to avoid a bed sore or broken hip) or wheelchair athletes in better shape than I currently am.
I need MeFi's help in developing a foundational routine that I can feel comfortable doing when I head to Planet Fitness 3 or 4 times a week.
A couple of points to consider:
- I'm 5'8, about 270ish
- I can get in/out of my chair pretty easily
- I'm pretty spastic right now. Things like the eliptical or the stationary bike freak me out because I feel like I might fall even getting on them. Even if I did, I couldn't bend my legs enough to use them properly or effectively. This is why I'm especially interested in flexibility exercises, and things that will work out my less-used muscles while decreasing tone in the spastic ones.
- I'd like to burn a decent amount of calories per session
- I need to find things to do that help, rather than aggravate my scoliosis and the lower back pain that comes with it.

YANMD/PT/T, and I know mine is a tough situation to put in any one box, but I'm hoping I can at least get an idea of what I should be looking to do instead of sitting at home, putting more and more weight on.
Thanks y'all!
posted by marsbar77 to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Would a recumbent stationary bike work better? You can partially control how much knee bend is required by the seat position and they don't require as much balance.
posted by srboisvert at 5:49 AM on May 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Upper body ergometer if you can find one. My YMCA has a couple and so does my place of employment. They are great for getting your heart rate up.
posted by Fairchild at 5:52 AM on May 26, 2014

I wish :( Those bikes look like what they have at PF, and they're still almost impossible for me to use, albeit a little more stable.
posted by marsbar77 at 5:52 AM on May 26, 2014

Not to threadsit, but I've seen UBEs around the web, and always wondered if they really made any significant difference to weight/strength. What do people think?
posted by marsbar77 at 5:54 AM on May 26, 2014

I would suggest dancing. I don't mean any formal sort of dancing like jazzercise or ballet or the like unless you can do the moves, or waltzing, unless you can get a partner. Just put on some kind of music that you love and move to the music. You can start easily with shorter, slow paced songs and later come up with songs that are more intense as you get more fit and increase your stamina.

If you put on dance videos that will give you some inspiration - not to look like the professional dancers or to be able to do what they do, since after all they have probably been training since they were in the single digit years, but when they move their arms, you get a reminder that you can incorporate arm motions into your free form dancing. When they get down on the floor you can try that kind of an action too. If necessary use a solid chair as a dance partner to help provide stability.

The idea of dancing is to use the beat to get you caught up into moving. You want to use music that makes it hard for you to sit still and makes you want to move.

You could do two styles of movement - slow dreamy music for flexibility and stretching, like zen meditation music, and frenetic fast paced music like Celtic dance music in order to work on cardio.
posted by Jane the Brown at 5:59 AM on May 26, 2014

Yes. They do burn calories. Not as much as major muscle groups but you are limited so the UBE is a great machine to try. Increase your level of resistance and time spent on the machine. I started on level 2 for 6-8 minutes. Now I'm begging for mercy after 10 minutes on level 5. UBE is not easy (especially when you crank the resistance level up). I would say it definitely builds strength in your arms. Weight is 90 percent food anyway.
posted by Fairchild at 6:01 AM on May 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Interval training. Do any movement that you can as hard and fast as you can for two minutes, then rest one minute. Repeat. You can do this at home or at the gym no equipment needed but UBE would work. It's what they use in cardiac rehab patients.
Then add in strength training.
Can you find a yoga teacher to work with you one on one to improve flexibility? That might be too expensive though. Are you eligible for physical therapy?
Weight loss depends on maximizing nutrition.
posted by SyraCarol at 6:01 AM on May 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

How are you with swimming? I took that up later in life and it's great cardio + strength training + low impact + pretty impossible to injure yourself.
posted by whitewall at 6:01 AM on May 26, 2014

Swimming isn't really an option right now, unfortunately. Anyone know where I have a good chance of finding UBEs in NYC?
posted by marsbar77 at 6:07 AM on May 26, 2014

Maybe a rowing machine? It will work upper and lower body, and you're much closer to the ground so the possibility of falling is much less scary.

Also, it won't necessarily make you sweat, but I highly recommend trying therapeutic horseback riding. I've seen great success with people with CP - the motion of the horse can help with the spastic muscles and it moves your hips in a way that mimics walking which improves your gait. Check this site to see if there's one near you.
posted by jshort at 6:30 AM on May 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Hey, this sounds like a great project!

My local YMCA (Boston area) has regular, weekly times when trainers are on hand to work with people with significant physical challenges. There are at least a few people in chairs and with other highly assistive gear. I'll bet with a little research you could find a similar program in your area. I am on really good terms with the woman who runs that program and would be glad to shake the tree for you if you send me MeMail.
posted by Sublimity at 7:00 AM on May 26, 2014

Because you have both CP and postural issues, I'd suggest making an appointment with an exercise physiologist who can recommend you exercises that might suit your individual circumstances better than your average personal trainer etc.

That said I've heard great things about boxing for people who use wheelchairs. Another thing to look into might be resistance bands, rather than weights, so you don't have to worry about dropping them etc.
posted by Chrysalis at 7:03 AM on May 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

You could try a physical therapist. They will tailor a plan just for you. I think this is the best way to get the maximum out of you work out. Go for just one or two sessions just make sure they know you want a work out plan not therapy.
posted by Playswithdirt at 7:04 AM on May 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

A while ago there was this man on Biggest Loser who had significant problems with his legs so that at one point he had to sit out the formal training sessions for two weeks. He spent a lot of time in his room instead - shadow boxing. It was a great cardio exercise for him and he lost a lot of weight (combined with a healthy diet). His name is Moses Kinikini if you want to look him up.
posted by travelwithcats at 7:09 AM on May 26, 2014

I third a PT. You have some special considerations and someone who really understands how the body moves will be really helpful. I work with children in wheelchairs and our PT is really interested in body mechanics, especially for children with atypical presentation. When you have spasticity, or any limitations in your range of motion you can easily push things too far.
posted by Aranquis at 8:06 AM on May 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Adaptive martial arts is a thing. There's an organisation founded by a guy with cerebal palsy, so if there's a school that could work for you in NYC, they've got as good a shot as anyone of knowing about it (they offer to help you find a school).

My thought process: good workout, a decent instructor knows everyone comes with a different starting point physically so if being overweight hampers you, that should be okay, a lot of stuff usually done standing (punching, blocks) could be done sitting, some martial arts do a lot on the ground to begin with (e.g. judo, brazilian jiu jitsu). Some stuff might never be possible for you, but so what?
posted by hoyland at 8:10 AM on May 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

You will have to hunt a little bit to find materials or an instructor to help, but Pilates has always included adaptive exercises (Pilates developed the system while a POW, helping campmates who were bedbound or wounded as well as the healthy ones). That could help a lot with flexibility, balance, and core strength, which might make some more aerobic exercises possible.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:26 AM on May 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would suggest contacting a university or other organization with an adaptive physical education/recreation program. We have one at our university, and it's great; it's about building a client's strength and capabilities like any other athlete would, not just "maintaining" what you have. When I say "athlete," the group's leaders specifically use that word even though the people they work with include people with high-level quadriplegia and progressive/chronic conditions that have contributed to decades of being sedentary.

They will help you adapt equipment and routines to your needs in a healthy way, as well as hopefully set you up with other orgs that can get you into other activities. I know a woman with severe MS who goes skiing, sailing, all that, way more than she says she did before she was affected by MS.

The point is not to turn you into an inspiring example or get you into crazy stuff. The point is to help you find activities that you enjoy and that work for you wherever you happen to be in your capabilities, which can be a huge help for your mental and motivational processes (god knows I haven't gotten there yet!).

I would be VERY surprised if you don't have something in NYC, but I can poke around my connections and see what's out there.
posted by Madamina at 9:17 AM on May 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Contact your local athletics club or association and ask if they have or know any coaches with experience coaching disability sports. You don't have to be at the level of an elite wheelchair racer to access that kind of support - there may well be coaches who would be keen to "meet you where you're at" and help you with whatever goals are realistic for you. (Of course, it's also worth searching for any local disability/para sports associations to the same end - they're not all aimed at Paralympic-level athletes).
posted by penguin pie at 2:18 PM on May 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

« Older New York City Travel Question   |   I'd like a wifi booster/relay so that I can sit in... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.