It is quite tempting to sit comfortably and think that strength training exercises are needed by body-builders and sportsperson; we do not need them. But ignoring the strength training exercises can prove really fatal for a person with locomotors disability. A person using any type of walking-aids to move around is virtually moving with her hands and torso. Walking with crutches or moving on a (manual) wheelchair both requires strengthened arms and torso. Even if you use battery-operated wheelchair you’ll still need strength in your arms to shift from your chair to bed and vice versa.
Studies have shown that every individual starts losing their bone density gradually once they cross their teenage. The rate of decreasing bone density is even higher in persons with locomotor disability. But this gradual loss of bone density can be actually reversed if the person starts some strength training exercises.
I can vow upon the fact that strength training exercises increase our bone density as I’m not saying this based on literature read somewhere. I was on a daily dose of calcium supplements because of osteoporosis (severe loss of bone density). A day without calcium supplement meant some days of pain and more than often a cracked or broken bone. Today I need those calcium supplements once a week just because of the strength training program I joined last year.
What are Strength Training Exercises?
Strength training exercises are meant to strengthen the body. Prima facie they appear to be working on strengthening muscles but they also strengthen our bones. These exercises are done using free weights or dumbbells. These are types of anaerobic exercises. These exercises are not as simple as the aerobic exercises and so they require guidance and supervision of a trainer at least in the early phase.
Misconceptions about Strength Training exercises
There are some misconceptions about strength training exercises due to which many people are reluctant in adopting them as a part of their daily fitness routine. Before proceeding to any further details about strength training exercises let me clear some of the common misconceptions so that you can mentally prepare yourself for building strength.
Misconception: Strength-training exercises are for body-builders and sports persons
Fact: Sports persons and body-builders do require strength training exercises but it is not exclusive for them. Just like aerobic exercises strength-training exercises vary in their intensity and can be modified according to the power and need of the persons. It is sort of mandatory for persons with locomotors disability to restrict deterioration in physical power.
Misconception: Females should not go for lifting weights else their body end up looking masculine
Fact: Strength-training exercises are good for maintaining body shape regardless of a person’s gender. If a sportswoman’s body shape looks masculine to you then remember she got it after years of intense practice. You are not getting to see even one-tenth of that transformation in your body unless you indulge in intensive strength training sessions.
Misconception: You need to eat like a glutton when you are on strength training
Fact: A good diet is mandatory for every individual. If you are already eating appropriately according to your body needs; you do not need to increase your diet just because you are adding some sets of strength-training exercises in your fitness routine. You’ll certainly need to add too much to your diet chart if you are aiming to be the next Bahubali though.
Benefits of Strength Training Exercises
Weight-exercises do not feel as alluring as aerobic exercises but knowing the benefits may provide you the reason to at least give it a try. Once you start feeling the difference in your level of strength there will be no reason to discontinue the practice. As a wheelchair user I can tell you that building strength in your body makes tasks like shifting and propelling wheelchair up a slope a lot easier. These benefits can be felt only by personal experiences.
Here I’m listing the scientifically proven benefits of strength-training exercises.
- These exercises increase strength and toughness of bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons. Making your overall body strong.
- They improve bone density and prevent bone related ailments.
- Regular strength training exercises tones up flabby muscles. This makes your body look slim, fit and strong.
- Strength-training exercises burn up calories and prevents extra fat formation.
- They improve posture as well as body balance and co-ordination. Improved balance and co-ordination can result in up to 40% lesser chance of falling while trying to stand or shift from your seat.
- Muscles training makes the muscles more flexible. Flexibility in muscles means lower chances of cramps and pain in body.
- Many persons with locomotors disability complain about body stiffness while changing posture. Strength training visibly reduces the problem of stiffness.
Important Things to Remember while Strength Training
- The most important thing to know before starting strength training is that you’ll get muscular pain and stiffness just after your first session of exercise or maybe within 6 hours. This is called Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) and also known as muscle fever. It is caused when you indulge a certain group of muscles into a strenuous exercise for the first time. This is just like stomach pain felt by almost every child during their first few days in school. Don’t use DOMS as an excuse to skip your exercise session; the pain will slowly go away. This is also a reason to have a mentor to supervise you in the first week of your strength-training exercise.
- Speeding up things is never a good idea while you are strength training. Everything should go in a slow motion during strength-training session. Picking up heavy weight is easier when you lift it fast with a jerk but it can potentially injure your tendons or rupture some muscular layers. Muscular strength is gained when you lift and put down weight slowly. You should be able to hold the weight at every point.
- Heaviness of weight is less valuable than the stamina to lift the weight slowly. It would be better for you if you can lift and hold 1Kg weight for say 10 seconds or more, than doing the curls at lightning speed with a 2Kgs dumbbell. So focus on your way to do exercise and the number of sets and repetition rather than increasing the amount of weight. If dumbbells are heavy for you; use half liter or 250ml bottle of cold-drink filled with water.
- When a weight feels heavy many people hold their breaths and this is not the right thing to do. Pay attention and keep your inhaling and exhaling rhythm as normal as you can. If it feels really tough to keep on with your breath then you should consider reducing the weight you are using for exercise.
Strength Training Exercises without using Free-weight
Okay you must be expecting me to explain some of the strength-training exercises using dumbbells about which I’ve been talking about all the while. But I’m not explaining any of the curls and presses using dumbbells because I don’t want you to take the risk of starting those exercises without any supervision as it might injure you. There are many videos available on YouTube that can tell you how to do the basic strength-training exercises but then also I’ll suggest learning and doing those exercises under supervision for one week. After that you can continue to practice yourself.
Here I’m going to tell you about the risk free strength-training exercises that are said to be done without weights but actually use your own body-weight for increasing your strength.
This is simple but effective strength training exercise. The first thing you need to do is put lock of your wheelchair. It should be stable so as not to disturb your balance. Sit properly and put your hands on your wheelchair’s hand-rest. You should avoid edges of the handle (hand-rest). Taking all your body weight equally on both of your hands, try to lift your body. No need to go in standing posture… rise only to the limit that feels comfortable to you. Hold your body in that position and silently count up to ten before sitting back. Do this 12 times in 3 repetitions if you can but if it’s tough — go on at your own pace. The only thing that matters is you should keep progressing in holding your body for longer and increasing the number of repetition.
Here is a a video that shows how to do wheelchair pushups:
For this exercise you need to sit on the edge of your bed with legs hanging as if you are sitting on a chair. Put your hand on the bed at your side and slightly lift your body and shift to your right if you are starting from left edge of the bed and vice versa. In this exercise you don’t have to hold your body. You just need to lift your butt and shift sideways with all your body-weight on your hands. It is easier said than done type of exercise (at least I feel this) but it is a good exercise for strengthening arms and the pelvic region. Once you reach the other side of bed by slowly shifting sideways come back to your original position in the same manner. If you have different amount of strength in both of your legs one side shifting would be tougher than the other but try to finish at least one set of exercise by coming back to your starting point. And pay attention that you are not dragging yourself sideways… you have to lift your butt and put it slightly sideways from where it originally was. Be cautious or avoid this if you have really bad balance.
Transferring with full weight
You will need a stool that is almost of the equal height of your bed. Wheelchair may also be used but make sure to keep it locked and remove the hand-rests for convenience. First keep the table really close to your bed. Put one of your hands (preferably the stronger side) on the table and shift completely on it. Now come back to your bed in the same manner. If it was easy push the table a little farther and repeat the process. You can keep pushing it far to the extent where your hand reaches it easily. Once you are comfortable shifting at same height surfaces you can try this exercises with varying degree of heights. The motto of this exercise is to make your arms so strong that you can practically transfer yourself without help. You should not worry with the height of say vehicle seat… you should easily be able to transfer yourself from your wheelchair to a low seated car as well as to high seated SUV vehicles.
I wish you best of luck for your new exercise sessions. Stay strong to stay independent! And yes spending one week’s charge on a physical therapist for learning strength-training is a nice investment that can bring great profits for future. So make this investment for your physical strength. We will talk about resistance training exercises in our next article.