Wheelchair Exercises

Wheelchair Exercises

As our bodies age, we often begin to experience limited mobility, perhaps from an injury, disease, or simply the effects of aging. We, or someone we love, may even need to begin using a wheelchair on a regular basis, a change that can impact life in many ways.

The good news is that even from a wheelchair, a person can pursue the recommended 30 minutes of exercise a day, and reap benefits including improved flexibility and joint mobility, maintenance of overall muscle strength, and even a lift in mood. The simple workouts below, all done from a wheelchair or sitting position, can help you:

  • Lubricate your joints and keep them flexible
  • Stabilize your spine
  • Increase circulation
  • Strengthen muscles for mobility

As a reminder, always check with your doctor before you begin any new exercise regime, stop if you feel pain, and drink plenty of water. It’s also important to stretch before and after your exercises. People with diabetes or high blood pressure should take special care to monitor their physical wellbeing while exercising.

Seated Lower Body Exercises

ANKLES: Circle the ankle by drawing a circle with the toes, 4 times to the right, then 4 times to the left. Repeat exercise with the opposite foot.

SHINS: Tap your toes by lifting the toes of both feet (with the heels on the floor) and dropping the toes. Repeat 8 times and pause. Then lift toes and hold for 1 second and release. Repeat 4 times.

CALVES: Extend leg from knee and flex the ankle. Point the toes toward the knee and feel the calf muscle stretching. Repeat 4 times on each leg, alternating legs. This exercise will help avoid cramping in the lower leg.

QUADRICEPS (front of thigh, above knee): Extend leg forward. Tighten muscles around kneecap, hold, then release. Repeat 4 times on each leg. Put hand on quadricep to feel the muscles contract. This strengthens the muscles needed to get up and down in a chair or on and off the toilet.

HIPS & REAR: While sitting, squeeze the buttocks muscles together and release. Repeat 4 times. Then lean onto one hip and tighten the abdominal muscles. Repeat 4 times, alternating right and left hip.

BACK & HAMSTRINGS (back of leg): Bring one knee up towards your chest (you can also circle the ankle at the same time to add in ankle mobility). Repeat 8 times, alternating knees. This can help prevent low backaches.

Seated Upper Body Exercises:

SPINE and NECK: Sit up tall and lengthen the spine. Hook the right arm over the back of the right side of the chair and reach across the body with the left arm for spinal rotation. Holding this position, look right as far back behind you as you can. Next look forward, then look left. Repeat the exercise on the opposite side.

SHOULDERS: Lean out over the side of your chair without slouching, keeping your rib cage slightly lifted. Allow the right arm to dangle straight down to the floor and keep it totally relaxed, even the fingertips. Begin circling the arm from the shoulder, gently starting the arm rotation then letting it circle on its own (it does not need to be a perfect circle). Count to 8 and then reverse the circle. Repeat the exercise with the left shoulder and arm.

SHOULDERS: Roll right shoulder forward, then up, then back, then down. Do exercise with the left shoulder. Repeat 4 times on each shoulder, then roll both shoulders at the same time. Repeat 4 times.

BACK: Pretend you are holding a tray in front of you at waist level with palms up. Elbows should be lightly touching the sides of your body. Now pull right elbow back, then left elbow, squeeze both shoulder blades together, and then release. Repeat 4 times. This exercise strengthens the muscles that control your posture.

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NECK: Align your chin parallel to the floor, then turn your head to the right, looking back with your eyes as far as you can. Repeat exercise to the left. This exercise promotes proper neck alignment.

ARMS: Look straight ahead and lift both arms from side of body up toward ceiling and then back down toward floor. Repeat one time. Reach up with one arm at a time as though you’re picking apples from a tall tree. Repeat 8 times, alternating right and left. Stretch your fingers as you reach up. This will help lengthen your spine, increase circulation and range of motion, and exercise the fingers.

SPINE: Reach up with your right arm while reaching down with left arm, and stretch 2 times in both directions, stretching your fingertips as you reach. Repeat exercises with left arm up and right arm down.

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Megan Hammons lives in the Central Texas countryside just outside of Austin, pursuing her love for copywriting after a career in high-tech marketing. She is part of a large, diverse family and enjoys spending time with the multiple generations living in her community.


  1. Richard Marcantonio October 21, 2014 Reply

    For seated Upper Body Exercise look at the “Wheelchair Gym” , designed for wheelchair users of all ages and fitness levels.

  2. Wheelchair Lifts Calgary January 5, 2016 Reply

    If you are using a wheelchair that does not certainly mean that you can not do physical exercise. You can do simple exercises on the wheel chair itself to stay fit.

  3. jim November 14, 2017 Reply

    Nice information..

  4. jim wittman November 5, 2019 Reply

    thanks I will use this. Jim

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