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4 Tips on How to start and exercise program after a Spinal Cord Injury & becoming a wheelchair user

Updated: Jun 21

I remember the first time I went to the gym after my car accident in 2018. I was on vacation with my family, and my sister and I went to the hotel gym. When I rolled in, I immediately felt out of place. It seemed like everyone was looking at me, everything was also so close together that I did not have much space to move around. I was just uncomfortable. After that workout, I went back to my room and cried. Before my accident I was a personal trainer, so this uncomfortable and uneasy feeling of being in the gym was new to me, and I hated it.


After this experience, I made it my mission to get comfortable working out at the gym, or at home, in my newly paralyzed body. I was paralyzed from the chest down, so even just moving the cable machine to the height that I needed it to be was too hard due to my lack of core strength. I also knew that if I did not have a plan, I would just go in and look around to figure out what to do. This is not very productive at all, and I would typically just do a couple exercises then leave! So let's get into how I started working out again!


Tip #1: Get cleared by your doctor to exercise: The first thing that you should do before starting any exercise program, ESPECIALLY after a spinal cord injury or becoming a wheelchair user, is to be cleared by your doctor for exercise. This will allow you to find out if there is anything that you should avoid or limit when you get started.


Tip#2: Make a workout plan / Get a personal trainer: The only way to succeed in anything is to create a plan. If you go to the gym or into a workout without a proper plan of action, you aren't going to get very far. As a wheelchair user with an upper level spinal cord injury, I cannot use my legs. I know that some can use their legs, but most cannot. This can make creating a workout plan a little more challenging since you can only work upper body and core, and we don't want to overwork our shoulders and cause injury! If you don't know where to start, I would advise getting a personal trainer who is able to help you adapt workouts/exercises to achieve your goals!


Tip#3: Start slow & be consistent: Whenever starting any exercise plan, start slow and gradually increase how many days and how long you workout. So many people go in with an all or nothing mindset and they easily get burnt out. My advice is to start out with 2 days a week. After a couple weeks, increase it to 3 days, then 4, and possibly 5 if you are feeling up to it! I recommend working up to at least 3-4 strength training workouts per week! If you can only get in 2-3 workouts and you can be consistent with that, then stick to that! Consistency is the KEY, and it is going to get you where you need to go in the long run!


Tip #4: Ask for help when needed. Whether you are working out at the gym, or working out at home, ask for help if you need it. I know this can be very hard for those of us who thrive off independence, but asking for help IS independence for wheelchair users. We are taking control of what we can and cannot do alone. Asking for help is SO hard, but in order to get started with many workout plans, asking for help is going to allow you to use equipment and complete exercises you would not be able to do otherwise!

I know exercising can be intimidating for wheelchair users, especially when going to the gym. That being said, exercise is SO important for our health and longevity. In short, it is going to help us increase our muscle mass, maintain a healthy weight, lift our mood, and give us more energy!


I hope these tips will help you feel more comfortable and confident in starting to exercise! If you need guidance, or don't know where to start, I'm here to help! I create online workout programs that you can take to the gym with you, or use at home. They are specific to your goals as well as your body! Let's work together to get you feeling better in your new body!


xx

Nikki Walsh

NASM CPT

BS Kinesiology

Nutrition Advisor


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