HomeSports, Recreation & FitnessAdaptive Exercise ResourcesBefore You Begin Exercising-RRTC

9.2. Before You Begin Exercising-RRTC

Before you begin exercising

There are many benefits of regular physical activity and exercise, and no matter what your level of injury is, exercise is for everyone!!! Staying active is often considered a key factor in maintaining and improving overall health.  Benefits of moderate physical activity can be even greater for individuals with a disability since they have a tendency to live less active lifestyles. Inform your primary care physician prior to beginning a new exercise routine to make sure there are no medical issues you need to consider once you start to exercise.  If possible, consult a trained exercise professional for an individualized exercise prescription.

Benefits of regular physical activity and exercise

Types of exercise

There are several different types of exercise that may benefit you in different ways:

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends that adults participate in moderate-intensity aerobic exercise for at least 30 minutes on at least 5 days of the week, which may include housework/chores, brisk-paced wheelchair propulsion, and exercise during which you can still talk easily.  ACSM also recommends that adults participate in high-intensity exercise for at least 20 minutes on at least 3 days per week, which may include playing sports and exercise that makes you feel out of breath.  The exercise does not need to be all at once.  Two 10 minute sessions of exercise can be just as beneficial as one 20 minute session, since you are active more frequently. It is always a good idea to start slow and gradually increase the amount of time and days per week you exercise.  The Spinal Cord Injury Information Network recommends starting with 10 minutes of exercise every other day and then slowly increasing the time you exercise.

There are many ways that you can incorporate cardiovascular exercise into your daily life.  If you use a manual wheelchair, try parking a little farther from the store entrance and using a ramp instead of an elevator.

The best way to get active is to get your family and friends active as well.  Even shopping trips to the mall can add some aerobic exercise to your daily routine!

Resistance exercise– Primarily benefits you by making you stronger (improving muscular strength) and/or giving you better endurance so you can do things longer (improving muscular endurance). Examples of resistance exercise are:

There are two ways to resistance train: for muscular strength or for muscular endurance.  If your goal is to increase muscular strength, you should use a heavier weight (one that is difficult for you to lift more than 6-8 times).  Perform 6-8 reps 3-5 times, with at least 3-5 minutes of rest between sets.  If your goal is to increase muscular endurance, you should use a lighter weight (one that you can lift at least 12-15 times).  Perform at least 12-15 reps 2-3 times, with 1-2 minutes between sets. 

It is important keep on breathing while resistance training. Exhale while pushing the weight up or out and inhale while letting the weight down or in. Resistance training sessions should be held 2-3 times per week with at least one day of rest between sessions.

Flexibility training should be incorporated before and after every cardiovascular and strength workout. Be sure to hold stretches (without bouncing) for 30-60 seconds and progress slowly. REMEMBER stretching should never be painful!

Spinal cord injury related considerations when exercising

Important safety considerations


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