Before we begin looking at what exercise to do, let us dispel the myths that surround disabled exercise.
First impressions would suggest that disabilities are so diverse that the task of coming up with common exercise routines to suit all would be impossible. Nothing could be further from the truth, for although the majority of disabilities have already be categorised and sub divided for ease of reference, this categorisation in itself makes the task seem more complicated than it really is.
From an exercise point of view having a disability simply means that there is an inability, a restriction or a limit to the type of exercises that can be done, either by the individual or equipment available. If we must categorise disabilities, we must keep it as simple as possible. One of the best exercise categorization I have come across is that used by the paralympic committee, which is a very simple method of grouping together abilities to allow for fair and equal competition to take place.
This system is invaluable for any individual wishing to embark on an exercise program, and, more importantly, for any instructor intending to set up workout programmes for disabled customers.
The whole process can be simplified even further by forgetting and ignoring all categories and pre-conceived ideas and by bringing into effect the rule of common sense. After all we are all disabled to one degree or another. It is only at a certain level that the official title of “disabled” comes into play, usually when the disability is classified as permanent. Prior to that, a disability is usually termed as an injury, which will then require rehabilitation exercises to improve and repair. With a permanent injury (disability) the general attitude is to accept it and do nothing, when what we really should be doing are rehabilitation exercise to improve, repair or at worst maintain the level of the injury (disability) and prevent it from getting worse.
Accepting that we are all disabled and that we are going to use the common sense method, what do we need to know prior to embarking upon an exercise programme? Firstly let us get the known facts out of the way. The following is the true for us all.
1. We all have a cardiovascular system that needs exercise to maintain and improve.
2. Muscles need resistance exercises to encourage growth
3. Bones need resistance exercises to increase bone density and to encourage creation and release of vital minerals
4. Ligaments and tendons need exercise to maintain strength and flexibility
5. Stomach muscles need to be exercised to maintain and improve core strength
6. Stretching is essential to maintain and improve flexibility
7. Exercise in general releases chemicals in the brain such as endorphins that make the body feel good, as well as increasing overall physical and mental confidence.
Regardless of individual abilities the above is true for all of us as is the following to one degree or another for most individuals:
1. Gyms/fitness centres are an unwelcoming place for the first time user.
2. Lack of confidence in our own capabilities or overestimating our own capabilities
3. Lack of knowledge of how the body works, how to exercise or the benefits of exercise
4. Lack of motivation or discipline to embark on or maintain a regular exercise routine.
The first problem that has to be overcome is the initial decision to exercise in the first place. Whilst we may want to exercise, the negative reasons to exercise usually outweigh the positive ones It can be a great effort for anyone to get ready and attend a gym for the first time, this is especially true for someone with long term or permanent disabilities, as getting ready itself can be an ordeal on its own.
Therefore, if we own or work at a gym we must always realise and respect the effort the first time visitor has made and act accordin