Activity: Weights machines
Used in conjunction with: Looped Exercise Aids
Beneficial for: Increasing strength, power and muscle tone in arms, shoulders and upper torso
Weights machines can often be tricky for disabled gym goers to access, as most of them do not have removable seats, and so being able to use them will depend on the person’s ability to transfer and remain stable on a seat which is often on the petite side! However, it can be of great benefit if you are able to make use of these machines, as they can offer a balanced and simultaneous workout for your arms and shoulders, as well as the upper torso. Another benefit of these machines is that you can do a number of exercises without necessarily needing to ‘grip’ anything. Exercises such as tricep dips, various chest presses, shoulder presses, lateral raises and seated bench presses all require you to push; meaning that, as long as you can press your palms/arms against them, you should be able to complete them grip-free. And for exercises such as butterflies, seated rowing, seated shoulder shrugs, lateral pull downs etc, where you perform a pull motion, simply strap on a pair of Looped Exercise Aids, hook the loops over each bar/handle and begin. The Looped Exercise Aids enable you to get the same workout but without needing to grip or even hold the bars/handles! Doing a session on the weights machines offers a varied and balanced workout for those with limited arm and finger function, and similar to the free weights, is of benefit to athletes who require power and bursts of strength. Track racers need a strong start to a race, especially in short distance sprints, and so it is vital that the first few pushes be as powerful as possible. Similarly, players in team sports such as wheelchair rugby and basketball require the strength and power to push past, out-manoeuvre and, in rugby’s case, crash into opposition players!
Activity: Free weights
Used in conjunction with: General Purpose Gripping Aid, Heavy Use Gripping Wrap
Beneficial for: Increasing strength, power and muscle tone in arms and shoulders
Free weights are the bread and butter of many people’s trips to the gym, especially if disability has meant that ‘leg day’ is permanently skipped! When this is the case, building up strength in your arms becomes absolutely essential, as having the strength and ability to lift yourself, do various transfers and push a wheelchair can often be the difference between complete independence and having to rely on others. So it can be all the more frustrating if, due to limited hand or finger function, you struggle to maintain a firm hold on the weights. Thankfully, by strapping on a General Purpose Gripping Aid, you are able to achieve an iron grip that allows you to lift any size weight of your choosing; wrapping the Heavy Use Gripping Wrap around the weight beforehand for extra support and comfort if needed. Then you are free to explore a range of muscle building and toning exercises from a standing or seated position, such as: bicep curls, reverse bicep curls, tricep presses, tricep kickbacks, shoulder presses, straight arm shoulder raises, bent over rowing and more. It is important to vary the weights you lift, especially when doing tricep exercises, as it is common for quadriplegics to have weakened triceps. Doing a free weight gym session can be particularly beneficial for an athlete involved in a sport which relies on power and/or bursts of strength. Field events such as the discus, shot put or club throw are entirely based around a combination of power and technique, so the ability to train with free weights is vital in achieving success.
Come back tomorrow for more ideas on how to improve your fitness in 2017. If you have missed any of the series they can all be found here.
At the start of last year I wrote an article titled, ‘Getting Active With Active Hands’. It was all about promoting fitness and health; encouraging people of all abilities to get to the gym, push themselves and be as active as possible; taking inspiration from the fact that 2016 happened to be a Paralympic year. And I think it is safe to say that, now 2016 is comfortably in the rear-view mirror, the Paralympics was the shining beacon of what will otherwise go down as an archetypal annus horribilis! However, with a new year now upon us, it is time to wipe the slate clean and look to the future. Whether you are congratulating yourself on sticking to last year’s fitness goals or consoling yourself for letting them slip away, that’s all in the past and it’s now time to concentrate on this year’s targets, either building on from last year or re-evaluating and starting over. Whatever your fitness goals may be, whatever motivation you may have for getting fit, you should never allow your disability to stop you pursuing a fit and healthy lifestyle, not when there are so many aids and adaptations out there to help. This is 2017 and it’s once again time to Get Active With Active Hands!
2017: A New Dawn, A New Day
As anyone who watched the Rio Paralympics will have seen, disability sport is getting bigger and bigger. Crowds in their thousands go to watch, as household names such as Jonnie Peacock, Ellie Simmonds and Ryley Batt compete in their respective fields. The level of television coverage the Paralympics now receives is unprecedented, with millions tuning in around the world. Disabled viewers who may previously have never believed sport was even an option for them will have watched on as athletes of similar disabilities competed for gold on the world stage. There were 23 different disability sports on show in Rio, with numerous other non-Paralympic sports available to play back home. The popularity of sports such as wheelchair rugby, basketball, tennis, track racing, field throwing, hand cycling, swimming etc, which not long ago only attracted a dedicated minority, now have clubs set up all across the UK, Europe and the world. In fact, there are now so many different sports, encompassing so many different disabilities, that there genuinely is something out there for everyone!
In order to compete at the highest level, athletes must not only dedicate themselves to their chosen sport but also to their gym training, often having a daily exercise regimen designed to specifically target areas that will help them excel in their event, whether they be power, stamina or speed related. It is with this in mind that I am going to look at a selection of gym activities, the areas they would be most beneficial for and how Active Hands’ gripping products can enable you to push your body further and get the most out of a trip to the gym!
Over the next 6 days we will be posting a new exercise. Come back each day to discover how you can train your body in the gym with Active Hands.
As previously reported, a few months ago Active Hands was selected as one of five UK based businesses who would have the exciting opportunity to take our unique product to the Pitch at The Paras event in Rio where we could showcase it to high profile individuals and members of the Brazilian disability aids market. Last month myself and Simon Lyons flew out to Brazil to represent Active Hands at the event and also soak up some of the Paralympic atmosphere which I quickly found had spread over the entire city!
Indeed from the moment I stepped off the plane in Rio, I was confronted by the unmistakable buzz of Paralympic fever: there were posters plastered on buses and in tube stations, street vendors selling *ahem* ‘genuine’ gold medals and an endless procession of supporters, both foreign and domestic, proudly wearing the colours of their home nations. It seemed as though nowhere was left untouched by the infectious excitement that the Paralympics had brought! In fact it would have been easy to get swept up in it all and forget that in a couple of days Simon and I had to present and demo Active Hands’ gripping aids to an auditorium full of people!
The Pitch at The Paras event took place on September 12th at British House, the central hub for all things Team GB, where athletes, coaches, media and various other professionals could be found having a bite to eat, giving interviews or simply relaxing with a game of table tennis on the sun-drenched balcony. And after spending several moments taking all this in, Simon and I were quickly whisked off with the other business representatives to meet and display our products to the British ambassador in Brazil and HRH Prince Edward!
After that we were taken into the auditorium where a number of Paralympic professionals, including Team GB athletes Jody Cundy and Phil Hogg, spoke passionately about the importance of disability sport. Then it was straight onto the main presentation, which was set out as a Dragons’ Den type of affair, taking place in a packed room, with each company presenting their product to a panel of judges. We each took to the stage to talk about our product, demonstrate its capabilities and potential, and then have a brief Q&A with the judges and audience, before the judges went away to deliberate. During this interlude we were approached by a number of professionals whom, after seeing the potential of our product, were excited at the prospect of introducing them into the Brazilian disability market. It seemed that the judges were equally impressed, commending the user-friendliness and simplicity of our gripping aids and awarding Active Hands third prize, an extremely pleasing result, especially given the high level of competition!
The remainder of my time in Rio was consumed with getting to see as many Paralympic events as possible whilst wading through the sea of people that swept across the Olympic Park every day. From swimming to cycling, boccia to basketball, tennis to track & field; there really was a sport for everyone to get behind and cheer. My personal highlight was watching the wheelchair rugby gold medal match between Australia and the USA; a truly nail-biting final which went into double overtime and epitomised everything exceptional about disability sport. Experiencing the jubilant, passionate and unmistakably Brazilian atmosphere in the stadiums is something that will stay with me for decades to come and just shows the meteoric rise in prominence of the Paralympic Games and the undeniable change in perception at the concept of ‘disability’.
Mandip is one of the stalwarts of disability sport and is about to take part in his 3rd Paralympics for Team GB. Recently he was good enough to take some time out of his busy schedule and answer a few questions I put to him over Facebook:
Spinal cord injury level, cause of injury and year of injury?
C6/7 Road traffic accident in 2000.
Fun fact about yourself?
I love football and I’m a huge Liverpool fan.
Sport competing in?
How did you first get into this sport?
I was introduced into Wheelchair Rugby while in hospital at Stoke Mandeville Hospital by Bob O’Shea who was the captain of the GB team leading out to the Sydney Paralympics. He used to run mini sessions of the sport as part of the hospital rehab program along with another coach called Jim Kelly. It was by far the most enjoyable sport I tried!
Biggest achievement(s) in this sport?
I have been part of the GB team for 11 years. I’m a double Paralympian, have numerous European medals but for me, the highlight of my career has been representing my country at a home games! London 2012 was the most amazing experience ever! Something that will stay in my heart forever!
How did you first hear about Active Hands?
I trained with Rob Smith the designer of Active Hands.
What were your initial thoughts when you first started using the gripping aids?
It gave me a sense of freedom in the gym, I was able to do so much more.
How do you think Active Hands has helped you progress as an athlete?
Some of the exercises I do just wouldn’t be possible without the grips. I’m able to lift so much more than my hands can hold with them.
What does representing your country at Rio mean to you?
It’s going to be my third games, I still feel so honoured to wear the GB flag on my chest.
Main positive(s) of being a Paralympian?
Representing your country at the highest level of your sport!
Any negative(s) of being a Paralympian?
You have to be committed; I’ve missed so many birthdays and weddings.
Any thoughts about the future, after Rio?
None, I’m trying to focus on the games.
What advice would you give to someone looking to get involved in disability sport?
Sport helped me overcome my injury, it helped me get stronger and be more confident. You’ll make great friends who will help you within the sport.
Over the last few days we have brought you the stories of 4 athletes, from 3 separate continents, competing in 3 different sports, at 1 global event, and each of them using Active Hands aids to help make their Paralympic dreams a reality. We are proud to have been able to assist these athletes on the road to Rio and will hopefully assist many more in future Paralympic Games. We hope every reader will join us in wishing Joanna, Zak, Rachael, Mandip and all those competing, a hugely successful and positive Games that will electrify the millions of viewers around the world and inspire the next generation of athletes to get out there and get active!
Today we bring you the story of Australian swimmer Rachael Watson. She has competed in two races so far, 150m individual medley and the Mixed 4x 50m Freestyle Relay, without medalling but has two more races to come this weekend. We wish her all the best.
Rachael was born and raised in Queensland, Australia. At the age of 2 she was diagnosed with spastic diplegic cerebral palsy. Rachael initially took up swimming as a form of physiotherapy and pain relief but quickly found she had a natural talent for it and in 2011 began competing in the S8 category. Then in 2013, she acquired the muscle-weakening condition, Guillain–Barre syndrome. Determined not to be beaten by this crushing setback, Rachael learned to swim again, a physically and emotionally exhausting process which required her to wear a life jacket for several months. In 2015 she was reclassified as an S4 swimmer and has since broken Oceanic records in the 50m, 100m and 200m freestyle, and the 50m butterfly. She was spotted by coaches of the Australian Paralympic Swimming squad at the 2016 Australian National Championships when she narrowly missed out on the world record in the 100m freestyle. A few months later she made her international debut at the IDM Berlin Open, winning the women’s 50m freestyle and proving she has what it takes to compete for gold at Rio.
A keen volunteer, Rachael currently helps out at the Children’s Hospital Foundation. In 2011 she was named the Queensland Young Volunteer of the Year. She is also a music lover and achieved honours in piano and music theory from the Australian Music Examinations Board before her Guillain-Barre syndrome changed her hand function.
Due to her limited grip and muscle weakness, Rachael depends on her Active Hands aids when in the gym, as they allow her to make full use of the machines on offer. This enables her to improve her fitness and stamina levels, ensuring a peak performance when she gets into the pool in Rio!
As the Paralympics continues to amaze us all, we would like to bring you the story of Active Hands’ user, Zak Madell:
Zak was born in the Canadian province of Alberta but now resides in neighbouring British Colombia. When he was 10 years old he lost his fingers and legs to a septic staph infection. A lover of competitive, fast-paced sports, Zak tried out sledge hockey and wheelchair basketball before discovering his true calling in wheelchair rugby, and he’s never looked back since! Despite having only played for a year at the time, Zak was chosen to represent Canada in London 2012 and proved to be the wildcard of the tournament, helping them win silver. In 2014 he was voted MVP in both the World Wheelchair Rugby Championships and the Canada Cup International Wheelchair Rugby Tournament. A year later he helped lead the team to its first gold medal in 13 years in the Toronto 2015 Parapan American Games, and was Team Canada’s flagbearer during the closing ceremony. Off court, Zak is an athlete ambassador for the Paralympic Foundation of Canada’s ‘Champions Journey’ fundraising campaign and also gives his time to The War Amps of Canada.
Zak relies on his Active Hands aids in the gym as they allow him to grip, lift and pull a variety of weights and machines, enabling him to increase his strength, endurance and power which are integral to his game. Playing as a 3.5 (the highest functioning rank on court), Zak is able to control and dictate play, with his all-round game being vital to Team Canada’s hunt for gold!
With the Olympics now wrapped up and the Paralympics about to explode into action, excitement around the globe is spreading as the eyes of the world once again turn to Rio. After an initial slow start to ticket sales, a sudden surge has meant that over a million have now been acquired by eager spectators and many events are sold out; ensuring there will be a lively, spirited atmosphere to hopefully rival that of London four years ago. I took this as an ideal opportunity to focus on a few of the Active Hands users who will be among the thousands of athletes competing for gold in this, the biggest disability sporting event on the planet.
Joanna was born in Doncaster in the UK but later moved up to Glasgow where she served as a civil servant in the British Army. In 2011 she developed a spinal tumour which resulted in her being quadriplegically paralysed from the chest down with weakened arms and limited finger function. Determined to remain as active and independent as possible, Joanna took up wheelchair rugby as soon as she was discharged from the Glasgow Spinal Unit, and before long was vice captain of the Caledonian Crushers. In 2014 Joanna decided to make the switch from rugby to field and was classified to compete in the F51 club and discus throw. That same year she was selected for the GB squad to compete at the IPC Athletics European Championships in Swansea where she won gold in the club throw, setting a new European record of 17.68m. She followed this up the following year by winning gold at the IPC Athletics World Championships in Doha, cementing her place at the Rio Paralympics.
Not only does Joanna use her Active Hands aids in the gym but she also relies on her General Purpose Gripping Aid when competing, using it to hold onto the static pole with one hand whilst throwing the club/discus with the other. It is a vital part of the kit she will be using in Rio and can hopefully help her bring home the gold!
“Build a good team around you, work to be the best version of you and never give up.”
An international West Midlands wheelchair athlete who designs and manufactures gripping aids for people with disabilities is hoping to expand his company’s global reach after winning the opportunity to pitch his unique products to a host of investors next month in Rio, Brazil.
UK record-holder Rob Smith, who founded Birmingham-based Active Hands Ltd, will present its gym pack, which comprises exercise and gripping aids for people with arm and hand disabilities, to a panel of business leaders in the hope of securing orders and attracting distributors across South America.
He is one of just five UK businesses that have been selected to take part in the event at the British House in Rio de Janeiro after he won the Pitch at the Paras competition, run by Department for International Trade Brazil and Innovation Forum.
Forty-year-old Rob, who lives in Leamington Spa with his wife Jo and three-year-old son Jacob, said he was excited to have the chance to showcase his products at a time when all eyes are on sporting excellence in Brazil.
Rob said: “We are thrilled to represent our products and country at the Pitch at the Paras event. Exporting is GREAT and has enabled us to support disabled athletes around the world.”
“It will mean we can get information out to end users about our products so they can buy direct from us. We would also like to find a number of new distributors and resellers to sell our products for us into those markets. The Department for International Trade has connected us with fantastic opportunities to grow our global sales.”
Rob began to develop gripping aids following a fall in 1996 in which he suffered devastating spinal injuries. His injuries led to a nine-month hospital stay.
“My hand function was severely affected by the spinal cord damage, so holding any items was nearly impossible,” he said. “I couldn’t find any products on the market that allowed me to grasp items in the gym and other areas of life, so I invented my own gripping aids with the help of my mother Marion and her sewing machine.”
He began to play wheelchair rugby, winning UK and European club honours as well as being selected for the GB development squad, and then decided to try wheelchair racing.
Now a T52 wheelchair racer, he has won the Dubai marathon four times and has represented team GB in the European championships, winning a silver medal in 2014 in the 1500m. He has also represented team GB at the IPC marathon road race for the World Cup and world championship events and holds the T52 British record for every distance on the track and on the road from 100m up to marathon.
With sister Mel Burley and dad Trevor Smith, Rob has built up the company since participating in wheelchair sports, following encouragement from fellow wheelchair rugby team members.
In 2007, Active Hands became a limited company and in 2011, Rob won the Disabled Entrepreneur of the year award. But it was 2012 that provide to be a huge launchpad for the company.
“It was a stepping stone year for us, with London hosting the Olympic and Paralympic games, which enabled us to promote our products to a more global audience particularly those involved in disability sport.”
Active Hands now uses a small factory in Losthwithiel, Cornwall, to manufacture its goods and employs in Birmingham eight part-time workers. A number of casual labourers work from home to produce its products on industrial machines.
Christine Hamilton, interim regional director of the Department for International Trade West Midlands, said:
“Pete West in our international trade team has recognised Active Hands’ potential and over the past two years has worked closely with the company to help get its brand known overseas. As a result, its innovative products are receiving a huge amount of interest around the world. Any company looking to achieve similar global success should go to www.exportingisgreat.gov.uk to apply for current export opportunities and book an appointment with one of our local ITAs.”
Active Hands already exports globally, with about 50% of its turnover coming from sales to North America. Exporting is central to its strategic growth plans, and the company has set its sights on growing business in the South American market.
Simon Lyons, marketing and promotions at Active Hands, will travel to Rio to represent the company and he will be joined by Gareth Herridge, who is a wheelchair user and has very weak hand function.
Freelance journalist, copywriter, PR
Active Hands have won the opportunity to go to Rio, during the Paralympics, to pitch our products to business leaders. This exciting opportunity came through a competition run by UKTI and the Innovation Forum and only five businesses were selected to go! The judges were looking for the “5 most innovative companies from the UK who offer healthcare related solutions to improve the lives of people with disabilities” and Active Hands was deemed to be one of these.
Rob had to create a short video about our products and answer questions about our products. Given that there are many Paralympians who train and compete with our products this competition was ideal for us!
Active Hands are looking forward to showing off all of our current products and a few new designs to such an influential audience in September.
You can find out more about our win in this article: Pitch at the Paras