No Time Like The Present
Over the last few days we have shown just a few of the possibilities open to you if you go to the gym with the right attitude and the right set of gripping aids! On top of the exercises listed here, are scores of others that can be undertaken and worked into your fitness routine, it is all about knowing what you want to get out of it and finding out what works best for you.
With September’s Paralympics still fresh in people’s minds and the hunt already on for potential stars of the Tokyo Games, 2017 is an ideal year to renew those gym memberships, get involved in sport and see where it takes you!
Below is a video made by Active Hands founder Rob Smith, in which he explores the different exercises and machines open to wheelchair users at the gym. In it you will find many of the exercises mentioned here, as well as a few new ones; with both verbal and visual demonstrations to go with them, so it’s definitely worth a watch!
This is the end of our series on New Year Exercises. We’d love to see how you have got on so please share your comments and videos with us by posting them on our page or sending them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Activity: Rowing Machine
Used in conjunction with: Looped Exercise Aids
Beneficial for: Increasing strength in arms, shoulders and upper torso; increasing stamina and cardio; overall fitness
I find the rowing machine to be a particularly useful piece of equipment and one that can actually be used from a wheelchair. The seat and slider can be unclipped from the front of the machine and moved out of the way with relative ease, leaving you free to pull up to the front of the rower, put your brakes on and get started. Similarly to the handbike, the rowing machine provides a great fitness and cardio-based workout, whilst continuously working the muscles in your upper limbs. Another benefit for wheelchair users is that the backwards pulling motion works in contrast to the forwards pushing motion of a wheelchair, which strengthens the back of the shoulders and helps prevent them from rounding, a common problem for long time wheelchair users. The Looped Exercise Aids can easily slip over each side of the rowing handle, meaning you don’t need to worry about maintaining your grip as you pull. I also find it helpful to fasten a weightlifting belt around my stomach and the back of my wheelchair to support my core and fix my torso in position when I use the machine. Rowing machines are great for anyone involved in sports that require upper body strength and stamina, such as tennis, basketball and rugby players, and in particular swimmers and rowers, as the motions can perfectly mimic pulling an oar or an arm through water.
Used in conjunction with: General Purpose Gripping Aid
Beneficial for: Increasing strength in arms; increasing stamina and cardio; overall fitness
Static handbike machines are great for wheelchair users and those who struggle with treadmills or regular exercise bikes, as they allow you to work up a sweat, get a good, fitness-based workout and burn off some calories – especially handy after the Christmas period! The removable seat means that you can use this machine from your wheelchair and the varying resistance levels and programs mean each use can be tailored to fit that day’s workout; whether you want to go long distance on low resistance, short distance on high resistance or have the resistance vary throughout. And if you struggle to maintain a solid grip on the handles as you pedal, then strap your hand(s) in with the General Purpose Gripping Aid(s); although be advised, you will need help if attaching both hands. Gym handbikes are ideal for anyone involved in a sport that requires stamina and endurance, and are a perfect solution for track racers and handcyclists, if weather conditions prevent you from getting outside.
Activity: Cable & pulley machines
Used in conjunction with: D-Ring Aids
Beneficial for: Increasing strength and muscle tone in arms and shoulders; maintaining suppleness and flexibility of joints; increasing stamina
Cable and pulley machines are ideal for wheelchair users as you can often set them up at whatever height you want and do the exercises straight from your chair. The great thing about these machines is that they are designed for multiple exercises, as opposed to one exercise per machine, which is often the case with the weights machines mentioned previously. With the adjustable height and freedom to undertake numerous exercises, the cable and pulley machines give you the chance to completely customise your workout. You can work on various muscles using a variety of exercises, such as: tricep raises, tricep extensions, diagonal pulls, inward and outward cuff rotations, straight arm lifts, bicep curls, shoulder raises, lateral raises and many more. If you want to concentrate on strength and muscle building then use heavier weights with lower reps; if you want to concentrate on stamina then use lighter weights with higher reps. These machines are also great for maintaining healthy joints, something wheelchair users are prone to having issues with, especially with their rotator cuffs. And if, like myself, there are some exercises where you struggle to hold onto the grip provided, then simply unhook the grip, pop a pair of D-Ring Aids around your wrists and attach them directly to the karabiner, using one at a time or both together, depending on the exercise. The cable and pulley machines are a favourite of track racers and swimmers, as they are able to use the machines to mimic the downward thrust of a wheelchair push or the straight armed push of an arm through the water.
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!