We are living in unprecedented times. The entire world is on lockdown. Cinemas, pubs, restaurants, schools, gyms – all closed. And even if they were open, any person with a health related disability is being told to quarantine themselves at home for at least 12 weeks in a bid to stem the spread of COVID-19.

The idea of spending 3 months kicking back at home may sound appealing to some, but to many people with disabilities; it can feel like a prison sentence. For us, doing things such as taking part in sports, going to the gym or even just going for a walk/push outside can be vital for both our physical and psychological health, not to mention our very independence. Not only has exercise been proven to combat depression, but we also rely on exercise in order to maintain a healthy weight and build muscle; and without it we run the risk of losing what varying levels of independence we have.

Here at Active Hands however, we believe that, with the right equipment and aids, it is entirely possible to achieve a solid workout from the comfort of your own home. Whether you have a spinal injury, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, stroke, amputation, multiple sclerosis, arthritis or in fact any condition that affects your grip; self-isolating shouldn’t have to mean giving up. In fact, now could be the perfect time to focus on fitness. So without further ado, here is a handy compilation of exercises you can do around the house over the coming weeks.

Activity – Lifting weights

Items required – Dumb-bells or kettle bells (available and affordable from various online stores), General Purpose gripping aid(s)/Limb Difference aid(s) and possibly Heavy Use Gripping Wrap and Thumb Protector.

Probably the most straightforward of home exercises; lifting weights is something you can do whether you have a spare 10 minutes or a full hour free. Simply pop on the General Purpose gripping aid (or use the Limb Difference Aid if you have missing fingers/parts of hands), use the Velcro strap to close your hand firmly around the weight and away you go. The durable materials the glove is constructed from mean that you will retain an iron grip, no matter how heavy the weight! This leaves you free to explore the numerous exercises that can be done from either a standing or seated position. Bicep and reverse bicep curls, tricep presses and kickbacks, deadlifts, shoulder presses, straight arm shoulder raises, bent over rowing etc – all are ideal for increasing strength, power and muscle tone in the arms and shoulders. For more information on these exercises listed, search YouTube using those keywords or watch some videos from the Active Hands or other Vloggers YouTube channels – https://www.youtube.com/user/activehandscompany/videos. And if you need that little bit of extra padding to stop chaffing then just wrap one of our Heavy Use Gripping Wraps around the weight before use or slip a Thumb Protector on if required.

Activity – Pull-ups

Items required – Doorway pull-up bar (available and affordable from various online stores) and Hook Aids

Another quick and easy exercise that can really test your biceps, lats and traps: simply fasten the Hook Aids around your wrists, hook onto the bar and pull! Then once you’re finished, just lift your hands off the bar. The stainless steel hooks ensure that your hold of the bar is maintained for as long as your exercise lasts. If you are doing this exercise from a seated position then don’t feel as though you have to lift your entire body with the pull-up either, I do it until my bum comes off the cushion. But at the same time, if you are finding it all too easy then why not strap yourself to your wheelchair and try lifting that as well!

pull up bars at home are great exercise

Activity – Resistance band exercises

Items required – Resistance bands (available and affordable from various online stores) and General Purpose gripping aid(s) or D-Ring aids

Resistance bands aka Therabands are one of the simplest and most versatile fitness products available and can be purchased in a range of resistance strengths to suit all users.  They allow the user to partake in any number of muscle strengthening exercises: bicep curls, tricep kickbacks, overhead extensions, chest presses, hip flexion/abduction, leg extensions, hamstring curls – all can be accomplished from a seated position (function depending of course)! And with the help of an Active Hands aid, absolutely anyone can achieve a great workout from any room in the house! Either use a General Purpose gripping aid/aids to hold onto the band or, if you lack fingers, clip the band onto a D-Ring aid/aids. You can then workout using both arms simultaneously, or you can work out each arm individually by hooking the other end of the band onto your chair or even a nearby door handle. Resistance band exercises are also great for stretching your limbs, muscles and joints – ideal for those rotator cuffs!

Gareth demonstrates a range of Theraband/resistance band exercises

Activity – Battle ropes

Items required – Battle ropes (available and relatively affordable from various online stores) and General Purpose gripping aid(s)/Limb Difference aid(s)

Another simple exercise that you can do at a moment’s notice is battle ropes. This heavy duty exercise rope can be operated from a standing or seated position and is ideal for working on your arms and shoulders, plus any core or leg muscles you may have. On top of it being great for strengthening muscles, battle ropes can also give you a killer cardio workout in a very short space of time. Simply find something sturdy to put the rope around (furniture leg, radiator pipe etc), pop on your General Purpose or Limb Difference Aid/Aids and fasten your hands around the ends of the rope. You can now begin raising and lowering each arm explosively, in an alternate pattern that creates a wave motion in the ropes. A few sets of these can be completed in under 10 minutes and you’ll really feel it afterwards (in a good way)!

Activity – Handbiking

Items required – Handbike (available new or second hand from certain online stores) and General Purpose gripping aid(s)/Limb Difference aid(s)

If you’ve got a handbike at home then this is an ideal way of maintaining your stamina and burning off some calories; especially useful now the amount of walking/pushing you’re able to do has been severely limited. Handbikes are available in miniature table-top form, static gym form (I picked up my ex-gym handbike off eBay a couple of years ago), or the outdoor variety. If you have an outdoor handbike then fear not, as you can get yourself a set of rollers which enable you to use the handbike whilst remaining perfectly stationary. Just pop on your General Purpose or Limb Difference gripping aid/aids, fasten around the handbike “pedals” and get going! This is a great cardio-focused exercise that anyone can do from a seated position, and the varying resistance levels you can set it to mean that you are able to create your own tailor-made workout.

Gareth on the hand bike machine at home

Activity – Rowing

Items required – Rowing machine (available new or second hand from certain online stores), Looped Exercise aids and possibly a weight lifting belt (available and affordable from various online stores)

Similarly to Handbiking, rowing can be another great way to get a thorough cardio workout and maintain a good level of stamina and overall fitness. This can be done from any seated position, including from a wheelchair; just unclip the seat and slider from the front of the machine, move them out of the way and you are then free to pull up in your chair. Once there, just fasten the Looped Exercise Aids around your wrists, slip the loops over the ends of the rowing bar and set sail (terrible metaphor I know)! And if, like me, you lack core muscle and stability, then harness your torso to your chair with a weight lifting belt. The ability to alter resistance levels again allows you to create a personalised workout, and the backwards pulling motion can be especially beneficial as it 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-term wheelchair users.

Activity – Cable and pulley machines

Items required – Cable/pulley machine (available new or second hand from certain online stores), D-Ring aids and possibly General Purpose gripping aid(s)/ Limb Difference aid(s) and/or Looped Exercise aids

If you’re lucky enough to have a cable/pulley machine at home then congratulations, you are well and truly prepared for the long haul lockdown! The huge number of possibilities means that you can customise an entire workout on one of these machines. Every muscle in your arms and shoulders can be worked on with exercises such as: tricep raises, tricep extensions, diagonal pulls, inward and outward cuff rotations, straight arm lifts, bicep curls, shoulder raises, lateral raises etc. Simply fasten the D-Ring aid (or aids, depending on the exercise) around your wrist, attach the cable/pulley carabiner directly to it (you may need to unhook the existing handle first) and you’re all set! 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. On top of working on your muscles, these machines are also great for maintaining healthy joints, with exercises designed to enhance flexibility and suppleness. And if you don’t have the room and/or finances for one of these machines, then door-fixed pulleys, though much more limited in the exercises you can do, are way more compact and are available at a far more affordable price!

So there are just a handful of possible options that we hope can demonstrate that self-isolation doesn’t have to mean a step backwards; and that it is entirely possible to keep fit in your own home with the right attitude, exercise equipment and aids! Of course, nobody is expected to have all this equipment in their house, but just having one or two of them to incorporate into an exercise routine can make all the difference. So no matter what your disability, no matter how fed up you might be feeling about things currently – give exercise a go. There really is nothing to lose right now. And you never know, you might surprise yourself…

Rob holds a weight with the General Purpose gripping aid. Suitable for reduced hand function: tetra, quad, cerebral palsy, SCI, spinal cord injury, stroke and more.

Gareth Herridge