How to Lose Weight When You Can't Use Your Legs to Exercise

Wheelchair athletes do intense upper-body workouts.
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The athletes who participated in 28 different sports at the London 2012 Paralympic games, including wheelchair basketball, para-triathlon, rowing and wheelchair rugby, proved that you don't need to use your legs to be a world-class competitor. Although few people can train at the level of Joshua Cassidy, who set a new men's world record of 1:18:25 for the wheelchair marathon in Boston on April 16, 2012, the training methods used by these great athletes can help anyone lose weight and get in shape.

    Use chair exercises to build muscles in your upper body at least three nonconsecutive days a week. Start with a 10-minute warm-up doing low-intensity exercises such as arm and shoulder circles, and then move on to core exercises such as side and front bends and arm exercises with dumbbells or wrist weights. Because muscle is more metabolically active than fat, building muscle will help you lose weight. An added benefit is that muscle is firmer and more compact than fat.

    Do cardiovascular exercises to burn fat. Many pool exercises can be done without using your legs. Specialized equipment such as upper-body ergometers, pool wheelchairs, sit skis and racing wheelchairs can be used for intense cardio workouts. Rowing machines and stationary bikes with arm levers can be adapted for upper-body use as well.

    Reduce your caloric intake by 250 to 500 calories per day to lose weight safely and gradually. Eliminate junk food and focus on eating fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, nuts and seeds.

    Things You'll Need

    • Dumbbells

    • Wrist weights

    • Pool wheelchair

    • Unpowered wheelchair


    • Enjoy the outdoors with groups that run adventure trips for the mobility impaired. Try white-water rafting, canoeing, kayaking or rock climbing in spring or summer or skiing and ice climbing in winter.


    • Consult your health care provider to discuss what activities are appropriate for your condition before starting a workout and diet program.

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