How to Lift Weights With a Disability

It is recommended that most adults engage in strength training exercise. Putting small amounts of stress on your muscles and bones through lifting can stimulate your body to increase the strength of your body's structures. Lifting even small weights can build bone density, improve muscle mass and reduce your risk of injury. People with physical disabilities can also gain improved function through weightlifting. Since disabled people may not be able to perform the full range of weightlifting exercises, they should seek the aid of a licensed physical therapist and doctor. After regular weightlifting for a few weeks or months, you should see a considerable change in muscle tone. Learn how to lift weights with a disability.


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    Visit your doctor to determine if there are any barriers to starting a weightlifting routine. There may be limitations depending upon your current medications and joint problems. weightlifting can also increase your blood pressure.
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    Make an appointment with a physical therapist to learn proper body mechanics when weightlifting. You may need to schedule a few sessions to develop an appropriate beginning routine.
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    Learn modifications for your disability. This may entail buying extra equipment to use at home or in the gym.
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    Locate a gym or facility with disability access. Not all gyms can accommodate every disability; however, there has been a move toward creating extra space around weight machines to accommodate people in wheelchairs.
    • If you are unable to find a gym that will accommodate you, then you may need to lift weights in a physical therapy facility or at home. Ask your physical therapist what equipment will be most beneficial to you.
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    Enlist the aid of a spotter. A spotter helps you avoid injury by taking the weight from you, if you are unable to perform a repetition. You can either ask someone else to lift weights with you or you can hire a personal trainer at a gym to serve as a spotter.
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    Warm up your muscles with 5 to 10 minutes of aerobic activity, followed by stretches. This will help to reduce your risk of muscle strain and other injuries.
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    Use correct technique every time you lift weights. Learn the proper technique from your physical therapist and ask for diagrams to remind you when you lift at home or in the gym. Keep your back straight and avoid bending or stooping.
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    Start with small weights. Small hand weights, resistance bands and light setting on weight machines train your muscles to get into shape with less pain and risk of injury than large weights. People who suffer from arthritis and other disabilities may choose to always lift small weights with more repetitions.
    • The Framingham Disability Study found that people who lift small weights in enough repetitions to trigger muscle exhaustion can build muscles without moving on to higher weights. This is especially advantageous for the elderly who cannot lift weights over 10 lbs.
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    Emphasize the lowering of the weight as you lift weights. This is called the "eccentric contraction." Your muscles are actually stronger as you lower the weight than as you lift it.
    • If you are unable to lift a heavier weight, ask your spotter to lift it for you. Then, lower it to help build up your muscle. Do this for a number of repetitions a few times per week, until you are able to lift the heavier weight.
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    Lift weights every 2 to 3 days. You can decide to use different muscle groups on different days. You can also alternate your workouts with stretching and aerobic options to improve your overall health.
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    Be prepared for delayed onset muscle soreness. Most people who start to lift weights will experience muscle exhaustion after their first few weightlifting sessions. It is likely to be painful and reduce your range of motion, but try to move normally and stretch your muscles gently.
    • Drink plenty of water and eat foods with plenty of protein. Protein helps to rebuild your muscle fibers.
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    Add more repetitions every week to increase your muscle strength or mass. You can also add more weight. Although either can be attempted, start with increasing the repetitions by 2 to 5 repetitions until you are confident you are strong enough to lift more weight.
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    Be consistent. weightlifting can prevent osteoporosis, increase muscle mass and prevent atrophy if it is done regularly. Aim to lift weights 2 to 3 times per week, and continue it even if you notice you have achieved the tone you desire.


  • You can receive many of the same benefits of weightlifting by using resistance bands. These consist of large rubber bands that are in various degrees of strength and tension. Once you have mastered all your resistance exercises with 1 set of bands, you can do them with a band that has a higher amount of tension.
  • Focus on having good nutrition if you lift weights. A good mix of protein, carbohydrates and a small amount of fat is important for keeping your muscles healthy. Try to avoid processed and sugary foods.


  • Beware that weightlifting is not likely to be recommended for people with spinal cord injuries above the sixth thoracic vertebra (T6). This condition poses a risk of autonomic dysreflexia, or a rise in blood pressure.

Things You'll Need

  • Doctor
  • Physical therapist
  • Personal trainer
  • Small weights
  • Resistance bands
  • Spotter
  • Water
  • Good nutrition

Article Info

Categories: Gym