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Create an Exercise Routine with a Spinal Cord Injury

tips for creating exercise routine with spinal cord injury

After sustaining a spinal cord injury and becoming paralyzed, it is important to exercise to help maintain your health and fitness. Creating an exercise routine is a great way to stay on track by giving yourself a schedule. In this article, I’ll go over how to create your own exercise routine with a spinal cord injury, along with some basic information to help you get started. Plus, I’ll tell you about my weekly exercise schedule as well as some helpful tips for exercising with a spinal cord injury that I’ve learned along the way!

My name is Mason Ellis, and I am a C5 through C7 quadriplegic. I make YouTube videos to help you live life just like you would’ve able-bodied. If you enjoy this article, check out my YouTube channel for spinal cord injury-related videos and subscribe so you don’t miss out on future videos!

Check out my video on YouTube about this topic here:


Tips to Get Started with an Exercise Routine with a Spinal Cord Injury

First, here are some quick tips to start your exercise routine. Some people think that they have to go to a gym to exercise. However, that’s not true. Exercising at home can actually be even easier because you don’t have to go anywhere. Therefore, you are more likely to stay on track and not skip days or give up.

I do all of my exercises at home and by myself besides one exercise, which requires two people. I have videos on my YouTube channel showing the exercises that I do here

1. First, you may want to consult with a qualified professional.

Before setting out on a routine of your own, it’s a good idea to check in with your doctor or a qualified physical therapist or rehabilitation therapist. They may be able to help you design a personalized exercise routine or even get you set up with specialized exercise equipment for people with spinal cord injuries.

rehabilitation therapist exercise routine

2. Stretch your muscles.

It is important to stretch your muscles before doing your exercises so you don’t pull any muscles or cause injury.

3. Try exercising first thing in the morning.

Doing your exercises in the morning gets them completed right away. Plus, it can help set the mood for the day. It also prevents you from putting it off. You are less likely to do your exercises as the day goes on, so the earlier you do them, the better.

wheelchair exercising in morning

4. Have home exercise equipment ready to go.

One way to make your willingness to exercise easier is to have your exercising equipment easily available. This helps your mind by seeing that everything is ready for you to start, and you don’t have to get stuff out of a closet or drawers.

Mason exercise equipment

5. Break up your exercises by muscle groups and/or equipment types.

An easy way to schedule your exercises and have a set plan is to break up your exercises according to your different muscle groups. This helps target different parts of your body, such as shoulders, arms, chest, back, abs, and legs.

This is a good way to set up your weekly exercise routine because you don’t want to target the same muscle groups every day. This is a common approach with people who are serious about working out and want to gain muscle mass. Personally, I do exercises to stay healthy and maintain my body’s strength.

Alternatively, you can create an exercise routine by breaking up your exercises into different exercise equipment, which is what I do. For example, you might consider using equipment such as dumbells, weight bars, exercise balls, resistance bands, kettlebells, etc.

6. Start small.

It’s okay to start small when you’re new to exercising with a spinal cord injury. For example, try starting by doing five reps of each exercise for a week or two until you feel comfortable and are in the habit. Otherwise, you can get burnt out quickly or quit trying, as many people do soon after at the beginning of a new year.

By starting small and easing into an exercise routine, you realize that it actually doesn’t take much time to get your exercises done, so you’re more likely to keep at it.

wheelchair stretches exercise with spinal cord injury

7. Make sure to schedule and take rest days.

Although the purpose of an exercise routine is to keep you on track and pushing towards your goals, it’s important to have days of rest. Rest can help increase energy, prevent fatigue, and give time for muscles to heal. It also prepares your body for successful workouts.

It’s important to have one or two rest days each week. For example: If Sundays and Wednesdays are rest days, then you would have two days on, one day rest, then three days on, and one day rest.

What Types of Exercises To Do with a Spinal Cord Injury

Now that you have some basic tips to get started, it’s time to decide what type of exercises you will do each day and how many reps.

I like to break down my exercise routine into five types of exercises with 30 reps of each exercise. Five types of exercises with 30 reps of each exercise equals 150 reps total. For example, for my 10 lb dumbbell exercises, I do 30 curls, 30 wrist twists, 30 overheads, 30 side-ups, and 30 side-outs, totaling 150 reps.

Mason exercising with spinal cord injury

Curious what those exercises look like in action? I have videos on my YouTube channel showing the exercises that I do here:

There are two main types of exercises: strength training and cardio. Strength training increases muscle strength. The basics for strength training is to use heavier weights and do fewer reps. Cardio gets your heart rate up and keeps it up for a prolonged period of time. The basics for cardio is to use lighter weights and do more reps.

My Personal Exercise Routine with a Spinal Cord Injury

Every day, I make sure to do leg stretches and arm stretches. I also use my standing frame. A standing frame, also known as a stander, offers many helpful benefits for those of us with paraplegia and quadriplegia. Talk to your doctor or rehabilitation specialist to see if a standing frame could be right for you.

I do my leg stretches in bed before transferring to my wheelchair. I do my arm stretches in the bathroom after brushing my teeth. I get in my standing frame for 30 minutes Monday through Friday and 60 minutes on Saturdays and Sundays. I stand up in my standing frame in ten-minute sessions, so I stand up three times each day Monday through Friday and six times on Saturdays and Sundays.

In addition to stretches and stands, I follow this weekly schedule for my exercise routine:

Mondays: Heavy Dumbbells

Tuesdays: Weight Bar

Wednesdays: Weight Ball

Thursdays: Resistance Bands

Fridays: Light Dumbbells (different exercises than Monday’s heavy dumbbells)

Saturdays: Kettlebell

Sundays: Rest

Exercise Is Still Possible

Not only is exercise in some form still possible for you after a spinal cord injury, but it is also incredibly beneficial for your health. As a C5 through C7 quadriplegic, I can say it has improved my quality of life.

Don’t forget to check out my video on YouTube about this topic.

If you enjoyed this article, check out my YouTube channel for spinal cord injury-related videos and subscribe so you don’t miss out on future videos! 180 Medical also offers plenty of helpful support, inspiring stories, and educational information about spinal cord injuries on the blog.

Disclaimer: This post is not intended as medical advice and does not replace the advice or guidance of a qualified medical professional. Consult with your doctor, physical therapist, or rehabilitation specialist before beginning an exercise program.


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About the Author
Create an Exercise Routine with a Spinal Cord Injury
Mason Ellis was injured in a car accident on January 19, 2015. He is now a C5/6/7 quadriplegic paralyzed from the neck down. Since his accident, he has connected with others with spinal cord injuries, as well as family members, friends, and caregivers of someone with a spinal cord injury, therapists and doctors, and able-bodied individuals too. His motto is to "live life just like I would've able-bodied."