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Exercise for those with mobility issues

Hadyn Luke posted this on Tuesday 11th of March 2014 Hadyn Luke 11/03/2014

Tags: Training methods , Special populations


Any personal trainer worth their salt will have a good awareness of equality and diversity issues, including how to adapt exercise programmes for disabled clients – the subject of this blog.

What sort of issues might come up?

A personal trainer may have clients with a variety of mobility issues or disabilities, for example:

  • Wheelchair users
  • People with limited mobility because of a specific condition, such as arthritis, osteoporosis, multiple sclerosis or cerebral palsy
  • Clients who are recovering from an accident or a stroke and are looking to progress their recovery through physical activity and training
  • Those who have issues with sight, hearing and/or speech
  • Clients who have a learning disability or mental health issues.

Why exercise is important

Exercising with a personal trainer can help with physical wellbeing, for example rehabilitation after an accident, strengthening those parts of the body that can be trained, increasing bone density and helping with weight management.

For someone who has had a stroke, part of the rehabilitation process is neuromuscular and central nervous system re-training. These clients often benefit from exercise that stimulates the brain and helps with co-ordination.

A client with arthritis may find that exercise decreases their pain and helps them feel stronger. In some cases it can allow someone to continue living independently at home, rather than having to be cared for.

Working with a personal trainer can also help a client’s overall wellbeing by giving them a sense of purpose and achievement, helping them to focus on what they can do rather than their disability and providing an environment where they can chat to others and socialise. As depression has been found to be more common among those with disabilities, exercise can be an invaluable tool (see our blog on Exercise and mental health).

What qualifications does a personal trainer need?

A PT should to be qualified up to Level 3 Instructing Physical Activity and Exercise Knowledge Requirements.

This includes a range of performance criteria, covering such things as: the way you collect and analyse information about disabled clients (including screenings); the barriers a client may have to taking part in physical activity – and working out ways to overcome them; adapting programmes and choosing equipment to suit each client; and managing their exercise environment safely and effectively.

What should a personal trainer be aware of?

The key is for a personal trainer to be sensitive to any issues that clients may have, without treating them with kid gloves, talking down to them or presuming they can’t do a particular exercise without consulting them first. It should go without saying that a fitness instructor should not discriminate against a client because of their disability.

Some disabled clients may have specific barriers to participation that a personal trainer should be sensitive to. In other cases, the client may already be involved with athletics or sporting activities at a high level, for example, Paralympians, wheelchair basketball players, or those who take part in wheelchair marathons.

At the same time, safety as always is paramount, and fitness instructors will need to look at which adaptations to prescribe to ensure that the client can continue to exercise in a safe and effective manner.

This can include working with those suffering from high blood pressure or obesity, as well as others who have conditions that may not be obvious from the outside, such as diabetes (see our blog on Personal Training: diabetes).

As with any client, they are likely to have goals specific to them and it is important for a personal trainer to find out what these goals are and help the client work towards them. Using their knowledge and experience, the fitness instructor may be able to suggest new ways for the client to progress towards their goals, that the client may not previously have been aware of.

Adapted gym equipment and exercise

Today, many gyms have equipment that has been adapted to suit the needs of those with disabilities. This can range from arm bikes to rowing machine seats with additional support. Personal trainers should ensure they are familiar with the benefits of these machines and how a disabled person can use them safely and effectively.

Many sports can be played from a wheelchair, for example: basketball, tennis, rugby and track events. Other options that can be adapted for those with disabilities include horse riding, swimming, rowing and yoga.


Ultimately, a personal trainer should be aware of clients’ disabilities or limitations to ensure that they exercise safely, while at the same time helping them train in such a way that will maximise their potential and keep them as healthy and fit as possible, for as long as possible.

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