Column: Chair exercise and disabilities

In the fitness field, most chair exercise programs are designed for seniors. "Sit and exercise" programs are a major force in achieving and maintaining physical fitness for those who are over 55.

However, a chair incorporated into a standard exercise class can also allow people with physical disabilities the advantages of a daily fitness workout. The pregnant student falls into this category. And students with temporary or permanent handicaps can maintain any level of exercise safely with the use of a chair.

Education of each student with a disability is the goal. But there often isn't time to adjust each exercise on a personal basis, especially if the physical capability of the student is constantly changing. Such would be the case for the pregnant student. All during pregnancy the body is adjusting for joint and weight change, especially during the last trimester. In order for the student to continue to exercise, the exercise level should be adjusted downward along with the body's changes.

This is where the use of a chair is helpful. Without intimidating the student, you can place a chair within easy reach at the beginning of the class so that they can easily make use of it without bringing attention to themselves. During the impact portion of the class, these "special" students can sit and complete all arm and leg movement patterns and maintain a safe level of heart rate.

After educating the pregnant students on chair aerobic, strength and flexibility movements, they feel more in control and came back to exercise following delivery. The students are able to retain muscle control and even aerobic training needed for an easier delivery.

Use of the chair relating to permanent disabilities can be as innovative as your imagination. One of my students with only one leg was able to manage the aerobic sections of the class by hanging onto the chair and hopping. Floor exercise, especially the "on the knees" portion, presented more of a challenge. The use of a chair to lay on solved the problem and kept this energetic woman in class with her friends.

Even temporary physical setbacks in fitness can be accommodated with the use of a chair. Twisted knees, or ankles, lower back injuries, Achilles Tendinitis, etc., can be handled without loss of muscle tissue and loss of the class support group. Injured students who are used to fitness decide whether it is a "chair" day or not.

The problem of dealing with physical limitations is continual. Some days are good for workouts and some are not. On those bad days, it is nice to know that the simple use of a chair can keep up your morale, your hard-won exercise habits and your physical capabilities. Most exercise movement patterns incorporated into a class can be adjusted to a chair.

Even an advanced student may, at some time, require the non-impact, non-stressful use of a chair.

(Jerry Vance is certified by the American Council on Exercise and teaches fitness at the Carson City Community Center and for the American Lung Association.)


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