Fitness Technology

The Best of the Best YouTube Workouts for People with Limited Mobility

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Photo: Getty Images/GoodLifeStudio

As a woman with cerebral palsy, I know how difficult it can be to stay active, especially while social distancing.  Most gyms are either closed or operating at limited capacity, and (particularly for anyone with a compromised immune system), even going to the park or the track comes with the risk of contracting COVID-19. In the past, I’ve fallen for the trap that as a Disabled person I am only worthy if I am conquering physical feats that stun people without disabilities, and I also know how easy it is to turn to exercise for unhealthy reasons. 

During these last few months, when exercising has proven to be more logistically challenging than usual, I have tried out different workouts for the purpose of finding what feels best for my body and what I enjoy, rather than focusing on achieving a certain goal or pushing my body to its limits. For this reason, I am thankful that YouTube workouts exist.

In addition to the fact that they’re free and accessible from anywhere (so there’s no need to take a trip to a gym or park to get them done), all of my personal favorites are quick and easily adaptable so exercisers can make the workouts fit their individual needs. Below, the workouts that have helped me stay active and feel good during quarantine, but keep in mind this list is not exhaustive.

YouTube has a multitude of workouts that are either adapted already or can be adapted to suit a participant’s needs. Not every workout is for everyone, and that’s okay—it’s important to find what works for you, and talk to a medical professional if you have any problems.  Below, the best workouts for limited mobility (in my personal opinion, at least) that YouTube has to offer.

1. Lisa Ericson

The first time I tried Lisa Ericson’s seated aerobics class, I had to take a few breaks, which was a good reminder to stick to a sustainable pace. It’s set to upbeat music, and the workout itself gives a great burst of cardio that feels like a dance party. Ericson herself is a wheelchair-user, and her routine is perfect for people who have limited or no mobility in their lower bodies. While her version of the workout is high-intensity (be sure to stay hydrated—you’ll get sweaty), there’s another instructor, Sherri, superimposed at the bottom of the screen to show how to adapt the moves to their lower-intensity variations. I love this workout because Ericson is upbeat and never uses guilt or mentions weight or calories: She just wants participants to have fun while they work out. And what’s more? The retro outfits that Ericson and her co-instructors don—matching leotards with bike shorts and sweatbands—inspired me to pull out a leotard, headband, and a pair of bike shorts of my own.

2. Pahla Bowers

While trainer Paula Bowers typically caters her workouts to people without disabilities, she has quite a few seated workouts, and I’ve found that even the workouts that do require standing can be easily adapted. She’s goofy and charming, which makes the workouts fun, and reminds participants that, “there is no wrong way to work out.” She’s got more than 400 videos on her channel, but I’ve found a few favorites among them. Her 20-minute seated all-arms HIIT workout was designed specifically for people who have no lower body mobility, so it is good for wheelchair-users and people with different types of disabilities. I also love her 15-minute seated kickboxing workout, which can be adapted for those with paralysis or other lower body disabilities by substituting punches for kicks. And for strength-training (which I’ve been intimidated by in the past), I’m a fan of her five-minute upper body workout. You can do it with light dumbbells or no dumbbells at all. 

3. Kym Nonstop

Kym Nonstop’s workouts are more advanced than the others on this list, so you’ll want to be sure to take them at your own pace and use weight that feels doable for your body. Her cardio kickboxing video doesn’t require any equipment and is one of her more beginner-friendly options. Nonstop gives cues for modifications that make the workouts more accessible: When she does a move that requires leg mobility, she offers an upper-body alternative.

Her cardio and strength-training video starts with a 10-minute cardio “warm-up,” followed by the strength portion. The first two strengthening exercises are butt lifts and triceps dips, which require no equipment aside from the chair.  I personally can’t do triceps dips, so I continue with the butt lifts, which are fairly similar to tricep dips but involve pushing my body off of the chair, allowing my butt to hover off of the chair. For the rest of the workout, Nonstop uses a kettlebell but notes any weighted object can be used (think: a jug of water or milk, canned vegetables, a book, a dumbbell) as long as it’s the appropriate weight for you. This workout is intense; by the end, I am sweating profusely.  

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