12 Great Exercises for Athletes with Cerebral Palsy

People often assume those with physical disabilities can’t become athletes, but you shouldn’t listen to such negativity. Recent research indicates exercise benefits nearly everyone, including those with cerebral palsy.

Cerebral palsy occurs when a fetal brain injury damages the developing motor cortex. This leads to motor weakness, often on one side of the body.

However, exercise can help mitigate impairment inherent to the disorder. The following 12 activities benefit athletes at any level and improve functioning.

1. Walking

When it comes to exercise, taking a walk proves relatively easy — plus it’s free. If you have ongoing problems with mobility or are in the midst of a bad day, you can walk with a stick or walker to make the going easier and safer.

Research indicates weight-bearing exercises such as walking help to increase bone mineral density in individuals with cerebral palsy. This helps mitigate the muscle atrophy that can occur when people favor their dominant, or more mobile, side.

2. Speed Walking or Running on a Treadmill

If you’re feeling up to it, go for a jog. However, if running makes you feel awkward or puts you in fear of falling, try using a treadmill.

Treadmills have bars you can grasp for balance if you feel yourself becoming uncoordinated. Additionally, you can monitor your heart rate, which should increase 40-85% while you exercise.

3. Walking or Jogging Underwater

Walking or jogging underwater combines the cardiovascular benefits of doing so on land with an added element of resistance training.

Simply walking in water provides 10 times more resistance than walking on the ground due to the viscosity of the liquid. Plus, the buoyancy of water supports up to 80 percent of your body weight, making such walking a great workout for those days muscles feel especially sore.

Many fitness facilities now feature underwater treadmills to monitor your workout length and intensity. You can achieve a similar effect by walking back and forth in a standard lap pool.

4. Aquatic Aerobics and Toning

You don’t have to stick to only walking or jogging in the water. Aqua aerobics classes provide a total body workout. Many offer a combination of cardio and strength training using special water weights to increase resistance. Stretching in the water allows you to hold on to the side of the pool, improving balance.

5. Cardio Dance

What’s more fun than jamming out to some great tunes? You don’t need a lot of coordination to enjoy a cardio dance workout on your own or with others.

For example, the underlying spirit of Zumba rests upon support and inclusion of all — regardless of race, religion, gender or disability status. Your instructor will welcome you to class and show you how to modify moves to suit your ability level.

If you can’t make it to the gym for a class, simply dock your cellphone, put on your favorite songs and dance around your living room.

6. Interval Training and HIIT

Recent research indicates high-intensity training programs increased VO2 peak by 10 percent in children. Even if your elementary-school days are well behind you, you can reap the benefits of this type of training.

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) uses a combination of moderate-intensity recovery periods with heavy-duty blasts of hard work. You’ll jump and burpee your way to fitness while working up quite a sweat.

Try to arrive early for your first class so you can meet with the instructor and ask for modifications of any exercises that make you uncomfortable or cause pain.

7. Resistance Bands

Resistance bands offer many advantages over hand weights or machines. They’re light, so you can pack them in a suitcase when you travel. They take up little space, making them ideal if you have a small apartment.

Most importantly, exercise bands cost relatively little. You can find quality sets for less than $25 at many department stores. Spend a little bit more for a heavier-duty set, and inspect your bands regularly. This prevents injury in case it snaps.

8. Machine-Based Weight Workouts

Using the machines in the weight room can help you better isolate specific muscle groups. They hold your body in the correct alignment, preventing injuries caused by incorrect form.

Carrying heavy dumbbells comes with the possibility of dropping a weight on your foot. Machines let you adjust resistance easily without having to rack and re-rack heavy plates. Additionally, many fitness facilities locate exercise machines in a separate area from free weights, further reducing injury risk.

9. Light Hand Weights

Light hand weights help you improve your core strength because you need to engage your abdominal muscles to keep proper form. This gives you a higher-intensity workout than bands or machines. You’ll exercise larger areas of muscle as you squat and perform overhead presses.

You can start small, using weights of only 1-3 pounds at first. As you grow stronger, you can advance to heavier weights. Hand weights cost slightly more than resistance bands, and many people find they can store them under chairs or in closets.

10. Chair-Based Workouts

When you have a physical disability, some days prove harder than others, even if you’re very fit. However, having a bad pain or balance day doesn’t mean you need to skip your workout altogether.

Chair-based fitness programs allow you to work your body safely. You can use the chair for balance during standing exercises and take a seat when the intensity grows too tough. You can also practice basic mobility exercises, such as wrist and ankle rotations while seated, which are useful for achy joints.

11. Total Body Mobility

Mobility training consists of increasing flexibility around the joints gently through movement. Basic mobility exercises include shoulder rolls, tai chi twists, and bending and flexing at the knee.

Mobility exercises benefit everyone, not only those with physical disabilities. When you do them, your body produces synovial fluid, a lubricant surrounding your joints. This provides cushioning during more intense movements, like walking and jumping.

12. Yoga

Yoga offers a wonderful way to tone and stretch your muscles while improving your mind-body connection.

You can begin a regular practice of taking classes, or you can incorporate yoga into your morning and evening routines. Try waking up by performing a few sun salutations and winding down with five to 10 minutes of stretching in bed.

Multiple styles of yoga exist. If you’re feeling contemplative or seeking enlightenment, you can find classes focusing on the meditative aspects of the practice. If you want to rid your body of toxins, try a Bikram yoga class, where a heated room helps you build up a sweat.

A Dozen Ways to Improve Your Athletic Prowess with Cerebral Palsy

People with cerebral palsy can and do become excellent athletes. Whether you hope to compete or simply want to improve your health and fitness, exercises like the twelve above will help you reach your goals!

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Kate Harveston

Written by Kate Harveston

Kate Harveston is a women’s health writer from Pennsylvania, and the writer and editor of So Well, So Woman. You may have seen her over at sites like Greatist, POPSUGAR, Thought Catalog, Bust or YourTango. Kate enjoys writing about women’s reproductive health and aims to use So Well, So Woman to bring a unique voice to the reproductive, sexual, relationship and mental health issues that young women are facing growing up in today’s world.

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