Disability not inability: Gyms are for everyone

One thing the New Year brings is contemplating things we would like to change, and health and fitness is on most peoples list.

Can you get fit and be disabled though? Well yes you absolutely can!

Having RA (Rheumatoid arthritis), Fibromyalgia, Asthma, Endometriosis, Osteo Arthritis and Osteopina myself I kept exercise at the bottom of every list. After all it can’t cure any of those things and frankly, I am always exhausted. There are many exercises I can’t do safely so it seemed that it would be a waste of time, until I saw The Disabled Strongest Man deadlift sat down …

It turns out most exercises can be done sat and yes, they do as much as the standing ones. This revelation had me hitting the gym and thinking about function rather than fitness.

As I always use crutches I wondered if I would be out of place. The majority who use gyms appear to be able bodied and my invisible illness is now very much visible. It was actually a confidence boost to be using the same equipment as the men and women built like they’ve been lifting for years. It might not be as heavy, might not be the same way they do but the feeling of being able to deadlift 140kg with an aid is the most self confidence boosting thing I have probably ever done. Arthritis with damage, but I can lift?!

Here some tips to get your fitness journey started

Use the machines in the gym. At first I wasn’t keen on them, but I can exercise alone while using them and there’s no risk of anything falling on me. I can adjust them easily despite arthritis in my hands and wrists and you can get a good workout just sticking to them and of course you can sit

Get A PT (personal trainer). Your body may not move the same way as the majority, and I noticed some damage because of certain movements I can’t do, or because mu position wasn’t correct. A PT can help you with that as an incorrect posture can cause damage and they can keep you motivated.

Don’t go to the gym alone if you use free hand equipment – frankly I cannot set up my own deadlift as I can’t walk and carry weight so for these sessions, I take someone with me.

Buy aids. There are lots of aids you can use in the gym and do use them if needed. I have a strap for deadlifts and a harness to drag the sledge. Wrap any body part that you struggle with daily with supports.

If you are in pain don’t push it. If I have any kind of flare, I leave whatever area is playing up alone.

Get Resistance Bands. I used to view these as extremely boring, but they are great for stretching and slowly building up strength, you can use them at home too!

We also called the three local private gyms in South Leeds to see what they offer.

360 in Holbeck – Accessible toilet. Carer can assist. Two PT’s who are specialised in working with disabled clients and one is trained to work with Learning disabled clients (we found this very impressive!)

JD Gym Beeston – They are now open 24 hours – Help Points and CCTV monitored when unstaffed. Accessible Toilet and Shower, Carer can assist. Accessible entry.

PureGym Hunslet – Open 24 hours – Help Points and CCTV monitored when unstaffed. Accessible Entrance. Carer can assist. Accessible Toilet and Shower. Guide Dogs are allowed. PT’s have experience training disabled people.

There is a great selection of gyms to choose from. I use PureGym myself and find it to have everything I need but get in touch with any of the three and have a look around before you sign up. There are also Council-run gyms at John Charles Centre for Sport and Middleton Leisure Centre.

Oh and look up those disabled strongmen they are sure to make you wonder if you can too!