As an amputee I’ve found that finding ways to do cardio exercise is not easy. I’m not able to run or play sports like tennis or basketball. I can bike, but not for very long distances (due to socket discomfort), and any activity where I get very hot is bound to cause my leg to sweat in the socket and start slipping off, which is painful and can result in injury. Most water sports are out because I have a C-leg that can’t get wet–swimming is the exception because I do it sans prosthesis, but I find that it’s not convenient on a daily basis because of the time entailed in getting to the pool, showering, and then getting back into my leg.
So with this in mind, when I decided I wanted to “get fit” and healthy after I had sufficiently healed from my recent surgery, I had to figure out a way to adapt an appropriate exercise regimen. I wanted to be able to workout at home for convenience’s sake, which added a level of difficulty to finding a good way to exercise. Oh, and also added to the challenge was the fact that I had neither money nor space for any large equipment like a recumbent bicycle or a rowing machine.
I decided on a two-prong approach to cardio fitness. First, I bought an inexpensive mini-trampoline because I had heard from another amputee that she jumped on a trampoline and that it was a good workout. Second, I remembered from years ago a physical therapist recommended stretching using a fitball so I could strengthen my hips and abs (very important walking muscles for an amputee). I realized that I could “jog” while sitting on a fitball by recreating a jogging hip/arm motion. I don’t wear my prosthesis for either exercise. I have added amazon links to both of these items (above) in case you want to purchase something similar, but you should know that both these items are often available via freecycle and craigslist for free.
My typical daily cardio workout is now a 5-10 min jump on the trampoline and a jog on the ball for 20-60 min. A word of warning to any amputee attempting to jump on a trampoline: I do so while having the tramp near a wall or doorway so I can easily reach out and stabilize myself if I start to fall over (which happens quite often). My trampoline doesn’t have a stability bar (like the one on the link above does), but I do highly recommend the bar for anyone who is just starting out with this type of exercise. While jumping or jogging I put on headphones with some good tunes and I also hold dumbbells (varying from 3-12 lbs) for a bit of added strength training. When I first began my workouts on the fitball I fell off a lot, and I still do sometimes. Make sure that you are close enough to a wall or chair that you can catch yourself if you start to tip over. And whatever you do, don’t fall over into a bookcase where a large bag of catfood is likely to be dislodged and fall on your head (just saying…). Also, when you first start this type of exercise, just try for 5 min and then work up to longer workouts. It’s deceptively hard work to hold yourself in balance on a ball while jogging and holding dumbbells. You will feel it in your back and abs, trust me. :)
Since I’ve started my tramp/ball workouts I’ve noticed that I have far greater strength and endurance for walking. These exercises are not only good for my heart, but they seem to target the same muscles that I need for stability in ambulation. I’ve also lost fat and a few pounds along the way. As a result, I feel better, look better, and I have a lot of fun with my morning workouts.
In addition to cardio exercise, I also do dumbbell weight training exercises and about 20 min of yoga stretching daily. In future posts I will discuss how I’ve adapted both weight training and yoga to suit my unique body.
Much of my motivation in writing this post is to suggest various ways that those with bodies like mine might also get ideas about how to achieve cardio fitness. But I’m also writing this because of my many years of frustration at trying to exercise like bipeds and feeling painful and discouraged. Yes, most cardio work depends on being able to bounce, jump, and run confidently on two legs and that’s great for those people who can do that. But for those of us who can’t, it’s quite difficult to figure out how to get our bodies moving in ways that will be safe, fun, and effective. My methods aren’t based on any specific advice from a physician, trainer, or a physical therapist, even though I’ve asked plenty of them for ideas over the years. Instead, I’ve figured this out on my own, as someone who is well aware of my own abilities and limitations. I finally hit a point where I realized that no one else could really tell me how I could best get exercise–I was just going to have to figure it out myself, as I am sure many of you have. Thus, I would really like to hear from those of my readers who have also developed your own adaptive fitness techniques–what do you do and how do you do it?
Caveat: I’m no physical therapist, I am only saying here what’s worked for me in the hopes that it might be helpful to others who are looking for adaptive exercise techniques. Do run these ideas past your doctor or therapist before you try them, ok?
Pic above was taken by John while I was jogging on my fitball.