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Chris O Connor, a certified gym instructor with the National Sports Campus in Blanchardstown, in Dublin is challenging the mistaken belief that wheelchair users can’t go to the gym or stay active.
Dubliner Chris O Connor was born with Spina Bifida and has been a wheelchair user since birth. He has been working in the National Aquatic Centre, now known as the National Sports Campus, since it opened in 2003. He currently works as a part-time gym instructor at the facility where he teaches Parafit training classes.
Since August last year Chris has been running a weekly Parafit class. He has designed the class as an upper body circuit, so wheelchair users and people with all levels of ability could take part in a gym-based circuit class.
“The classes are aimed for everybody, people think that because a person is disabled they can’t go to the gym, but if you are a wheelchair user you can use your chest, your arms, your back, your biceps so it is all your upper body,” Chris explained.
For example, Chris said that dumbbells can be used for shoulder presses, chest presses can be done lying on a bench with weights and back exercises with work-out resistance training bands.
Chris’ popular parafit class in the National Sports Campus is an aerobic circuit-based class, mainly for wheelchair users. It works on upper body strength and fitness, muscle tone, and mobility and is designed for all ages and abilities.
"People think that because a person is disabled they can’t go to the gym, but if you are a wheelchair user you can use your chest, your arms, your back, your biceps, so it is all your upper body,”
At the National Sports Campus Chris also runs Parafit classes for people with an intellectual disability and mobility issues. While these classes are very popular with the clients, Chris said that many of the carers get involved as well as the classes are suited for anyone who wants to get active.
According to Chris, “It’s very important for wheelchair users to stay active especially because when you are in a wheelchair, if you are just sitting there you are going to put on a bit of weight. Also, your muscles start deteriorating or wasting away because you are not using them and not exercising is not good for the heart because you won’t be fit enough to push the chair.”
“I would advise anyone young in their early 20s early 30s to stay active in the wheelchair, push it as much as you can, don’t get an electric wheelchair,” Chris added.
According to Mr Enda Campbell, Workplace Relations Manager with the Irish Heart Foundation, “For some, chairs are a necessity and what we want to do is to get people to be more active, to the best of their ability. Chris’ fantastic initiative provides an option for people of all ages and abilities to remain as active as possible to improve quality of life.”
“For some, chairs are a necessity and what we want to do is to get people to be more active, to the best of their ability."
Some exercises for wheelchair users or those with limited mobility:
(Equipment you will need a Dyna-band or workout resistance band which Chris said were available from all good sports shops and two plastic drinks bottles filled with water)
Dyna bands can be cut to suit individual preferences and Chris explained that the shorter the band the more difficult the work out.
• Biceps curl: Place one end of the Dyna band under the wheel of your chair or foot and pull up towards you to strengthen your biceps.
• Shoulder press: Place the Dyna band behind your back and pull upwards.
• Weights can be fashioned from two empty drinks bottles filled with water which can be used to strengthen your arms.
(It is important to check with your doctor before you commence any new exercise programme)
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