Finding a wheelchair-friendly gym that caters to your specific needs and promotes inclusivity is an essential step towards maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle. However, as a wheelchair user, finding a gym that caters for your needs can prove to be more difficult than it would seem.
Accessibility within gyms and the sporting space is improving but there are still a few key considerations that will help you find a wheelchair-friendly gym that meets your requirements and provides an accessible and supportive environment.
Karma Mobility have dissected these below.
What to look for in wheelchair friendly gyms
- Facility layout: Look for gyms that have accessible parking spaces, ramps or elevators for entry, and wide pathways and doorways to accommodate wheelchair users. Check if the gym has accessible restrooms and changing facilities as well.
- Before you commit to membership, make sure you visit the gym personally to ensure that the information online is correct. Some gyms may claim to be accessible whilst only providing minimal space/equipment.
- Equipment and workout space: Inquire about the availability of wheelchair-accessible exercise equipment, such as hand ergometers, adaptive weight machines, and wheelchair-accessible treadmills. Ensure there is enough space between equipment for easy manoeuvrability.
- Staff knowledge and attitude: Reach out to the gym’s staff or management to discuss your specific needs. Inquire about their knowledge and experience in working with wheelchair users and their commitment to promoting inclusivity.
- You may wish to meet with staff in person for a face-to-face conversation as this will give you a better grasp on their comprehension than a brief phone call. Request a guided tour that includes all areas of interest, including accessible equipment, changing rooms, and restrooms.
- Classes and programmes: If you’re more interested in group exercise or investing in personal training than solo exercise then you should enquire about accessible classes and programmes. These classes can provide additional support, motivation, and a sense of community.
- Accessibility maintenance: Check if the gym has a proactive approach to maintaining accessibility, including regular equipment maintenance, accessible signage, and addressing any accessibility-related concerns promptly.
How to find wheelchair friendly gyms
- Conduct and online search: Start your search by using search engines and online directories that specialise in locating accessible facilities. Look for keywords like “wheelchair-friendly gym” or “accessible fitness centres” along with your location to narrow down your options.
- Contact disability organisations: Reach out to disability organisations in your area. They may have information about local gyms that are wheelchair-friendly or have programs specifically designed for individuals with disabilities.
- Check social media and online forums: Engage with online communities and forums dedicated to individuals with disabilities or wheelchair users. Seek recommendations and experiences from others who have found accessible gyms in your area.
- Use the Inclusive Fitness Initiative: Use the tool provided by the Inclusive Fitness Initiative to find inclusive gyms near you with access to wheelchair friendly equipment, or source resistance bands and handheld weights to exercise from the comfort of your own home.
Creating a wheelchair friendly gym at home
Although wheelchair-friendly gyms can be a fantastic place to explore your strength, you may find it more comfortable creating a space in your own home that is tailored specifically to your interests.
Here’s everything you need to keep in mind when creating an accessible gym in your home:
Space Planning and Layout
- Assess Available Space: Determine the area of your home that can be dedicated to your accessible gym. Consider factors such as dimensions, layout, and proximity to essential amenities like restrooms or showers.
- Clear Pathways: Ensure that pathways within your gym space are wide enough for wheelchair users to manoeuvre comfortably. Remove any obstacles or hazards that may impede movement or accessibility.
- Adjustable Equipment: Invest in adjustable equipment that can be modified to accommodate different heights, body types, and abilities. This includes adjustable benches, exercise machines with adaptable settings, and resistance bands of varying strengths.
Equipment Selection and Adaptations
- Cardiovascular Equipment: Opt for accessible cardiovascular equipment like stationary bikes, recumbent bikes, or hand cycles that can be easily accessed and used by individuals with limited mobility or lower body impairments.
- Strength Training Equipment: Choose resistance bands, free weights, or weight machines that can be adapted to different levels of strength and mobility. Consider using resistance bands with handles or attachments for easier gripping and modifications.
- Assistive Devices: Incorporate assistive devices such as stability balls, balance boards, or hand grips to provide additional support and enhance exercises in line with your mobility challenges.
Flooring and Safety Considerations
- Stable and Non-Slip Flooring: Install stable and non-slip flooring to ensure safe and secure movement. Rubber flooring or foam mats can help absorb impact and reduce the risk of slips or falls.
- Mirrors and Visual Feedback: Place mirrors strategically to provide visual feedback during workouts. This allows you to monitor your form and technique, ensuring proper alignment and reducing the risk of injury.
- Safety Measures: Install grab bars or handrails where necessary to offer stability and support. Consider using equipment with safety features such as weight collars or safety stops on weight machines.
General accessibility considerations
- Consider Reach Heights: Position equipment and storage areas at reachable heights consistent with your disability. Ensure accessibility to exercise tools, water bottles, and towels.
- Lighting and Visibility: Ensure sufficient lighting in the gym area, minimising shadows or glare that could affect visibility. Use adjustable lighting options to accommodate your needs.
- Seek Professional Guidance: Consider consulting with an accessibility specialist, occupational therapist, or personal trainer experienced in working with individuals with disabilities. They can offer personalised recommendations based on your specific needs and abilities.
- Virtual Training Sessions: Take advantage of virtual training sessions offered by fitness professionals who specialise in adaptive or inclusive fitness. These sessions can provide guidance, motivation, and tailored workout programs that work for you.
Finding a wheelchair-friendly gym that aligns with your fitness goals and provides an inclusive environment is crucial for ensuring a positive and enjoyable workout experience. By conducting thorough research, assessing accessibility, and visiting potential gyms, you can make an informed decision and embark on your fitness journey with confidence.
Remember, accessibility is not just about physical infrastructure, but also about the staff’s knowledge, attitude, and commitment to inclusivity.
For more information, advice and guidance from the Karma community, follow Karma Mobility on social media.