I started strength training at the beginning of the pandemic after years of letting a misguided commitment to running rattle my knees. I had long known the value of strength training using compound lifts (exercises that utilize multiple joints and muscle groups simultaneously, such as a bench press or a squat). But I didn’t realize what I could accomplish myself until a virtual trainer introduced me to adaptive fitness, which uses adaptive equipment to prioritize the functional fitness needs of disabled and injured athletes. With this approach, I can finally exercise my residual left arm, which ends just past my elbow, and put on muscle mass and achieve functional, daily strength that I didn’t previously think possible.
Let’s get one thing out of the way: I am not an inspiration for working out with only one hand. Most disabled athletes (myself included) are simply doing what we can to stay in shape. We do, however, face some unique challenges when it comes to exercise, and we sometimes use slightly different tools.
“Trainers don’t need to buy expensive equipment to be able to service adaptive athletes properly,” said Alec Zirkenbach, executive director of Adaptive Training Academy, which educates personal trainers about adaptive fitness. The same applies to you. Here are some of my favorite pieces of adaptive exercise equipment.
For versatile strength training: Resistance bands
Resistance bands are often recommended to people looking for a simple, graduated strength training system that can be used easily at home. The five-piece Bodylastics Stackable Tube Resistance Bands set (our pick for four years) includes a wide selection of resistance grades and positioning options to help transform a doorway into an exercise station. These bands (which combine for a claimed 96 pounds) come with two handles and a pair of padded ankle straps, which are adaptive: They can be strapped to residual limbs or hands that cannot grip standard handles; I have done this with my left arm to perform rows and flys.
For grip assistance: Weight-lifting hooks
Weight-lifting hooks are a specialty item for seasoned lifters but are also excellent assistive devices for athletes of all experience levels and abilities. Designed to take the load off hands and wrists, they allow you to exercise past limiting factors like grip fatigue or slipping. (I discovered them through an Instagram friend, who wraps one hook around her residual limb, and I had to try them myself.) DMoose Lifting Hooks are made of nonslip coated steel hooks and nylon Velcro straps, which keep the weight stable …….