Getting Started in the Gym as an Amputee

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This is the second in a two-article series about getting started with physical activity with amputation. Our first article pertained to getting approval from your medical team, and examining your goals and motives for getting started with a physical activity as an amputee. Today we’ll talk about specific focus areas that need specific consideration when getting started in the gym. I’m a double above-knee amputee and personal fitness trainer and have worked with many amputees of various ability levels; from only a few weeks post-amputation, immediate post-physical therapy, to lifelong amputees and Paralympic athletes.

1) If building strength and stamina while walking is a goal, the importance of strengthening the muscles of the buttocks cannot be overstated. This is important across all levels of amputation, but I’d say it should be a number-one priority for above-knee amputees and long-time wheelchair users. Hip bridges are the best exercise for this in my experience, but leg-pressing and various resistance band exercises work well too.

2) Cardiovascular exercise should be a part of any fitness program. If you’re up and walking, the treadmill could be a sensible starting place as long as you’re able to use it safely. A recumbent/sit-down could be a good form of low-impact cardio if you’re a below-knee or unilateral amputee. There is also circuit training, which trains the cardiovascular system using various forms of resistance like dumbbells or exercise bands, at a higher intensity than traditional strength exercises.

3) Logging and tracking your exercise is always a great idea. Whether you prefer the old school pen-and-paper method of tracking or are a little more tech-oriented and want to use a smartphone app (or even a spreadsheet!) – tracking the exercises that you’re doing; sets, reps, weight used, distance, time, whatever it is that you’re doing – can always be used as data to help improve performance.

4) Enlist the help of a professional if possible. Whether you reach out to a personal trainer/fitness coach, physical therapist or other exercise professional, having the input of someone with an advanced understanding of exercise and how the body works will only benefit you. If that’s simply not an option, the internet and social media have information like this more accessible than ever before! A simple web or Facebook search will inevitably point you in the right direction.

5) Keep in mind that nutrition is also a major factor in your healthy lifestyle change. Getting to the gym is a obviously a step in the right direction, but if you aren’t paying attention to what and how much you’re eating, your efforts are going to be thwarted. Amputees do have some specialized nutrition needs, but I’ll get into those at a later date. Make sure you consider any cardiovascular or diabetic-related aspects of your nutrition obviously, but the best advice is to keep things fairly simple for yourself – eating mostly real, unprocessed, whole foods, high-quality protein sources as well fruits and vegetables!

About the Author:

Trevor Bunch is a bilateral above knee amputee, personal fitness coach, and athlete. Physical activity has always been a passion of his, and he has put that passion to use by helping coach other amputees at all stages of their journey. Whether it’s motivation/mindset coaching, exercise or nutrition instruction, Trevor is always happy to help those who reach out to him maximize their physical potential!