How to Hit the Gym When You Have a Disability



There are approximately 61 million people living with a disability in the U.S., reports the  (CDC). According to the CDC, adults living with a disability are more likely to suffer from heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. These are just some of the reasons it’s so important that no one be left behind when it comes to enjoying the benefits of working out.


Regular physical fitness can reduce the risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure, and minimize the risk of diabetes. In fact, adding 2.5 hours a week of moderate level physical activity can help you build stronger bones and manage your weight. Alexander Sherman, PT, owner of  in Bronx, NY, has been a physical therapist for 21 years. According to him, the physical and mental benefits of a fitness routine for those with a mobility disorder include increased fluidity of joint movement, improved mood and energy, better sleeping patterns, and the addition of a social component, which is imperative, especially in times like these when many are feeling so isolated due to the pandemic. Additionally, exercise routines improve memory and brain function as well as reduce feelings of anxiety and depression.


Even knowing the benefits, the thought of going into a group class or a big box gym can be daunting for those living with a disability. There can physical or emotional barriers that can keep someone from getting involved. Paige Gallegos, a 24-year-old from Los Angeles, lives with type 3 Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA). SMA is a degenerative genetic disorder that causes muscle weakness and progressive motor function loss. To keep her body strong, Gallegos has been training with a Pilates instructor for years. For her, going to a gym can be intimidating and having a disability adds another layer of anxiety. However, that didn’t prevent her from finding a workout and space that worked for her. “Read the room,” she says. “If it isn’t right for you, then find another place.” She recommends seeking out related Facebook groups and checking out Yelp for reviews and ideas.


If you have been considering a fitness program or thinking of joining a gym, there are some ways to help find the right fit. Trainers and gym owners want to make their fitness experiences accessible to everyone. Here are a few tips to make sure that your time is well spent and that you get the most out of your workout.  


Keep your options open 

Want to try Pilates, yoga, or even Crossfit? Most fitness facilities have private sessions to ease you into a new workout regime. Ben Magnone, owner of  in Glendale, CA, has created an onboarding program for all new clients in which they take a fundamental course over four private sessions. Says Mangnone, “Everyone can do the workout, we just find a scale that works for each client.” 


Interview potential trainers 

You should feel confident with the person with whom you choose to work. Make sure they have the proper training and certification to meet your needs.  


Communicate with your coach 

Be upfront with them regarding your limitations or doctors’ recommendations. During your sessions, make sure to tell your trainer if you feel any pain. Most certified fitness professionals know how to make modifications to specific movements to keep clients from experiencing any discomfort. 


Be patient with your body

Pilates instructor Melissa Lee, owner of  in Santa Clarita, CA, advises clients to go at their own pace. “You might feel like you should be in a group class or need to keep up with people in your class, but you may not be ready yet,” she says.


Remember, the first step is usually the hardest. Find a trained professional to help you reach your goals. Just be sure to always check with your medical support team prior to jumping into a new fitness program. 


— Kristen Borland, Well Defined/March 10, 2021

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