Handcycle Trainers for Fitness

When Bob Vogel feels his energy dragging in the afternoon, he jumps on his trainer.

When Bob Vogel feels his energy dragging in the afternoon, he jumps on his trainer.

In NEW MOBILITY’S September cover story, “E-Stim for Wellness,” Richard Holicky reported that the daily activities of the average person with SCI are not enough to maintain cardiovascular fitness, which results in high rates of cardiovascular disease, obesity, adult onset diabetes and high cholesterol among the SCI population. One of the benefits of FES is that it provides a good cardiovascular and aerobic workout, which helps prevent, and/or reverse these diseases. Fortunately, though, wheelers have other options for getting an aerobic workout.

To get cardio benefits you need a daily exercise that gets your heart pumping at between 60 to 85 percent of maximum heart rate (MHR = 220 minus your age) for a solid 20-30 minutes. A good way for wheelers to get a quick 30-minute aerobic workout is with a handcycle trainer and/or arm ergometer. And no hand dexterity is required, so it’s great for mid-level quads.

The benefits of a daily aerobic workout are numerous, including better cardiovascular health, weight control and — according to articles on the National Center for Biotechnology Information website — an improved antioxidant defense system for your body; also, reduction of edema and inflammation; stimulation of brain chemicals that reduce pain, anxiety and depression; and increased positive mood, self-confidence and energy.

I love riding my handcycle, but the closest bike trails are a 15-minute drive with my bike on a trailer, so my rides are on weekends. I get my daily handcycle workout with my handcycle mounted on a stationary trainer (see resources).

To create your own trainer, you need a roller. Prices start around $200 for a basic roller and go up to $1,850 for a variable resistance roller with a computer screen that simulates hills, headwinds, and famous race courses (“Tour De France” anyone?) I use a $350 trainer made by Kinetic. I found mine, used, on Craigslist for $200. I employ a low-budget training system, monitor my speed via a $30 bike speedometer, and keep tabs on my aerobic output every five minutes by counting my pulse while looking at my wristwatch.

Many handcyclists set their trainers in front of the TV — my house is too small, so I set mine up on the back patio. My workout time is in the middle of the afternoon, a time when my concentration wanes and my mind is screaming for a nap. A workout is what I need most, and it’s the last thing I want to do, so I have to remind myself how good I’ll feel once I’m riding. After 30-45 minutes of peddling, my heart is working, lungs are clear, and I feel rested, refreshed and inspired.

Riding a stationary bike also balances shoulder muscles and reduces edema (swelling). In the past few years my shoulders have started to ache — my doc explained this was due to muscle imbalance caused by decades pushing a chair with my shoulders pulled forward. By concentrating my muscle effort on the 180-degree “pulling” part of the peddle stroke and relaxing muscles on the “push” part of the stroke, my shoulder position is more balanced, and the shoulder pain is gone. And my daily rides greatly reduce the edema in my legs and feet. If I miss a couple days of riding, it becomes obvious — edema builds in my legs and they feel twice as heavy during a transfer.

An arm ergometer is a great, really inexpensive option for people who don’t own a handcycle or who can’t do a chair-to-handcycle transfer on their own.

Bonnie Lewkowicz, 56, in her 41st year as a C5-6 quad, uses a Saratoga Colorado table-mounted arm ergometer for aerobic workouts (see resources). “I can’t transfer to a handcycle without assistance. I like it because I can wheel up it and get a workout on my own,” she says.

Several manufacturers make adaptive hand grips for quads. A friend of Lewkowicz’s custom-made a pair for her. “I find using the arm ergometer builds up my endurance,” she says. “The tough part is getting motivated to use the ergometer. As soon as I start, it feels great, I feel energized and think to myself, ‘why don’t I do this all the time?’”

Arm ergometer prices range from $330 for a tabletop-mounted system and up to $2,600 for a computer-controlled ergometer with electronic assist for people with limited strength or movement.

Resources
Roller/Trainers:
Bike-on.com. Enter “trainer” in the search box for a listing of roller/trainers.

Ergometers:
• Spinlife, www.spinlife.com. Search for ergometers.

Free Standing Arm Ergometers:
• Rand-Scot, www.randscot.com. Search for the Spirit 630, Spirit 660 and the Spirit 690.

Table Mounted Arm Ergometers:
• Rand-Scot, www.randscot.com. Search for Collins Lite, Colorado Cycle and Saratoga Cycle.

Motor Assist Arm Ergometers:
• Rand-Scot, www.randscot.com. For those who need help peddling, search for Saratoga Gold and Saratoga Gold Hi-Lo.

Quad Grips:
Bike-on.com, search for Community Handcycle Grip Package.
• Rand-Scot, www.Randscot.com. Search for handgrips.

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