By Neal Prokop, Sport Performance Specialist

One of the biggest challenges that come with training wheelchair-based para-athletes is the fact that they are coming into the gym to train their grip, arms, core, shoulders, and back, yet use these muscles to participate in sport, as well as almost 24/7 to get around and to complete activities of daily living. The question then becomes, how do we create a training plan that strengthens what muscles the athlete is able to use without running into burnout or injury? Let’s look at how we can help make this happen. 


Plan, Plan, Plan! 

Know what your athlete is doing in and out of the gym. How many days do they have skill-based training/practices and games for their sport? How often do they train in the gym if they train on their own? Do they plan active and total recovery days? If so, how many? Try your best to plan training and recovery sessions into their schedule at appropriate volumes to avoid burnout. 


Try to balance movements and movement frequency. 

Does the athlete do a lot of push movements in daily life and in their sport? Try focusing on pull movements in the upper body to prevent injury due to muscle imbalance. A great way to avoid fatigue within an upper-body training session is to alternate push and pull movements, followed by a mobility exercise, a power-based exercise, or a core exercise. As always, take an appropriate amount of rest between sets! 


Don’t forget about mobility. 

Being able to bring your joints through a full range of motion is important for all athletes. It helps us improve movement quality and prevent injury.

Check out a sample workout below! 


Warm Up: 

Raise: 3-5 minutes

Use a ski erg, or perform a variety of movements until warm. 



Activation: 1 x 8-10 reps each


Elastic Band Pull Apart 


Mini Band Shoulder External Rotation 


Elastic Band Resisted Single Arm Y Raise 



CARS – Level 1 


Potentiation: 2 x 6ea. 

MB Chest Pass 


MB Side Toss 


MB Forward Facing Rotational Pass



A1. BB Bench Press


A2. Hollow Holds – Modification: get a coach to hold legs with a strap, or place legs on box or bench and focus on just activating core by bringing ribs to belt buckle


B1. Cable Seated Shoulder Adduction 

Start seated perpendicular to a cable machine and adjust the pulley to just above shoulder height. Pull on the cable so there is some tension on the machine and the hand is in line with the shoulder. This is your top position. From there, pull the cable down to your side using your lat muscles, and slowly bring the cable back up to shoulder height. 

Note: This is a great exercise for athletes that have trouble going overhead. 


B1. Cable Lat Pulldown – Deep


B2. DB Shoulder Flies


C1. Landmine Shoulder Press (perform in a seated position if kneeling not possible)


C2.  Seated Cable Torso Rotation 


Finisher: 250m Ski on ski erg x 3 


If you are a para-based athlete or individual interested in improving their fitness and trying new sports, please reach out to us, or visit our Para-Performance page.  Contact us for grant opportunities and special initiatives.


Happy Training!