T Nation

Exercise for Someone with Bad Legs

Asking for advice for a friend here.

He has medical problems with his leg joints – I’m not sure what they are specifically, but the upshot is that he can’t run or bike at all. He can walk but it becomes problematic if the distances are very long. And according to doctors it’s supposed to get worse – he’ll need a cane in a few years and then a wheelchair.

So he’s gained a bunch of (bad) weight since his legs got messed up, because he can’t run, and he’s told me he doesn’t like it much but doesn’t see what he can do. He’s swam sometimes ( but it’s “inconvenient”) and sometimes lifts weights (though I’m not sure if he just means the ankle/wrist weights in his room). Diet is about as bad as humanly possible, because recently he just let it slide (earlier he had lost a bunch of weight by eating nearly nothing, which is obviously not fun to continue for the rest of your life.)

He’s brought it up to me so I don’t think it would be totally out of line to offer him advice, but I’m still cautious about wanting to be too much of a busybody. It’s not that he is or needs to be a super fitness buff – but long term, everybody needs some form of exercise. And even he – not a particularly vain person – will complain and get discouraged if he gets fat.

So, I’d guess that someone on this site has had a leg injury or disability and found some solutions. What did you do for exercise? Any advice or personal experience?

Some gyms have upper body ergometers, or these bikes that look like they have elliptical pedals (called semi-recumbent ellipticals).

I’m not sure how you would propose this, but getting moving would help like you say.

Best of luck.

Kayaking can be a great sport for people with lower body disabilities. Greg Barton had two club feet and became one of the all-time great flatwater sprint paddlers.

Kayak surfing is ridiculously fun and whitewater paddling would be doable up to a certain level of difficulty. Whitewater may become problematic as his disability progresses though as river access often involves long hikes.

Just don’t let him get a sit-on-top. Sit-on-tops are not kayaking.


Rule of thumb when dealing with an injury. If he is cleared to exercise, he should workout the remaining body parts as tolerable. This is not necessarily a time to work on a PR, but to keep active while he heals.

As far as the lack of running, he could power walk, hike, use an elliptical, or a bike. You have to find a way to work around the problem.

Sounds like the diet is a big issue, and you could give him advice as you know plenty on that all on your own.

Work the solution, not the problem.

Thanks folks.

Kayaking is actually a great idea – it just occurred to me today, “Duh, kayaks.”

Maximus: it’s not an injury that’s healing up, it’s quite possibly here to stay. And bikes and hiking are just as bad as running. I don’t know about ellipticals, I could ask him.

I know the CW around here is that crash diets are bad news, but it “worked” for him before (though not permanently, of course) so I’m not sure if I should tell him not to. From his perspective, it’s not pretty but it gets the job done. But it actually has negative health consequences, right?