Cold winter weather can chase even the most active amputee indoors. If you manage to stay active, an injury or illness can sideline you for weeks or months at a time. Yet consistent activity is invaluable for individuals with limb loss to maintain their strength and mobility. We spoke with Greg Mannino, a prosthetist and 22x Paralympic skier, about how amputees can get back in shape, whether it’s winter, injury, or illness that causes inactivity.
“Unfortunately,” Mannino says, “as an amputee, it’s way harder to get back in shape once you’re out of it.” His suggestions—get moving and focus on core strength and balance.
Before starting a new exercise, make sure your residual’s skin is ready for the challenge. Apply a daily moisturizer and liquid-to-powder product before exercising to maintain the skin’s strength and integrity.
Walking—Simple Yet Effective
“Most amputees lack aerobic endurance because it’s hard to run,” says Mannino. He suggests walking as one of the simplest and easiest ways to start improving your health. Yes, it works the cardiovascular system, but it also activates the core and major muscle groups.
Start slow and keep distances short at first. For some, a distance of 100 feet can feel like a milestone, and that’s okay. It could be walking around your apartment, home, at the park, or gym. A goal of walking two miles a day is a good starting place for most people. If that’s not possible at first, walk two miles every other day.
To increase the difficulty, walk on uneven terrain like a local park or hit an easier mountain trail. Uneven ground forces the body to balance, challenging your core. Mannino suggests getting a set of trekking poles once you’re off the beaten path. “It’s a couple of extra contacts on the ground,” adding stability and activating the upper body for a full-body workout.
You can continue to add difficulty by walking longer, trying more difficult trails, or wearing a weighted vest. Mannino prefers weighted vests to backpacks because they stay closer to the torso and are less likely to interfere with stability.
Hit the Bike for Better Endurance and Balance
Stationary bikes are an excellent low-impact exercise to get you prepped for the summer. “Cycling lets you achieve that greater heart rate with less impact,” says Mannino. Whether cycling at the gym or a stationary bike at home, it’s a good way to build strength, endurance, and balance.
Mannino suggests toe clips to help you use your prosthesis to the most advantage. Stationary bikes are a great alternative to the real thing to get the bike’s feel and build strength and balance.
Once you’re ready to hit the road, consider an e-bike. The bike’s assist feature can kick in when you start to fatigue, letting you go further and faster.
Focus on Core and Balance
“If your belly is out of shape, you’re not supporting yourself, and that makes it more difficult to walk with a prosthesis,” says Mannino. People with amputations often suffer from low back pain because of poor core strength, too.
You’ll need a tennis ball or other small ball for this exercise. Use a chair or countertop to stabilize yourself. Place the ball under your natural foot, balancing on your prosthesis. Activate the core as you roll the ball back and forth and side to side. Progressively use bigger balls like a soccer ball or basketball to keep challenging yourself.
Exercise Ball Sitting
An exercise ball that’s the right size for your height can be a great tool to work the core and build balance. Start by sitting on the ball with both feet on the ground, using your core to stabilize the body. It sounds simple but requires the core to keep the ball from rolling. Increase difficulty by walking the feet forward, rolling onto the back. Then, walk slowly back into a seated position.
Have a chair or countertop nearby for stability. Stand on one leg balancing for 10 to 15 seconds the first time. Do this exercise on both legs, being sure to activate the core and glutes. Progressively build strength until you can stand for at least 60 seconds on each leg.