Well hello

Welcome to the blog of me, Paige Tabone; student, writer, nerd, self-critic, telly-addict and self-confessed Cerebral Palsy-er (or wobbly if you will). It is the latter that has brought me to blogging. Ramming my way through the bullshit stereotypes that surround disability, showing the undiluted truth of someone twenty-two years into living on the often bumpy and unpredictable road against what's seen as 'normal'.

I'm aware you might have just got lost trying to navigate yourself to a hilarious cat video; now you are looking bewildered as you see nether a ominous looking jump or an unwittingly naive cat. Yet whether you find yourself here by purpose, mistake or luck I welcome you and offer you to get yourself comfortable, grab a nice cup of tea or a strong, stiff drink and stay for a bit. You see this isn't a story about some poor, unfortunate girl with a disability; it's simply a story about a girl with a set of tits, a set of tires and a mission to set the disability misconceptions record straight...

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Let's Get Physical

Today I’m going to try something a little different. A lot have you have got in contact with me regarding my weekly ventures to the gym and asked advice on how to best work out when you use a wheelchair. As I see myself as a pretty helpful individual, nay dream-maker, your query is my pleasure to answer and today I shall bring you an advice blog. Brace yourselves…

Working out and staying fit must be one of the single most impossible things to achieve when your mobility is limited. I started training back in March, mainly to lose the fat baby I had been steadily growing over my first year at university. In the space of just a few months I had ballooned from a UK dress-size 16 to a rather unhappy size 20. Some drastic action was required; it was time to dwindle off the pizza and lay the alcohol to rest. With a bit of hard graft and substantially less pizza, I’ve managed to lose 2.8 stone and wriggle back into my size 16 jeans; just two stone away from my goal weight. It was tough though. Exercising always is, but even more so when you are in an electric-wheelchair, like me. Now, I’m not saying you manual wheelchair users have it easy; oh I can feel the ripple of controversy brewing as I speak, but work in a little enthusiastic push down the sea front and you can get your heart rate up and burn all important calories. When your peak of daily exercise is pushing a small joystick forward however, things aren’t as simple.

First you’ve got the drama of accessibility. For this I have no simple remedy but a gentle squeeze of reassurance that accessible gyms do exist. They are as allusive as gold dust granted, but hidden in the tiny crevasses of society there are a few. My best advice is just to ring around and see what’s about. I know it sounds mundane but it works! That’s how I found my gym and it's brilliant. Most places will also give you a free tour or induction so you can see what the place is like before you join. Plus everyone loves a freebie! If you do find a gym that is wheelchair friendly, congratulations to you; it would have been easier climbing Kilimanjaro. Alternatively you might just settle for a little home work out, but wherever you choose, then comes that panic of what to do when you get there.  Well fear not! Here is a few ideas for you, whatever your abilities.

If you have good upper body movement then I really suggest ‘Box Fit’. Primarily it can be fun. It’s great for letting of some steam. Had a bad day? Then I can whole-heartedly say there is nothing better than beating the shit out of some boxing pads. Secondly, for  the less aggressive and more health conscious of you, it is great for cardio. Cardio exercising it’s really hard to achieve when you are in a wheelchair. The big trio in the cardio game are the treadmill, exercise bike and cross-trainer, and let’s be frank, without the use of two fully functioning lower limbs you’ve got more chance of using them than Katie Hopkins has of becoming a decent human being. I hold no judgment I am in the same metaphorical boat. Boxing is your gold ticket solution. It brings your heart rate up, works your whole upper body – including your abs and laterals, notoriously the hardest part of your body to work in a wheelchair, and it’s great for strength and coordination.  I’ve been working on boxing and pad work 2-3 times a week for the last month or so and I can see a noticeable difference. Beside a vast improvement in coordination, which is equivalent of a step on the moon for someone with CP, my bingo wings have reduced to winglets and my stomach is far less pregnant-esque; we are talking more 6 weeks than 6 months. If that isn’t enough boxing motivation for you, you’re going to need a pad partner, who more often than not will be a fit personal trainer…

Now let me bring you on to the hand-bike. A bike you use with your hands I hear you exclaim; genius! A marvel of modern fitness apparatus and a cardio phenomenon. This can work for pretty much anyone. If you’ve got good upper body strength and movement then I’m afraid it’s a case of brute strength and determination, you’re going to have to put some graft in. Don’t dismay, get past that initial burn and it’s great for working those triceps, biceps and helping with core strength. God I sound like an 80’s fitness video! If that’s not the case, there are some hand bikes which self-propel; I told you these were ingenious little beauts. This is really handy if you have limited or no upper body movement; strap’ em in and go.  It will give you a good muscle stretch and help improve flexibility. Plus, set that thing high enough, and it’s sure to get your heart rate going.

Weights can be a trickier subject to tackle.  For me I’m able to use ordinary dumbbells or the weight machines. There are so many different weight lifts you can do and, as you probably already know, each can target a specific area. I don’t want to patronize you, you are big and ugly enough to work out for yourself what areas you want to tone and what works for you, so I’ll just give you a few example of what I do and how they help me. Arm curl (biceps), arm extension (triceps), shoulder press (shoulders, duh) rowing pull down (abdominals, wrist strength and pectorals; this is easiest done using the wire machines, but a rubber pulley will also do the trick), truck rotations (abdominals, laterals) and the ab cruncher (pretty self-explanatory really). I’ll warn you the ab cruncher is a bitch. That said I’ve slowing managed to nurture a baby ab, singular; if I breathe in and clench really, really hard!

Of course vein busting weight-lifting is not everyone speciality. A more universal fitness practice is deep breathing. Not only is this a brilliant way to relax, but for those of you with limited movement, apparently it’s the best way to work on your cardio and even improve your muscle durability. The theory is, so my trainer says, by deep breathing you get more relaxation thus more flexibility in your muscles with can aid your overall suppleness. I know it can also help strengthen you lung muscles too if you suffer with a more muscle-wasting condition, but I’m sure you already knew that so I’ll just shut up…

Finally a treat for the less Hench of you. You lucky people get to venture into the world of robotics. Now, I have heard rumour of a contraption which takes the strain of moment for you; it’s like a giant metal exoskeleton. I’m not promising that you’ll find these world-wide but if you do stumble across one you have to have a go. There is a girl who suffers from Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD), who messaged me about a machine called an ‘exercise buddy’. With a little help and some intimate man-handling from a few muscly personal trainer (she thought that one through well didn’t she?) the machine is able to help her move her limbs in a way which she can effectively have the range of movement DMD restricts. She told me she is able to box, light-weight train and seriously increase her flexibility. I know realistically this isn’t feasible for the majority of you but it sounds pretty amazing, right? Plus it just goes to show not matter your ability exercise and fitness isn’t as unmanageable as it seems.

Well, I hope that disorganized rambling helped, even just a smidge. Fitness is a mistress no-one can easily master. For those of you who want to try, I hope this gives you some ideas to arm yourselves with so you can give it a right good run for its money; wheels, muscle-wastage and all!