I just finished reading Barack Obama’s new book, A Promised Land, which came out on the 17th of this month.
In this book, audiobook, I started to tear up when he talked about his grandmother passing away. (3/4 through Chapter 9).
Not a great thing while in the gym, but then he said something that stopped me.
He (his grandmother) put an innate understanding that I’ve had into words. One of those rare moments when a string of words becomes much more than that.
While at his grandmothers’ side during her last hours, he thought back to something she once told him, (and I’m paraphrasing) the thing about getting old is that you’re trapped in this contraption that falls apart – but it’s still you.
You’re stuck in this contraption that’s falling apart, but it’s still you – it always has been and will be.
My understanding of this came mostly from the likes of psycho-cybernetics and books similar. The understanding that who we are can be independent of who we look like we are, and both are a result of the conscious and unconscious decisions we make.
The insight here is that similar to getting old, having a physical disability is just you stuck inside this contraption that broke or doesn’t properly work – but it’s still you.
This could be true for any disability and not exclusive of only physical. I don’t have experience with much else, and so, I reserve myself.
When I tell people I’ve never been depressed from my injury, or when they see how much I did within just a year after my injury, I often get asked how I was able to do it. I’m not sure I can decode it entirely, but I do recognize that a majority of people don’t dust themselves off as quickly as I had. Having this type of wisdom – in words or feelings – the understanding that you haven’t changed can help a lot.
Immediate actionable items: Think about this. If you journal (I highly recommend you do), it’s a good practice to just open the flood gates and write out your thoughts. Write out your understanding of this and “think on paper” as I call it.
Summary: The insight gained from a recent read, that who you are can be independent of your body. Getting old or acquiring a physical disability, your body may be breaking, but you’re still you.
Overdeliver: A quote from Hunter S. Thompson “Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, ‘Wow, what a ride!’ ”
If you’re in a wheelchair and you have a “bowel program,” which means you go to the bathroom as we all do, then you may have had some sort of routine in or out of rehab.
While I was in rehab, I had to poop every morning, and if I wanted to switch to night I could, but it wasn’t easy. After reading my other article about routine, you may start thinking about when you should go to the bathroom.
If you’ve read all the words on this website, you may have read that I used to use a laxative when I was in rehab but then I realized I didn’t need it and I stopped. The unfortunate effect of that laxative was incontinence for the ensuing hours. Because of this, I wasn’t able to swim in rehab. A week after rehab, I fixed that problem and then swam the following summer. However, I still get rather gassy every now and then.
Personally, I always like to shower after I poop – clean up and do a bathroom routine type of thing.
For going to the bathroom, there are two main options. Going to the bathroom in the morning and going at night.
I’ll give you some pros and cons for each, since I’ve done them both.
For yourself, though, consider that your values will play a big role, meaning that what you care about more will determine what you do.
If you want to go in the morning:
You’ll need to wake up early if you go to work
You might be gassy or have incontinence during the day
If you didn’t finish all the way you may poop yourself mid-day
You’ll be getting dressed in new clothes for the day afterward that may get soiled
Eating food before will help get things moving, do you eat brekkie? And can you wake up to eat it before the bathroom?
Do you live alone? If not, you may have roommates that need to use the bathroom to brush and you can’t really take your sweet time because they have work or class
If you go to the gym or stand on leg braces, it might be helpful to do those before
Are you tired in the morning and just don’t feel up to it?
Do you like to shower in the morning (if you would shower after)
It means afternoon.
(Some of these will apply only to college students).
Do you stay up late? Maybe you’ll be too tired
Do you party? This is effectively the same consequence as pooping before work
You may be gassy or have incontinence – not ideal for a party
If you do have incontinence, it’s good to go to bed afterward instead of going out during the day. Laying down on your stomach or side will help as well as being at home where you can take care of it
Is it better all around for your roommates to do this at night? (if everyone showers in the morning, it might be better to go at night)
After a day of eating and activity, it may be easier
Do you shower at night? (its easier to poop and shower in the same time slot, and showering after helps stay clean)
Case in point – you may end up trying both the morning and night bathroom routine, but now you have an idea of what to consider as the consequences of each, and there may be more, but this is a great start.
Immediate actionable items: Poop right now. In your pants. Do it, it’s liberating.
Summary: When getting out of rehab and considering your bathroom routine, you get to choose, for the most part, between morning and night. Here I simply give you a few things to consider for the morning and night. Do you party at night? Do you work in the morning?
Overdeliver: If you’re routine gets messed up, you may find yourself pooping at night if you missed it in the morning, if you have a good routine, your body will stick to it or at least be predictable enough so that you know you’ll need to be ready to rush to the bathroom in the arvo should you miss the morning poop. Or just wear a diaper, no shame in that.
I created this website and my YouTube (which has admittedly been neglected) to help others. After creating my Instagram and documenting my journey, inspiring people, and any other impact I had, I decided that I could do more.
This website is made with people in rehab in my mind. Specifically, my past self since I know myself the most. When I think of topics to write about, I look to my life, my past and present and imagine what I wish I knew sooner or did differently. Though I love how I turned out and if given the chance, I wouldn’t change anything. But if someone sends you this or you find me somehow, and you’re in rehab, then hopefully you have the chance to speed up the process.
This is something I wish someone told me, and maybe someone did, I wish I heeded that advice. Read. Learn. Grow. I had been for a long time, but I really stepped it up once I started my first internship. So far, in 2020 at the time of writing, I have read more books this year than I have collectively beforehand. Probably about once a week or close to it.
When I was in rehab, it was four weeks, my mom stayed with me the entire time. I had my speaker with me playing music the entire time. It was quite hard for me to go without music. In retrospect, it probably kept me sane because I didn’t have much quiet time or downtime to get existential or depressed about my situation. And now, I just don’t because I’m past the time for that to happen. I like the non-stop, stuck-on-go lifestyle. No breaks, or very few, just constant growth, powered by curiosity and hunger.
And now that you have some insight, and if you’re in rehab (which means you definitely have downtime), I advise you to read. Audible – audio books – is my favorite, especially useful if you can’t move your arms. I listen at 1.6x speed, sometimes I read along if I have the book, and because it’s audio, I can do it while doing other things.
If you’re not a book person, why not podcasts? Documentaries? Join clubs and online meetings?
If you’re in rehab, you can use this time to get ahead, get interested in something new. Anything from mindfulness to HVAC systems to culinary arts to law.
If you have no control neck down and no major brain hindrances, then your mind and voice are very important and, especially today, you can really do anything. If you wanted to go into politics, you just need to hear, think, and talk. You could become a programmer and use your voice to type code. Stephen Hawking was a great physicist and I believe he used only his cheek or something like that to control a computer to convey his thoughts and move. Imagine that, having a phenomenal and brilliant mind such as Stephen Hawking and having a communication obstacle. He still did it though, and the world is better for it.
Even in my childhood, I wish I had read more instead of play Minecraft. Though I actually didn’t play video games much at all and I still did other great things, A book every 2 months would’ve been good.
Get a kindle, you can read and listen together. Get Audible, which is what I use. They just released a feature where, if you’re an audible gold member, you have a huge selection of books that are included for free. My library went from 38 to 112.
Rehab, for me at least, was a break from life. It was a free month as I see it. I didn’t have school, I didn’t have work, I didn’t have any of the stress of daily life.
I woke up, I recovered, I worked hard, I was challenged (something I love), all my food was made and delivered, I was surrounded by lovely people who cared about me, I wrote, I met new people to come back home to, and I learned a lot about myself and the world.
It’s been non-stop ever since – going back to school, having an internship, a week later going to Australia, and now back to school where I am now.
Summary: In rehab, my greatest regret was not doing more learning while I had the opportunity. I did do a lot and I wouldn’t change it, but I wish I fit it in somehow. Podcasts, books, online courses, etc.
Overdeliver: If you get an Amazon prime account, and go on the kindle app or on the page, you’ll see some books that are included for prime members and some of them come with an audio that will go to your audible account. In fact, with Amazon Prime, there are so many benefits and free features, such as music and streaming, that it’s very worth it. I love companies like Tesla or Amazon that overdeliver.
Have you ever talked to someone with mule breath, they smell a hockey locker room minus the body spray, maybe their teeth are ripe and yellow.
Not the greatest image for me to put in your head. Whatever type of person you thought of, you likely didn’t have high regard. What if I told you they were the CEO of a Fortune 10 company? That might change a lot of presumptions, but you’d think they would shower and brush in tiny little circles.
It’s a fact, and it won’t be changing anytime soon, that people judge within the first few seconds of meeting people. It starts with the shoes, actually. But it might begin with the breath so bad that it touches your bones.
Bad hygiene is ever more so bad if you’re in a wheelchair. There are already some negative stigmas, none that I know of but I’m sure there are some, so being a stinky person won’t make people want to help you more.
Another thing that people do, aside from judge you based on appearance, is to judge you based on history.
I’ve met some really awesome people, and when I meet someone else with the same name or some similarities, I’m more apt to like them.
The same goes for the opposite. If you’re in a wheelchair and have certain negative connotations, then when that person meets me, they will already have a pre-conceptualized stigma.
This is good to know because if you’re outside and someone says something mean to you (never happened to me, but I know it has happened to others), you know that it’s not actually you and that it’s likely just that someone in a wheelchair was mean to them or did something to give them a reason, whether logical or not, to dislike all people in wheelchairs.
This issue, the one above, has happened all over history, mostly with race, heritage, or culture.
There are not many excuses for having bad hygiene. There are reasons, such as a literal inability to keep good hygiene, but you’d have to at least try a few times, and with help if necessary, to deem it unfeasible.
If you can’t move your arms, then it’s possible that you have someone to help you with certain things, they could likely help you with hygiene as well – smelling good and looking good.
The point is that it feels good to feel healthy. When you dress up well, shower, brush, and put on deodorant, it’ll make for a good first impression and have you feeling alive. When I start to get gross from camping for a few nights, I don’t feel as energetic or charming as I typically do.
Immediate actionable items: Clean up. Get a routine or start doing something now.
Summary: Good hygiene is important for you and others. To make a good impression, to have others want to help you and not think lowly of you. And to make yourself feel good.
Overdeliver: If the times are dire, you can always get some wet wipes and clean yourself off that way. Or a sponge bath.
You may not have thought that you would need to give much of any thought to the pants you buy, but here I am writing about it because there is some thought, more than style, that paraplegics should have when buying pants.
Here’s the thing, and this will we fairly quick, it comes down to just a few things, personal sensibility, potential effect, and style.
What we’re looking at in pants, and actually socks and shoes as well, are the seams and high contact points. If you’ve ever worn tight clothes or taken a nap and had your face on some wrinkles in the pillow sheet, then you’ll know the effect of seams and other things such as back pockets.
When you sit down practically the entire day in a pair of corduroys, you may find later that night to have stripes all along your legs where they were touching the seat.
That may be okay for a few times or for certain cases, but in general, those in wheelchairs should have a keen eye for the construct of pants in order to avoid anything uneven.
The main reason is that this could cause a pressure sore. When I wear socks, they’re compression socks, and they leave marks, so I have to either adjust them throughout the day or make sure to take them off early in the day. I’ll talk more about socks later. Be aware of creases in your pants and avoid letting them bunch up beneath you.
Depending on your level of sensitivity, you may find through experience that certain pants are uncomfortable. I have enough feeling that I can tell when my cushion needs to be blown up, deflated, or the pressure needs to be distributed differently. Along with that, I can tell if my pants are the right or wrong kind.
For me, and probably for you, even if you don’t have feeling, I aim for smoother pants, with either no back pockets or back pockets that are in the pants (like chinos) and not attached to the back like they are for jeans. Even chinos have a button, so I’ll always aim for pants with no back pockets. It is possible to take off the button if it really bothers you and you really like the pants.
I was inspired to write about this when I wore a pair of corduroys and felt terribly uncomfortable all day because of both the lines and the external back pocket.
Most pants have the main stitching on the sides, but if for some reason the seams are in the center of the thigh on both sides, I advise avoiding those.
One last thing to think of is how you wear the pants. My waist is rather small, about a 27 or 26 maybe, and I used to have monstrous legs, which gave me issues with pants, but now my problem is finding pants that won’t fall down when I readjust or do a transfer. If the waistband is elastic, then I’m usually fine, but if not, then I have a belt.
What you should be careful of, especially if you don’t have much sensitivity, is when you have your pants on tight, they will likely be tight around the booty and make things uncomfortable. Because pants are mostly designed for walking and standing, they typically come down a bit in the back when people sit. This is how the unfortunate event of buttcracks showing happens. And if you look at a belt of anyone who wears one for a while, the belt tends to curve in the middle from when the pants move down when people sit.
So, because you’re sitting, don’t have the pants too tight such that they cause issues when sitting.
Recap. When buying pants, look at the areas between you and the chair, avoid extrusions and beck pockets, make sure the seams aren’t huge or in a bad place, and don’t wear a belt too tight that causes them to hike up. Elastic waistbands are nice.
And now that you know some things to avoid in pants, what should we look for?
Well, I like pants that have front pockets that zip shut, usually found in athletic pants, its useful because it keeps things from falling out like they might otherwise. The side pockets are easier to access than the ones that have the opening parallel with the waistband.
It’s good to have at least two pairs of athletic pants and dressier pants. Another thing to look at in athletic pants is how warm they are for the winter, sometimes I’ll layer my lululemon joggers under my pants since it gets rather cold where I live. If you find yourself in an outdoor situation, maybe look into buying water repellent or waterproof pants.
You’ll see a post soon of the best pants I found.
Immediate actionable items: If you’re in a wheelchair, check which pants of yours are likely to not be good for you and update your selection to be better for you and your body. If you’re not in a wheelchair, you’re probably fine.
Summary: Pants can cause issues if you’re in a wheelchair because you sit down a lot. When buying pants or choosing which pair to wear today, there are things to consider that filter out certain pants and bring new ones to your closet.
Overdeliver: When it comes to pants, or shorts, having them too stretchy can be an issue. If you’ve seen the youtube video where I show you how to put on pants, you’ll see how it could be problematic because if they’re too stretchy they wouldn’t pull on as easily and would just stretch.
When I was in rehab after my surgery, it was in-house. I proudly stayed at Shirley Ryan Ability Lab in Chicago, which is not where chai tea was invented, but they do have yoga at Millennium Park.
I had my own room and accrued a lot more than I suspected. I basically moved in. I was also sent heaps of socks and hats from lovely fans on Instagram. I was there for four weeks, but it felt a lot longer, yet it’s now been over a year since I left rehab.
While I was at Shirley Ryan – rehab for short – I was put into a routine. Now, there are many books about habits and routines and how important they are, which is the foundation this article will be built on, but we’ll be talking about what it means to have a routine for someone in a wheelchair, and the importance of it.
The routine I was put into was on many levels. I had my personal routines that I held myself to, such as brushing my teeth at night, writing about my day every night, doing schoolwork because I started my next semmy at school, and reading.
The routines from rehab were going to the bathroom, throughout the day and at night, and in the beginning, I was woken up at 4am to go to the bathroom but that stopped soon. I had to drink water throughout the day – helping me heal – and I ate at the same times. I got to choose my meals, but I eventually found the ones I liked the most and stuck with those.
I also had some vitamins and medication that I took regularly. I had my blood drawn a few times, but not enough to count as a routine.
Each day in the morning I would be given my schedule for the day, it would say when and with who I have a physio session or some event. I requested the maximum amount of physio and whenever another person in rehab had to cancel a session, I was the first one called up to the plate and I aim for the stands.
Routine is specifically important for people in wheelchairs, paraplegic, quadriplegic, or anything else, because we have to know ourselves a lot more than the next person over.
If a certain food presages, we really need to know. We need to eat the healthiest foods for our bodies to heal as much as it can.
Athletes, the extreme and best, will typically do this. They have a diet they follow – the food and liquid intake and timing- which leads them to have a bathroom routine. They will have a time for bed and waking up. They will structure their day around that because their body (depending on what athlete I guess) is their most important part and is everything for their sport.
When bodybuilder cut down for competitions, something I’ve done many times, every gram and ounce of food and water is measured and it’s all for the body to react to predictably.
If you eat a certain brekkie that’s both healthy and eaten at a certain time, you will know that you’re contributing to your health and a predictably timed poop, that is if you do the same for all your meals and drinks.
If you go to the gym, which also may contribute to pooping, then going at the same time will help with body predictability.
Why is this body predictability actually useful? Having a routine is useful when you have it and when you break it.
When I had my routine, which was built within four weeks, I was peeing at 4am, or at the least, right before bed and then again early morning.
When I left rehab and went home, I knew nothing about how effective and embedded my routine had become.
On my first night home, or one of the nights early on, I woke up peeing in the bed. A good thing to know that my bladder won’t explode, but a bad thing that I had my then-girlfriend and two foam mattress toppers with me.
If I were aware of my routine, I’d know exactly when my body would want, rather, need to go to the bathroom.
If you’re able to get a routine, and it’s very likely you can, then you’ll know when your body needs to pee or anything like that and it will help with structuring your day. If you have a routine to poop every other day, then you can plan a one-night camping trip on the night you don’t poop. Having routines like the examples above enable you to be certain (to a degree) about what your body will do, also, because you may know that you poop at 7:26pm, you can get in tune with your body and listen for any signs. In the event that you do something danger zone and fall out of the routine, you’ll then know the language of your body and the signs for when you need to poop.
I was with a good friend of mine sailing on lake Michigan, we went to a restaurant after for some drinks and I told him that I was going to need to use his bathroom as soon as we got back to his place.
A few seconds later and I realized that there was no such time.
I excused myself by saying, I’m gonna have to shit here man, and headed to the bathroom. I went into the stall, yanked my pants down, got over the toilet, and dropped the kids off at the pool. I got my pants back on, which is fairly easy, but hard enough that sometimes I wonder what would happen if I just went around without them, I did put them on though and then went back to the table.
Only about 9 minutes, maybe less, had passed. Most of it was the pants coming on and off.
If you don’t know how to listen to your body, you should probably wear a diaper. I wear them sometimes. Usually at a party where I may not be able to go to the bathroom or maybe I run out of catheters from peeing so much, or on an airplane where getting to the bathroom isn’t really a possibility, or if I’m ill, or if all my underwear is dirty and I need something to wear.
Having a routine is important and I made my case.
Here’s the take-out version.
If you have a routine, you’ll know when you’ve broken it and can prepare, you can also follow your routine and structure your day around it and without surprises.
When you do break your routine, which will happen if you are doing lots of cool things or something unexpected happens, be prepared for your routine not to break. If you know you’ll be busy at 12:29pm and that’s when you pee, then wear a diaper or find a way to pee within a few minutes of that time, because your body will do it.
Immediate actionable items: Figure out what you can put into a routine. Diet? Exercise time? Bathroom? Sleep? Anything.
Summary: Routines are important for you to know about your body and have certainty. With a good routine, you’ll be certain for when you’ll have to pee if you have a routine of drinking water or anything else. You’ll learn how your body reacts and learn your language. If you break your routine, you’ll
Overdeliver: When you have a diet and exercise routine, you’ll be able to diagnose illness a lot better. There have more occurrences than I’d like of me having a bad reaction to food. Mainly the act of it going through me without much of any digestion, and sometimes regurgitation. But I was able to factor out the food in my routine and consider anything that I’ve added to my diet and stop eating it and see if my illness ends.
When I was in rehab, we were required to wear our belts and I didn’t like it. I don’t know exactly why, but I just didn’t want to wear it. I reckon it has something to do with being told I had to wear it.
When I was ordering my wheelchair, I almost didn’t get the seatbelt but I’m glad I did, I call it the adventure belt because, when I do have it on, it means that something awesome is going to happen.
I was once told about a guy who didn’t have a seatbelt or brakes for his chair, which is ridiculous, and hopefully, you don’t do that.
When I first got my chair, I strapped the belt below my seat and ignored it. I thought it was the dumbest thing ever and I was adamantly against it.
Then, I started to get into the Danger Zone, where things get exciting. Going up and downstairs, doing tricks, falling a few times, working out, doing handstands, falling some more, getting up ledges, and probably more that I can’t think of.
Imagine being in the car without a seat belt and hitting the brakes, your body moves forward. Think of speeding up quickly, you move back into the seat. Wearing a seat belt in my wheelchair keeps me locked in so that I don’t shift around while moving and gives me better control over the chair I’m in.
When I go into a door with a ledge, I do a wheelie, get my front wheels in, and then pull the rest of my chair up. Without my adventure belt locked in, I would likely pull my body out of my chair. Same for going upstairs. I haven’t made a video about how to do it yet, but it wouldn’t be possible without an adventure belt.
I’ve fallen a few times, at the time of writing, I’ve fallen six times. Each of them is a pretty good story and only a few of them I wasn’t wearing the belt. From experience, having a belt on helps big time with falling. Imagine you’re going down a fairly steep hill in the grass, you hit a soft spot and your front wheels dig in. You’re already tipping forward from going down the hill and so you fall forward. You could either catch yourself or at least keep the fall from getting too bad and use your hands to twist your chair to the side to avoid falling anymore.
If you weren’t wearing a seatbelt, you would’ve fallen forward and gotten dumped straight out of your chair, possibly caught yourself but more likely tumbled down the hill a bit and maybe even get knocked by your wheelchair falling after you.
When it comes to working out, the best example is doing pull ups. When I was in rehab, we tried many ways to do pull ups but never thought about keeping me in the chair. I’m here to tell you that staying in the chair is the best way to do it, and that’s accomplished only with the use of the adventure belt.
Even having the belt a little loose is all right, so long as you have it on.
There have been many times in the city where I hit a bump or crack that sticks out far too high and it brings my chair to a complete stop, I haven’t fallen yet, but I sure would’ve if I hadn’t had the adventure belt on.
Immediate actionable items: If you’re in a wheelchair, start using your belt. If you already do use your belt or you aren’t in a wheelchair, then I’m just preaching over here.
Summary: Wearing a seat belt in a wheelchair is important for those who want to do crazy things and avoid falling out of your chair.
Overdeliver: After a while of using your seat belt in your wheelchair, you may notice the clamp that attaches your belt to your chair moved. Mine moves all the time because of all that I do. You can easily find the right tool and loosen it, put it back to how it was, and then tighten it back up. For the chair I use, when the clamp moves out of place, it will hit the spokes of the wheel, which shouldn’t happen.
Being fit and healthy is crucial. Every single person in a wheelchair needs to workout and stay healthy. There are many reasons. Making a good first impression, being able to do what you want, having self-confidence, keeping your mind sharp, becoming more successful, being happier, living longer, and most important of all, being independent. If that’s not enough, read this.
As you should know, I’ve only been in a wheelchair for a small fraction of my life. When I was a kid, I was super into skateboarding, then I moved to basketball, after that I got into boxing. Included in the boxing phase came weight lifting. I started getting more and more into it and the next thing I remember is somehow finding myself on stage competing as a bodybuilder, winning my division and best abs, going home with a sticky coating of spray tan and then turning 15 the next week.
Since then, I’ve been working out with a substantial amount of competitions tossed in the mix. I proudly have this website bookmarked.
Although I’m not certified by any means, through experience in the gym, self education and getting plenty of unsolicited advice, I know enough to merit giving advice on going to the gym for the first time in a wheelchair or otherwise.
My first workouts after getting injured were in rehab and more functional than to build muscle, though that’s also an aim. We did a lot of shoulder exercises and lots of reps with lower weight. With my reliable tenacity, I refused to use any weight lower than 9lbs and mostly used 10lbs, which were the highest the weights went. The strength and function that I gained over those 4 weeks in rehab lead to my rapid recovery.
Since I was a little more strength oriented, I was able to muscle my way through most things and figure out how to do it with grace later.
I loved doing any type of workout, most of the time I’d just smile from how great it feels to be working out and sweating. The feeling of progress and growth.
Sadly, when I left rehab, all that bravado and eagerness for the iron had taken an unannounced vacation. I didn’t go to the gym for a while. I didn’t even know how I would do it. I kept telling myself that I would go when I wasn’t as busy. To be honest, and that’s what I always aim to be, I was fucking scared.
I used to be king of the gym. I leg pressed 1000lbs+ when I was in highschool. People used to be amazed that I was 15 when I talked to them at the gym. When I was 17, they thought I was a college student. I grew into it and it became less unique and now I was about to go back in less than agreeable circumstances.
Going to the gym for the first time is a bit intimidating for anyone, but when you’re in a wheelchair it’s a little more so. Since I didn’t feel confident to go back to the gym, the inertia became a vicious cycle. It was’t easy the first few times, feeling like the king that had fallen off.
Even the man was scared to go back to his own kingdom!
I obviously did go to the gym, I adjusted rapidly because I planned out and used the basic tactic that I’ll be describing below.
If you find yourself getting worried or scared about going to the gym, then you’re in the same place I was. I did have a lot of prior knowledge, but all you need to do is watch a few hours of credible videos and you’ll know the fundamentals. Just remember that even me, the guy who was the guy in the gym was scared to go back.
For and before your first time at the gym, there are checklists. They’re pretty much mandatory. Unless you don’t want to make rapid progress, in that case you can just stop reading this.
Before we even get to the gym, we have to wax on and wax off.
We have to do our research. We have to prepare. We have to have a plan. We’re going to cover all that first and then we’ll talk about exactly what to do during our first time in the gym.
Before we begin going to the gym, we need to have a clear goal. Having goals for the gym will motivate you, keep you on track, keep you focused and give you a purpose in the gym.
As a former bodybuilder, I know more than ever that having goals/desired outcomes and a plan is the way to be successful in the gym. If you go in without a plan, you’ll come out without progress.
Here’s what we need to do BEFORE going to the gym:
First, assess what you can do.
What muscle groups can you work out? Any muscles that you have control over can, should, and will be exercised.
Split these muscles into groups
For me, this is Chest, Back, Arms, Shoulders/Traps, and Abs.
Have a clear vision
Next, take a look at yourself and envision what you want to become. Do you want to be stronger? Leaner? More muscular? You have an ideal body image, that’s your goal, and you will reach it.
Write out your goals for each muscle group or workout
Over time, you’ll be raising your goals as you get closer. I like to always keep my goals out of reach so that I keep moving forward. For me, I chose specific workouts for each muscle group and created a weight and rep goal with a timeline.
An example would be to do 50 dips. I started around 25 and every other chest day I would do dips until I dropped and wrote that number down to see how close I was. I reached 50 after about a month.
Find a gym
Now you need to do your homework, find a few gyms nearby, call them and ask them how accessible their facility is.
If you’re deciding between gyms, some important factors are: the weights/machines they have, the entrance/parking lot accessibility, the locker room, and how helpful the staff are (probably the most important).
Do your homework
Once you have a gym to go to, you want to make sure that you show up with some knowledge.
Study the basics of the muscular system. Watch some videos explaining how each of your muscle groups function
You really need to know this because in the gym, we have to get creative and that means using some machinery in an innovative way. The best way I’ve found to be innovative in the gym is to master the fundamentals and after that, I can find unique ways to use anything in the gym to help me in working out a certain muscle group or doing a certain workout.
Here are the fundamentals, though I highly encourage getting more detail from another source.
Chest is a pushing forward motion
Back is a pulling in motion, squeezing your shoulder blades together
Biceps are a curling in motion
Triceps are a pushing out motion
Shoulders are any motion with stiff arms
Traps are a shrugging motion
Abs are a crunching motion
Lower back is a curling of the lower back to lift your torso up
Know your wheelchair
It’s good to know about how your wheelchair reacts to movements as well. An example of when its good to know is the case of doing overhead extensions – having a substantial amount of weight above and behind your head will cause you to tip backwards and fall if you’re not quick to react. The solution is to back up against something so that you can’t tip over.
Knowing how the muscles are exercised means that you can look at anything in the gym and visualize new ways to use it for different muscles. This is absolutely crucial for success in the gym. I’ve been complimented many times for my innovations in the gym.
Learn about the basic workouts
There are going to be at least 10 workouts you can find for each muscle, after seeing those, you’ll be able to sieve through and find the one’s you’ll be capable of doing. It helps to know which workouts exist so you can avoid wasting time discovering them on your own (or never discovering them).
Knowing what machines the gym has will be helpful in figuring out what workouts you can do. I have a list on my phone of all the workouts I can do for each muscle, half of them are unconventional and definitely not the intended purpose.
Build up strength to workout
Once you’ve learned about how the body works, you should really do home workouts. Before going into the gym, you need enough strength to lift the weights, re-rack them, transfer to the machines or benches, and have enough strength to use the machines and weights.
It’s also about safety, you’ll end up hurting yourself if you try to do too much weight, and if you can’t do a lot of weight, you’ll probably do too much just to keep your ego intact.
All you need to do is search for home workouts (normal ones) and then go through them and see which ones you can do or get close to doing. Knee push-ups, crunches, planks, etc.
Pay close attention to form
Once you’ve built up strength, search up the basic workouts such as bench press and learn about proper form. Having proper form is another very important aspect of going to the gym. If your form is bad, you’ll hurt yourself, which could have catastrophic results if you have issues with your back or injure your shoulders.
Don’t go alone
Find a gym partner(s). Ask a friend to come to the gym with you, or if you know someone who goes to the gym, ask to have them join you or if you can join them.
You can go to the gym alone, but it’s much more helpful to go with friends and have people you know at the gym. My first time back at the gym, I went with friends and it really helped me. Correction, *they* really helped me.
This looks like a lot, and it is, but don’t be afraid to choose only the ones that you want to do and add things you think will help. This list is all-inclusive and is meant to help you build up the momentum so that you can smoothly and confidently transition into the gym, if you have gym buddies already or have a favorite gym, then obviously you don’t need to figure that out.
First time at the gym:
This part is important. All of this is important, but when it comes to the first time at the gym, you’ll want to make sure to follow this.
Your first time at the gym, you won’t be working out. Cosmo, you’re crazy! Yes, I believe I am, but for your first time back in the gym, don’t plan on having a full work out.
This is possibly a new gym and even if it isn’t, the circumstances are new.
You will do some exercises, but not a complete workout. Your first time at the gym will be to scope out some potential workouts you can do and learn the lay of the land.
When I first went to the gym, I did a tour of the whole gym, twice. I looked at every machine, then quickly went through each muscle group in my head, and then analyzed what possible workouts I could do. This is why you need to know the basic mechanics of how your muscles work and what workouts exist.
After tour de iron, you and your friends will loop back around to a few promising workouts, maybe the bench press or some machines. Having your friends with you, or a staff member, will not only give you confidence to try some new things, but they’ll help you with transfers or other things. Trying out as much as you can is crucial for you to build up your list of “known-to-work” workouts.
While at the gym, go through your list of muscles that you can (and will) workout. Try to find 1 or 2 workouts for each muscle group. Give each one a try and then move on to the next.
It’s also a good thing to tell your friends about this process before they come with you so that they know that this isn’t going to be a real workout. Having your friends or staff members help you will also add to the creativity, with everyone pitching in ideas.
Take note of what workouts you discovered and for what muscle groups.
Now that you’ve gone through the gym, and you know what workouts you can do, we plan.
Write down each of the muscle groups and the workouts below. This is the foundation for your gym plan.
For each day that you go in, you can now take these workouts, mix them up, and add how many sets and reps of each workout you want to do. It’s much easier to do this when you have an objective.
Remember we talked about goals? For each of these workouts, you need to set a weight, rep, and timeline goal. I prefer using workouts as the goal because they’re very measurable, body weight likewise.
Keep a separate list of those goals and track where you are at least once a week so you can measure your progress.
This is how you’ll motivate yourself in the gym and to keep going back. I like to have end of month goals. I track where I’m at right now and then I’ll have about 3 weeks to reach the next goal.
Now you’re ready to go and dominate at the gym.
And if you want to see some workouts, tips, and trick in action, check out this amazing playlist I found on YouTube. (more will be added).
Immediate action items: Pick the steps you presume you’ll find most helpful, and go through them.
Summary: Lots of things to do before, during, and after your first time at the gym.
Overdeliver: Look at other people in the gym for ideas. Some of my best workouts are from seeing other people doing a workout.
Possibly the best advice I have for anyone in rehab. Rather, if I were asked for the one bit of advice I would give, this would be it. (if I could only give one)
I bestow upon this advice the long name of, try new things and take risks in rehab where it’s safe. But unlike many things, the title is not completely explanatory in the sense that you would be able to conceive of everything I’m about to say before I say it. So, maybe it needs a better name. No, it’s actually a good name.
This is something I really wish I did myself when I was in rehab. It would’ve prepared me for going back home, exploring, and everything else that I ended up doing. I had to learn organic and fresh – on the spot from experience. It’s great to learn from experience, it’s even better if you can plan these experiences while you’re in an environment with low risk, such as a rehab facility.
If you’re serious about making a quick recovery and getting back into the world and dominating, this is advice that you should really consider. It’ll be different for everyone given your rehab facility, how much rapport you have with your therapists and nurses, how Danger Zone you are, and the details of your injury.
Because of the wide range of variability, I’ll finally get to the point of what this is and use examples from my life and how I would’ve done this in rehab (I did this process when I got back home). At the end, you should have some notion as to how this could be beneficial for you and how to implement it.
The essence of implementing this process is to rebel. Test. Experiment. Learn. Then, remember the lesson.
Whatever you’re doing in rehab, do the opposite, or something different.
That’s very vague, this concept is harder to articulate than I presumed. It’s best told through stories.
When I was in rehab, I was on a pretty strict schedule. I had to cath every few hours, I think it was every 2 or 4 hours. I would even get woken up in the middle of the night to cath, that type of strict schedule.
It’s not a bad thing to have a schedule and I happen to have a lot to say on the subject of routines, but we can’t always keep our routines. What happens if you don’t cath for 8 hours? All night/day? Or maybe you cath in the morning and just see what happens come dinner time.
I didn’t experiment with different times between cathing in rehab. When I went home, I became free of the routine shackles and decided to sleep through the night. The issue with that was my body had become so used to my routine in rehab that I woke up feeling a little nostalgic. Bringing me back to the days before I could walk, the baby days. I woke up peeing. I was on my back and peeing upwards, there was no stopping it. Even worse was that on my bed were two mattress toppers. The ones that make your bed feel like a cloud. I also wasn’t the only one in the bed, so that didn’t make me feel much better about being 19 and waking up in much the same way as I did 17 years ago.
What did I take from this? First, that my bladder won’t explode if I don’t cath. Actually a good thing. Second, that I need to slowly change my routine and not try a rapid change. Third, boy am I grateful to of had understanding people around me.
Here’s another example, an 18+ example, so cover your ears.
When I did my bowel program, I used a laxative, the type that gets inserted into the forbidden cave. It never occurred to me to not use laxatives until I was back home and decided to see what would happen. It turns out that I’m perfectly fine au naturel.
Why does this matter so much? In rehab, I was hoping that I’d be able to take a dip and learn to swim. I eventually learned a few months later, but it would’ve been nice if I could’ve done it with therapists that teach that stuff, I remember that I really wanted to swim. Alas, I was never able to swim because of the laxatives. Incontinence – more than a fart. That’s what held me back because none of us wanted to intoxicate the pool.
The reason for my incontinence was the laxatives, as soon as I stopped using them, I spent less time in the bathroom and didn’t have the reverberations. If you use laxatives in rehab (or out), maybe try not using them for a few days and see what happens.
Most nurses and therapists will hate and love this. They want you to be on a routine so that as much as possible is controlled and then you’ll have a better and faster recovery. If you keep experimenting, you might get hurt or something go wrong – God forbid your bladder explode – and then they’ll have legal issues or just issues in general. The ironic part is that if you end up hurting yourself when you get home, or causing some sort of issue, then you’ll likely end up back in rehab. The same place you were when you could’ve tried it.
Rehab is a safe environment because there are doctors, nurses, and therapists on the ready, right there to guide and advise you in your spunky trials and help you understand the lessons from the inevitable failures and soiled pants. I literally did the same thing as when I found out that if I wait long enough, I’ll pee, but with the worser of the two evils
Someone I briefly talked to a while ago, someone also in a wheelchair, mentioned they were currently in rehab after getting injured at home. It was just about 2 months after I left rehab and that’s when this whole idea hit me that it would’ve been so much better to break the rules while I was in rehab because if anything went wrong, I was already where I needed to be.
What is the ultimate result? If you’re in rehab and you start objectively looking at your routines and trying to take things out and maybe add some in, you’ll gain experience. Then, when you’re in an airplane for 15 hours, it won’t be your first time dealing with shitting yourself and knowing how to avoid or deal with it.
When we get into a routine, things can go awry if it gets interrupted and interrupting it in a controlled fashion will prepare you for the times when it’s completely out of your control. You’ll know how your body will react and be ready for it. This includes diet. There are some foods that I avoid because they move through me. fast.
Immediate actionable items: Make a list of what you’ll try differently and how.
Summary: When we get into a routine, things can go awry if it gets interrupted and interrupting it in a controlled fashion will prepare you for the times when it’s completely out of your control. You’ll know how your body will react and be ready for it. The best place to try these new things is the controlled an supportive environment of rehab. (yes, this is copied mostly from the last paragraph)
Overdeliver: If you’re in a wheelchair and happen to be part of a community or are in contact with someone, ask the question of what redundancies have they eliminated since rehab or throughout life that they wish they abolished sooner.
When you first get injured, there’s no doubt that you’re flooded with a white water rush of those negative thoughts. We’re almost wired to think about the bad things in life, if not from our primitive roots, it’s definitely been inhibited through our comparisons on social media and a generally gloomy world, maybe not totally but more than the peace, love, no war 70’s. If you’re really into psychology, there are some very persuasive explanations for why we’re more gloomy than before.
While the grey skies clouding our sun, adding a truly life altering injury doesn’t exactly bring out Mr. Blue Sky. Or does it?
Ultimately, it’s up to you whether you use your injury to your advantage or let it use you.
Because I’m feeling good, I thought I would inform you or remind you that being in a wheelchair can actually be a quantum leap to heights that would otherwise take a lifetime. In short, this is a non-exhaustive list of the benefits of being in a wheelchair. So, if you’re new to the game and you’re not sure what to expect other than negatives, here are the positives that outweigh it all.
In a list + experience format, here is a short list of the grand benefits that answered the door when my caffeinated mind knocked and asked, “what are the benefits that make being in a wheelchair so nice that I almost want to stay. Almost.” (and that I wish I could tell everyone who’s in rehab).
Parking – starting out with just something that has always bugged me. It truly drove me bonkers when I had to spend 10 minutes winding through a parking lot, just to get stuck by a car ahead of me waiting for a spot and then eventually find a spot in the back.
I’ve had some problems with parking even with my handicap pass, but 95% of the time, I can pull into the parking lot, go right to the front and get my executive slot. We’re spoiled, but we deserve it.
Skip lines – every now and again, we’ll be able to skip a line. Typically, this doesn’t apply at Starbucks, but in airports – where the worst lines in the world exist – it’s absolutely unparalleled. After traveling almost too much, I have plenty of stories, but I’ll spare you. All I’ll say is that I’ve saved hours of waiting time, and this perk is very enviable when you’re flying international and another added benefit is your entourage gets to tag along and reap the benefits.
I’ve actually been invited to events just so that the group I went with would get to share my benefits with me and sometimes I’ll also be the one to drive the group.
Extra care – people will heed you, unless you’re among a sea of wheelchairs, you’ll most likely stick out like a Goldfinger. When I went to EAA Oshkosh, you would not believe the presidential treatment I got, the parking especially. I got so close to the ground that it was almost unfair.
When I was waiting for the theater to open so I could buy tickets for Phantom of the Opera, the security guard and I made respectful eye contact and he opened the door in front of me first. This was a student rush, where any college students get to grab the misfit, loner seats at a bargain and everyone waits outside the doors in the cold just to rush in and try to get the best low hanging fruit, they open one door at a time. People will also, in general, be most attentive and caring for how they could best help you, be it at a restaurant or the gym.
Moral high ground – this one is an ace up our well fitted sleeves. Only to be employed where it’s appropriate because with great power… We always have this card. The ability to shame someone and take the high road. Usually this is when there’s an ever so slight inconvenience or a major one, if something isn’t working you can almost always win an argument or get something. Of course, this is something that can make you look like an unwiped asshole if you’re not careful.
An example of a time I could’ve made a scene was when I went to a restaurant with my extended family and they sat us at a high table. I simply just ate on my lap or from the table, but it was at chin level. The owner came up and apologized too many times because this of course is normally unacceptable, however it was thanksgiving and they were quite crowded, though I’m not sure they even made much of an effort to find us a new table. In summary, being in a wheelchair gives us the option to take the moral high ground twice as much as the average dude, maybe three times as much.
People are nicer – some people will be rude, but a lot more people are nice. It can make the difference when someone decides to have a nice chat with you. People are more receptive as well, at least in my experience. So, the world seems to smile at you a little more. Just a few days ago (at the time of writing), I was going for a walk along a beach side path, from a pier looking over me and into the Indian ocean, there was this child, a girl about toddler age, or whatever age that kids made comprehensible sentences and she screamed out in excitement, “LOOK a man IN A wheelchair!” It was pure excitement, as if I were Brad Pitt. She said that same sentence many more times, boasting to those around her as if she were Indy and discovered something so mystical, it belongs in a museum. I waved and couldn’t help to laugh a bit at her amazement that she saw a man in a wheelchair, she didn’t even wave back, she just kept telling everyone to look. It was nice.
Able to inspire much easier – anyone can be inspiring if they do something inspirational. How about going to college? Everyone does that, so not really. How about a college with extreme snow and a reputation for being especially difficult? Still, there are lots of students at that college. So how would that person inspire others? Even getting a 4.0 and doing a sport isn’t unheard of, it’s definitely inspiring, but not all that rare anymore.
Being in a wheelchair adds the extra edge to make you an inspiration with almost anything you do, so long as you’re challenging yourself. I was a pretty average college guy. I stood out a little bit and caught the attention of the people that were around me for a while, but I wasn’t entirely prominent. Now, being in a wheelchair, I have the same extreme ambitions, plus some, and I’m suddenly inspirational. I don’t deny it, but for me, I’m just picking up where I left off, and adding some things. But I’m still going for the same things I was initially after. So, if you have the ability to make the world better and inspire someone else to do something great, then you have to. It’s the law. If I can prove to be an inspiration to others when I’m getting into my car during the snow, something that wouldn’t be inspiring if I were walking, then you can definitely inspire others – it’s a great feeling.
Become a unicorn – like I mentioned above, you have the rare opportunity to become a unicorn. Like a black, female astronaut in the 1920’s (I know astronauts weren’t a thing, which makes it all the more impressive). Whatever you do, being in a wheelchair adds the horn to the horse and thus I knight you as a unicorn. Everyone wants to be different. We’re all the same at least in that we all think we’re different, but now we have a true testimonial to our belief.
Scholarships – if you’re in college or will be going to college at some point, you are now able to get scholarships that are wheelchair or handicap specific, which can be a great advantage. I’ve applied to many scholarships and programs that require the applicators to be in a wheelchair, it shrinks the competition, albeit the competition becomes all unicorns.
Uniqueness/pattern interrupt – when I showed up to a formal even, with all the attendees wearing dresses or suits and ties, I wore a button up shirt and my sexy jean jacket. Show up different, be a pattern interrupt. I always imagined myself, as we all do, as the center of a film. For me, whenever I walk into any building, or go anywhere, I see myself as James Bond. In reality, like the Churchill quote, no one was thinking about me at all, they were absorbed in their own self featuring silver screen. Now, no matter what you wear or do, you’re interrupting the pattern just enough that you become, at the least, a supporting character in everyone’s first person plot. It gives you that seasoning, the sugar and spice, the dish at the potluck that was cleaned out first. Some people don’t like attention, but they all want to be special and remembered.
You have a story – a story people want to hear. A peel from the same banana above, when you go somewhere, you have a little mysterious aura around you. You’re in a wheelchair and there’s definitely something that happened. I’ve been working on mastering my story telling, you don’t have to be extreme, all you actually need to do is write out the long, medium and short story of what happened to you and once you have your story sorted out (you’ll stumble over your words if you just go from memory without writing out once), you’ll be able to tell a captivated audience a storythey want to hear, probably an inspiring one.
People wanting your perspective – it depends on who you are, but more likely than not, your opinion is now held a little higher, maybe a lot depending on who you are. You have a new perspective and people are interested in that. This is more conditional that the rest of this list because you have to present yourself as (and actually be) intelligent and astute. For me, when I was working at Kimberly-Clark for an internship, a lot of people wanted to know any recommendations I had for helping them improve and be a disability forward company. I was never good at giving great advice because everything was actually really good, but I was still asked and when people seek out your opinion, you feel and are important. Not many interns were asked the same amount of perspective questions as I was, or at least not of the same nature (I was the only one in a wheelchair, a true unicorn).
Opportunities like crazy – the best for last to end this with a big explosion. Once more for the cheap seats, this post is for anyone in a wheelchair or in any unique situation that seems like a disadvantage and I’m giving examples of how to look at the positive side of life, which makes life all the better.
So, through many opportunities given to me, which I may map out one day, I find myself at a Disability:IN conference. I find myself talking with an especially important woman, who has become a mentor of mine, the CEO of Disability:IN! Because of looking on the positive side, having my story, my ambitions (being a unicorn) and wearing a jean jacket along with many other factors that hindsight can’t even discern, my life took an imperceptible turn for the best. It brought me 10 years into the future. If I weren’t in a wheelchair and never had gotten injured, my ambitions would’ve been close to the same (a little less) and it’s very possible that I would’ve gotten to where I am now in terms of success, measured by my own goals and their progress, but it would’ve taken a lot longer than just 8 months.
Although I love to brag, I hate to be boastful. That doesn’t make sense but it sounds good.
What I mean is that none of this is me just telling you how great my life is, although it literally is, the deeper meaning behind this is that whether you, the reader, have just gotten injured and you’re in dire need for something good to look forward to, or if you (the lovely reader) are going through any obstacle in life, you can look to my experiences and notice that everything I focused on, down to the small stuff such as parking, is all positive. I don’t neglect the negatives, I deal with them sternly, but I don’t let them take over my mind. I choose to focus on what is good in life and I’m giving you the exact things you can likewise focus on (if you’re in a wheelchair).
If my past self, in rehab, could read this passage and realize that being in a wheelchair will give me an extremely favorable advantage, it would’ve helped me out immensely.
The world is grand because it’s yours for the taking.
Immediate actionable items: Write out some of the positive things that are going on in your life as a result of something that may have been an obstacle, failure, or perceivable set back.
Summary: Being in a wheelchair have insane benefits. Focusing on the positive will make everything even more positive. My list of some of the benefits I’ve had along with some examples are: Parking, Skip lines, Extra care, Moral high ground, People are nicer, Ability to inspire, Unicorn, Scholarships, Uniqueness, Story, Perspective, and Insane opportunities.
Overdeliver: When you catch yourself focusing on the negatives, write them down and next to them, write out the benefits and opportunities that can or have come from them. If you can’t think of any, look at the negative and complete the sentence “This is good because ______!”