Cross trainer (cross-country skiing simulation)
Eight years ago in a rehab centre I got to know cross trainer, which became my oldest fitness equipment. Gym instructors didn’t even recommend it to me, because they saw me in a wheelchair that doesn’t make really motoric impression. But when I saw the equipment in function I thought that it is just what I need. My assistant helped me get aboard and after I had pedalled it one minute I decided to have one to use at home.
The decision was easier to do than carry out. All the cross trainers in the market were designed for fitness centres. The length was at least 63 inches. They were too big for the single room flat I had in that time. My cross trainer should be at most 53 inches long, I thought. After I had browsed the selection in the Internet for some time my mail order service offered me a 53 inches long apparatus in loyalty price.
In my article ‘Living a balanced life on own conditions’ I write about my view that although the starting point 35 years ago seemed hopeless I felt that I myself had to search the challenges that could bring my life forward. A child develops by his own enthusiasm, but also because he constantly faces new challenges.
When I had the cross trainer in front of me I had a new challenge. My first challenge was what was the easiest way to get aboard. The answer was nearer than I thought:
I sit on a high bar stool in the back of the appliance and my therapist helps me stand up.
But before standing up he puts an ankle support on my left foot and binds the foot on the pedal with velcro tape so that it doesn’t fall down. In addition there is an anti slip mat under the foot.
At first I could exercise with the machine only for two minutes, but when I got used to it I could easily have a 5 – 10 minutes warm-up with it in the beginning of each physiotherapy treatment.
After my therapist helped me to take a few steps on the treadmill I was feeling as if I had made a long run. But it felt good.
We found a good place for the machine and mounted a foldable seat on the wall just behind the treadmill.
Walking on the treadmill is a new walking experience for me – or rather a reminder of natural walking. The treadmill is manual, so I have to push with the ball of the foot against the conveyor belt to make it move. The foot sole has to have direct contact with the belt. The first steps were a big exertion. I was feeling that impulses were going through my body.
Walking is not simply moving legs before one another, what I was doing when I used a walking stick. The foot sole is a part of a complex control mechanism. For the first time I happened to think, what is meant when one says that someone’s step has a good drive: the point is how much power the person can load to the ball of foot.
I understood why I have never been fond of wearing shoes, especially after I got this physical disability. I feel as if my eyes were covered when I put shoes on. In 1980s as walking was my only means to move from place A to place B, I always felt that when I felt the ground under my feet walking was easier.
Research tells us that the foot sole has 200 000 nerve endings and 70 % of the information the brain gets about our movement, position and balance comes from those nerve endings. When this sensory feedback becomes extinct, our brain has less information to control body’s movement and maintain equilibrium.
I have used the treadmill for four years until now. In the beginning we had to make own adjustments on the equipment, because I had to take a support grip on higher level, which straightened my body and made walking easier.
After two years walking exercise I had the feeling that my condition allowed me to walk on the treadmill as much as I like to, but the false posture of my body while I was walking made my body ache so much that it was unbearable.
Last year we introduced to my body a transfer belt, which allows my therapist to prevent my body from twisting into false position. We also made a leg brace for the paralysed side of the body to correct the posture. With regard to the leg brace the treadmill (conveyor belt) is too narrow. The conveyor belt under the feet is only 1,11 ft and I have to pay attention that my feet step on the belt.
I wish that the designers and producers of fitness equipment make them various needs of consumers in mind and don’t produce only standard equipment for so called normal users. So also people with reduced mobility who don’t comply with the needs of the equipment, but urgently need the motoric effects of them could have the most benefit of the equipment.
In principle fitness equipment could from the very beginning be designed like eg. electrical wheelchairs, which have a standard vehicle and accessories that the consumer can purchase according to own personal needs.
The body bow, which serves me when stretching and relaxing back, hip and belly muscles and when opening the thorax is an indispensable aid.
It trains also the lumbar region and backside of the thighs.
I have a spastic paralysis, but the spasticity in my body is nothing compared with a situation when the spasticity stiffens the whole body in a way that it is hard even for another person to straighten the limbs. In a rehabilitation centre I have often noticed how challenging this can be for therapists. My therapist should also have had at least three arms while we were doing stretching exercises. But this has changed.
Last year I purchased a tool that in addition to its mobility enhancing functions works very well when one wants to stretch spastic limbs.
After I sit down on the seat we put a big therapy roll between my legs to release spasticity. Therapist binds my left hand with a velcro tape on the handle of the equipment. After that we can do easily also diagonal stretches backwards.
We learnt also another way to release spasticity and train the body:
As I bend down to the paralysed left side and try to straighten my body it is difficult, because the left side of my body stiffens. The arm twists in a spastic position.
After the therapist has bend the thumb outward and straightened my fingers as my body is bent down, and keeps the fingers straightened when I straighten myself the spasticity doesn’t affect my body. This has allowed us to exercise my body in a new way.
This works for me. Every spastic case is different though and finding solutions for these problems depends on how we listen to our inner being. In my case the idea to straighten the fingers initially came from my therapist.
Wall Bars for One-Leg-Standing
The exercise doesn’t look like much from the outside, but it is much harder than one would imagine. The effect is completely different than when one stands on two legs when the weight is balanced on both sides of the body and muscles are relaxed. When one stands on one leg the centre of mass of the body changes and muscles work hard to maintain the balance.
As I started the exercises I felt a burning pressure in my thorax and I couldn’t be in the position longer than five minutes. After continual exercises my endurance improved and I could stand even twenty minutes balancing sequentially on left and right leg for five minutes.
Wall bars I purchased years ago are a good aid in this exercise. My friend made me a step on which I put the resting leg. He also made a holder to fix on the wall bar to prevent the knee of the paralysed leg from turning inside.
If you have a feeling that you fall down as soon as you raise your leg on the step you can start the exercise by standing steadily on both legs. Therapist (or your assistant) can wake up the muscles in your body when he/she stand behind you and pushes your body to the left or to the right or forward or pulls it backwards so that you resist the movement with your body and keep your body straightened. Only a couple of resisting movements make the muscles in my body awake so that I can begin with the actual exercise.
One-leg standing is an exercise which promotes walking ability and ability to climb stairs while it improves body control.
As I stayed in the rehabilitation centre in China I started after couple of months to walk with a rollator as I did in the beginning when I became disabled. However, it demanded full-time exercise to reach those results. In the Chinese rehabilitation centre I had excellent opportunity for that. After I returned home my chances were totally different and my condition reverted to the state what it was before I went to China.
It is too bad that despite of our gorgeous rehabilitation centres, fitness equipment and countless options the regulations and norms – and especially the mastery of money – in western societies hamstring the real work in a way that we can accomplish only minimal part of what our capacity would allow us. And yet: The requirement for the realisation and fulfillment of ourselves would only be that we have free hands to do that what is dearest to us.