Welcome to the Upper Body Exercises page for wheelchair users who have multiple and profound learning and physical disabilities.

These resources are suitable for our Butterflies – children and young people who have profound and multiple learning and physical difficulties which may also be associated with complex medical and health needs.

This page gives ideas, activities and information which can help your Butterfly’s shoulder stability and hand strength.

Musical toys are a great way to develop hand eye coordination

We need good shoulder, elbow, wrist hand and finger strength to carry out our hand and fine motor activities including playing and activities of daily living such as eating. If your child has some difficulties with using their hands, then strengthening their shoulders, arms and hands may help them with their hand function.   

  • Before trying these exercises, take a minute to prepare your child. If their arms and hands are tight then stretch them out.

  • To wake up their muscles it can be a good idea to wake up their skin. This can be done by squeezing their hands, tips of their fingers and their arms and shoulders. You could also use a brush along their skin, or a vibrating massager to give them lots of stimulation. All of these can help to make your child more aware of their fingers/ hand/ arm which can then help them be more accurate and use their arms/ hands more effectively. 

  • Find the level for your child in each activity. Make sure your child is successful in their game as this will motivate them to continue. As you push them to get to the next level, they should be able to manage a few of their attempts to keep motivated-even if they are not successful at all of them.

  • Remember to praise the effort rather than the result to motivate them to keep putting in effort and not be put off if they don’t succeed.

These excellent arm strengthening exercises are suitable for wheelchair users to improve their upper body strength.

  1. Help your child onto a roll or a wedge with their hands on the ground and their shoulders over their hands.  Use cushions if you don’t have a roll or wedge at home. Try to encourage them to lift their head which will in turn make them push through their hands. Books or the TV are great for this activity.

  2. To progress this, encourage play in this position so they lift 1 hand. This could be helping to turn a page of a book or playing with balls. 

  3. If they manage this then move them further forward over the roll or wedge (or cushions) so that more of their weight comes over their hands. Try lifting a hand again for play. 

  1. Start just trying to maintain a hands and knees position. It may be easier to start with the child sitting back on their heels and just balancing through their arms. As they get stronger, move their bodies forward very slowly as they learn to adapt to each small change.

  2. Keep moving up until their shoulders are over their hands and their hips are over their knees. While they learn to hold this position, watching activities are the best – watching a tablet, reading a book etc so they don’t have to move their arms.  

  3. Once they are stable on their hands and knees, practice lifting 1 hand to play. They could play on a tablet with 1 hand or play with rolling balls. 

  1. See this ‘Our Home’ video on hand strengthening with playdough – kneading, pulling apart, squashing or wringing the playdough can all be great hand strengthening exercises.

  1. For finger strengthening, try hiding objects in the dough and your child has to manipulate it to get the toy.  

  1. Fill an empty toothpaste tube or a water bottle with a spout with some liquid. Help your child to squeeze this out.
  1. Using home implements can be brilliant for strengthening. For the whole hand use kitchen or BBQ tongs and try to pick up bigger items such as socks, soft toys, small cushions. Lots of ideas for hand strengthening and shoulder stability

  2. You could sort these into containers or try throwing them onto the floor. 

  1. Use a large piece of newspaper and ask your child to scrunch it into the smallest ball they can with 2 hands.

  2. Now ask them to do it with 1 hand. The manipulation needed for this will strengthen all the small intricate muscles of the hands. 

  1. Using scissors is a great way to strengthen hands. You can start by cutting dough as this teaches the right way to cut. Make a snake out of dough and help them to cut it into pieces.

  2. Move on to cutting straight lines on card or paper. You can help them while they do this until they are strong enough to do this for themselves. 

  3. Have a look at our ‘Our Home’ video on how to make a paper Minecraft character. 




Other helpful Butterfly resources

Thank you for visiting Gympanzees’ website. All information provided by Gympanzees is of general nature and for educational / entertainment purposes. It is up to you as the parent or family member to judge what is appropriate and safe for your child. No information provided by Gympanzees should replace any professional information and advice that you have been given and speak to your therapist or doctor if you are unsure of anything. Should you use any of the information provided by Gympanzees, you do so at your own risk and hold Gympanzees harmless from any and all losses, liabilities, injuries or damages resulting from any and all claims.