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Josh George's Top Three Exercises for Wheelchair Racers

Four-time Paralympian Josh George is one of the most recognized faces on the international wheelchair racing circuit, having won five Paralympic medals and the Chicago Marathon three times.

The Champaign, IL, resident was the runner-up in the men’s wheelchair division at the 2015 TCS New York City Marathon, finishing just one second behind South Africa’s Ernst van Dyk, and he won the inaugural professional wheelchair athlete race at the NYC Half in 2014.

Wheelchair racers like George go through the same wear and tear as able-bodied runners–it’s just on their arms and hands rather than their legs and feet.

“Instead of tying up your shoes, you’re putting on your gloves and cramming yourself into a racing chair,” George says.

While gearing up for his 10th New York City Marathon on Sunday, November 6, George took some time to share specific training advice for wheelchair racers.

Josh George’s Three Recommended Gym Exercises for Wheelchair Racers

  • Decline bench press: This move may be more beneficial than the standard flat bench press because it triggers more movement and strength-building in the chest, triceps, and pectoral muscles. These are the main areas of the body used while pushing a racing chair. Benching at a decline also puts less stress on the shoulders and lower back.
  • Dips: These are exercises used to strengthen shoulders and triceps and will greatly increase muscular endurance for wheelchair racers come race day.
  • Upper back exercises: To practice keeping the body stable and balanced over a long period of time, perform exercises that rely a lot on the shoulders and upper back. This could include deltoid raises, reverse flyes, shoulder presses, and exercises that strengthen the rotator cuff. 

After races or long training sessions, just like able-bodied runners, wheelchair racers often have massages or jump into cold-water pools to help fight off inflammation.

But while able-bodied runners may have post-race blisters or irritation on their feet, wheelchair racers may find calluses on their hands, tops of fingers, and on certain knuckles.

“When you’re playing guitar, it just makes your fingertips red and raw. But when you’re racing, there’s a lot more friction that your hands have to deal with,” George says. “So for new wheelchair racers, you end up almost rubbing the skin off of your fingers. The only way to really get past that point is to let blisters pop and reform, and pop and reform. It’s a painful process, but eventually you get a callous there instead of a blister, and you never have to worry about it again.”

By Stuart Lieberman