Strength Training – Find Your Strength, Inside and Out

by / Monday, August 24, 2015 / Published in Health and Fitness

In my recent post Win the Battle of the Bulge this Summer, I covered the fundamentals of nutrition, with some actionable guidelines that can help anyone get into better shape through better dietary decisions. In this post, I focus on stretching, cardiovascular and strength training and outline a proven workout plan for building strength and muscular definition.

CAPABILITY Overcomes DISABILITY and Can Help Everyone of ALL ABILITIES Get Fit!

I do my very best to lead a very active lifestyle even though I’m completely paralyzed from the chest down with NO CORE BALANCE. But I believe in focusing on the positive instead of dwelling on the negative. You can see the results of that powerful belief through my athletic accomplishments on the world’s biggest stage. I know most of the people reading this won’t have a physical disability like mine. However, when it comes to having a strong, healthy body, are you being held back by limiting belief? If so, find inspiration in the countless people who have transformed their bodies and give yourself the confidence…and commitment to make this your time to get results.

Strength Training Fundamentals

I’ve been training for elite competition for most of my life, starting as a high school and college athlete, and then picking right back up with greater intensity when I became a wheelchair athlete. Through my own experience and that of great trainers I’ve worked with, I can tell you there are a lot of misconceptions about how to train and maintain proper form when handling weights.

Below, I’ve put together a two-day workout plan that I personally use to build my upper-body strength and endurance. It’s great whether you’re cranking on a racing wheelchair or handcycle, want to maximize performance, or you just want to develop an impressive physique. A few things all qualified trainers agree on is that in order to avoid injury, you start a training program with light weight, gradually increasing the load as your strength increases. Also, it’s important to perform exercises with control through the proper range of motion. That means no jerky motions, swinging the body to “assist” raising weights, and staying in proper body alignment through the exercise. According to legendary champion bodybuilders like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lee Labrada and Lee Haney, for maximum results, if you are pushing weight as in a bench press, use a more explosive movement as you push the weight, and go more slowly on the downward motion. For pulling exercises, pull explosively and release more slowly.

Note: I’ve found that sets of 30 – 20 – 10 work best for each exercise to build “Strength-Endurance.” It’s common for a two-day upper-body workout like this one to be scheduled Tuesday & Thursday, but you can adapt it to your own schedule.

Strength Training Day 1

Strength Training 2

Putting it All Together

Along with the intense weight workouts and strength conditioning or cardiovascular workouts, a big part of getting is shape is using plyometric/flexibility workouts before I start my strength conditioning exercises. This helps me stretch my muscles properly before weight lifting to help prevent injury. An example of plyometric or flexibility workout would be throwing a medicine ball to your partner when you are about 10 feet apart from each other. Throw it hard on a straight line overhead or chest passes trying to get in at least a 1,000 or 1,800 passes within 30 minutes or less. If you don’t have medicine ball, you can perform the following stretches:

  • Cross one arm over your chest and use the other arm to pull it in closely. Hold for several seconds. Repeat 3 times, trying to stretch deeper on each repetition.
  • Clasp you hands behind your back. Bend over and try to extend you arms higher. Hold for several seconds. Repeat 3 times.

Kevin Saunders Training on Handcycle

Kevin Saunders training in his hand cycle getting in his much needed cardio exercise.

When it comes to the weight of the medicine ball and the amount of time you use it is something to build up to if you haven’t had many or any workouts using the medicine ball like this.

What has helped me or anyone else to prevent injuries is to properly warm up. For this, I like using a 6 lb. medicine ball then when you start getting in really good shape you can start increasing your weight and intensity. From 6 lbs. you can go to 10-12 lbs. and doing anywhere from 500 to 1,500 passes throwing them as fast as you can. This warmup stretches and gets me ready for the main workout, just like a race horse is warmed up to get it to perform at its peak without injury. So, I use the medicine ball to help improve my flexibility and strength endurance before I began to do strength conditioning exercises. When I finish my strength conditioning workout I want to make sure and do some cool down exercises with rubber bands at the end of my exercises to stretch those muscles, ligaments and tendons. This helps prevent injury. Warming up and cooling down are essential to anyone.

Eating right and keeping your metabolism burning continuously and by eating smaller balanced meals with small snacks always high in protein to build muscle, carbohydrates to give me energy for my workouts and throughout the day without crashing and feeling tired and vegetables or a salad is a BIG part of the equation for getting the Lean Body you want. By eating like this I help ensure my metabolic rate is running all day long which helps me stay alert and energetic so I can get my other business work done, too.

What’s Next for Kevin?

In the next 7 months I would normally start to increase the amount of cardiovascular conditioning when combined with strength conditioning, but since we had so much rain in Houston recently, I tried training indoors on a hand cycle which has a hook up for my front wheel, converting it into something like a spinning bike. The only downside is that there is no way to get distance from the GPS since I’m not going anywhere.

Kevin training on handcycle

It has helped me greatly to switch up my strength training regimen every two weeks, going from high repetitions with lighter weight to heavy weights (6 to 10 reps). I also alternate my cardiovascular workouts every two weeks, switching from long distance to fartlek training (a form of interval or speed training). Running, or in my case, pushing, a racing wheelchair or hand-cycle involves varying your pace throughout your run, alternating between fast segments and slow jogs. Unlike traditional interval training that involves specific timed or measured segments, fartlek’s are more unstructured.

I greatly appreciate that the work-rest intervals can be based on how the body feels. With fartlek training, you can experiment with pace and endurance, and to experience changes of pace. Many runners, especially beginners, enjoy fartlek training because it involves speed work. I do sprints in my racing wheelchair by pushing full speed as hard as I can. Then I “recover” by pushing my wheelchair at 50% to 75% of maximum speed, alternating every 30 seconds to as long as 5 minutes during a 1 hours workout. As my cardiovascular endurance increases, I also incorporate interval training that involves specific timed or measured segments. I push full speed or ½ or ¾ speed for different time periods to keep my body always in a state of preparedness. As a person in a wheelchair paralyzed from the chest down with NO CORE BALANCE, it is very important for me to be ready to take on whatever physical challenge I am confronted with at any time.

Kevin is always training

Left: Kevin after his work out in the morning. Right: Kevin curling 70 lb. dumbbell

These workouts have helped me lose more body, fat making it even easier to transfer myself from my SUV to my wheelchair, using only my arms. I am capable of pulling my wheelchair in and out, hopping curbs and riding escalators so I can go wherever I need to go.

Are you strength training to increase your own physical capabilities and overall health? I’d love to hear from you! Tell me how you train and what it means to you to be healthy.

Keep Going for the GOLD! Never Give Up!
Kevin Saunders, motivational speaker
Kevin Saunders


Kevin Saunders is a World Champion Paralympian, motivational speaker, athlete (with multiple gold medals) and author. Kevin Saunders was the first person with a disability appointed to the President’s Council on Physical Fitness Sports (only 20 people are selected for this nationwide) by the President of the United States. Kevin Saunders was first chosen to be appointed to the prestigious Council by President George H.W. Bush and was the only person reappointed by to this Council by President Bill Clinton and he was reappointed again by President George W. Bush as a constituent expert to the President’s Council on Physical Fitness & Sports. Learn more about Kevin’s story and accomplishments.


Tagged under: ,
TOP