This 20-Minute Upper-Body Workout Is a Must for Handcyclists may earn compensation through affiliate links in this story. Learn more about our affiliate and product review process here.
Because you crank a handcycle with your arms, upper-body strength is important for this activity.
Image Credit: Jeremy Poland/iStock/GettyImages

Upper-body strength is helpful in many sports; it's a must in handcycling.


Handcycling is an adaptive sport that allows people with no or limited use of their legs to cycle for fun and competition, according to Move United, the national leader in community adaptive sports. The handcycle resembles a tricycle, but instead of using your legs to propel yourself forward, you use your arms.

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"It's like turning a bike upside-down and cranking the pedals with your arms," says Rick Babington, a USA Cycling-certified coach who works with handcyclists. "It's all upper body: shoulders, arms, upper back, chest and core muscles."

However, whereas a bicycle involves alternating limbs with each pedal, a handcycle requires both limbs to move together. So, even if you're a casual handcyclist with no desire to race, wheeling yourself any distance takes serious upper-body strength.

That's why we tapped Babington to create an upper-body workout. Use this 20-minute routine to prepare for a successful handcycling season of racing or your exploring local cycling paths.


Check out more of our 20-minute workouts here — we’ve got something for everyone.

A 20-Minute Upper-Body Workout for Handcyclists

This 20-minute routine is ideal for beginner handcyclists, Babington says. Start by doing it once a week and gradually build up to three, giving yourself at least one day of rest in between.

Similarly, do one set of each exercise to start. Add more sets once you get used to the movements, stopping at three sets total. The amount of reps of each exercise are listed below.


We asked handcyclist Edwin Munoz, founder and CEO of the Edstrong Foundation — a nonprofit organization that provides fitness rehab, travel and community to those with paralysis and other neurological disabilities — to demonstrate the moves.

Things You'll Need

  • Resistance band

  • Dumbbell

  • Stability ball

1. Seated Resistance Band Chest Press

The seated chest press mimics the motion of using both arms to propel yourself forward in a handcycle, Babington explains. As such, this exercise is a great way to build strength and endurance in your chest, shoulders and triceps.


Reps 20
  1. Loop a resistance band around a stable structure and sit facing away. Or, loop the band behind your back and tuck it under your armpits.
  2. Hold one end of the band in each hand next to your chest, elbows tucked at your sides.
  3. Press your hands in front of your chest so your arms are fully extended, palms facing the floor.
  4. Return your hands to the starting position with control.
  5. Repeat.
  6. Do 1 to 3 sets of 20 to 30 reps.


You can use a cable machine in place of a resistance band, if desired.

2. Seated Resistance Band Back Row

Every time you push the handcycle cranks forward, you must pull them back to complete the movement, Babington says. That motion is best replicated with the seated back row, an exercise that recruits your back and biceps muscles.

Sets 20
  1. Loop a resistance band around a stable structure and sit facing it.
  2. Hold one end of the band in each hand with your arms extended in front of your torso, palms facing the floor.
  3. Squeeze your shoulder blades together to pull both handles toward you, ending with your elbows tucked at your sides.
  4. Reverse the movement to return to the starting position.
  5. Repeat.
  6. Do 1 to 3 sets of 20 to 30 reps.

3. Dumbbell Wrist Extension and Flexion

Wrist and forearm strength is also crucial in hand cycling "because if those small muscles fail, then the big muscles can't work correctly," Babington says. You need your wrist and forearm muscles to maintain your grip on the hand cranks so your other muscles can do their job.

Reps 20
  1. Hold a dumbbell with an overhand grip (palms facing the floor) in your right hand and rest your right hand and forearm on a stability ball.
  2. Roll your wrist forward.
  3. Then, roll your wrist backward.
  4. Do 1 to 3 sets of 20 to 30 reps.
  5. Repeat all reps on your right side before switching to your left side.


Increase the angle of wrist extension (straightening) and flexion (bending) to make this exercise more challenging.

You can also do this exercise using a wrist roller, a short handle with a cord attached in the middle (like this one from Amazon), to work these muscles.




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