Pumping Iron

Robert Alonzo says the Uppertone has helped him build muscle and ease pain in his shoulders.
Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News August 2015

Fitting an exercise routine into the life of a quadriplegic who needs the help of a caregiver for many daily activities can be difficult — this home exercise machine can help.

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For most people, two of the most obvious components to fitness and health are diet and exercise.

Of the two, diet for those with a physical disability is the easier one to maintain, simply because we’re able to control what you eat. The difficult issue is fitting an exercise routine into the life of a quadriplegic who needs the help of a caregiver for many daily activities.

Luckily, I was introduced to a fantastic home exercise machine specifically designed for quads. The Uppertone has been around for awhile, but it’s something more quads should know about and be using.

A Clinical Study

After a spinal-cord injury (SCI) 41 years ago, my body is showing the visible signs of aging with a high-level injury (C-5/6).

Injured at the age of 18, I was healthy and fit while serving as a rifleman with the 509th Airborne Division. For the first 14 years I moved around by using a manual wheelchair.

This was how I exercised until I participated in a clinical study at Arizona State University some years ago. The study basically had us strapped to a handcycle twice a week, increasing time and tension as the trials progressed.

My cardiovascular system, shoulder and neck muscles began getting stronger. My respiratory system improved so much that for my final workout I was able to do a four-hour maximum session at full speed.

A Renewed Commitment

I came away from the study with a renewed commitment for exercise and continued to handcycle religiously the next 26 years, going through two ergometers.

My stamina and endurance had improved to a point my wife and I could travel the U.S., Canada and Mexico while living out of a 21-foot toy hauler with me doing all the driving for five years.

While I maintained cardio, I continued to show the visible signs of aging. The muscle loss around my arms had become tremendous. Years of no weight-bearing exercises had taken their toll. My arms and back had become hanging skin.

When in bed, I lied on my sides with my wife turning me twice during the night. Early in 2014, I began experiencing pain in my shoulders while on my sides.

My first recourse was to take extra pain medications, raise the head of my half of the bed to relieve the pain and get some sleep until it was turning time. However, those changes were just Band-aids that would only create their own problems.

By sleeping with my head up, my hips began getting inflamed — the first sign of skin breakdown. I’d also been on pain management for 10 years and didn’t want to pump up the meds.

The Uppertone

I’d never dwelt on muscle loss as I would age with SCI, but to build muscle tissue meant I’d have to do true weight-bearing exercises and this is where I became acquainted with the Uppertone.

The Uppertone was designed by a C-4/5 quadriplegic to give a complete upper body workout for quads without the use of mitts, bandages or the assistance of a caregiver.

The gym has four stations, all height adjustable for power and manual chairs. The Uppertone features 16 exercises, including curls, pulls and presses.

I’ve had my Uppertone a year now and have experienced positive results. My arms have begun developing muscle tissue, easing the pain in my shoulders and allowing me to cut back on the pain meds. I again sleep with my bed flat, improving the skin around my hips.

I now exercise every other day and feel guilty when I miss a session.

Better Life

Tested by doctors at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., the Uppertone requires no endorsement from me.

A new Uppertone can cost upwards of $3,500, but you might be able to find a used one on the Internet for much less. It also requires some assembly, but a handyman put mine together in less than an hour.

Whether you use an Uppertone or not, any exercise program can mean a better quality of life. Even after 41 years, I find it nice to know I can turn the clock back a little physically, not merely for vanity’s sake, but for health.

Robert Alonzo is a veteran of the U.S. Army’s 509th Airborne Division and is a member of the Paralyzed Veterans of America Cal-Diego Chapter.


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