The Wheelchair Wheelie (part 2 of 3)


I suggest practicing in the grass for 2 reasons.  1) When you lean back your wheels are less likely to roll around.  2)  It will hurt less if/when you bust your ass.  Also, I suggest having someone stand behind you until the comfort level increases.    Chances are good your wheelchair has anti-tip bars if a) you are green (new) to a wheelchair, or b) you decided to stay inexperienced.   Either way, if you have them, leave them on!  The tip bars will eventually start touching as you become more comfortable tipping your weight backwards.  Once this begins to happen, yes, it’s time to take them off…. FOREVER.  Put them in the garbage, I promise they get in the way.

You don’t need to quickly wheel forward and jerk backwards to pop a wheelie.  If you are doing so, this is bad technique.  A wheelie is actually performed by pressing your back against the seatback.  Perfect technique is lifting the front wheels, while the back wheels are motionless.  This means that absolutely no forward momentum was needed.   Below are the exercise steps:

  1. Put your butt as far back in the 90-degree angle of your seat as possible. Keep your core straight. No slouching.
  2. Grip your hands on top of the wheels at 12 o’clock.
  3. Practice this step the longest, possibly days, until you’re comfortable. Without rolling the back wheels, begin to slowly push/lean your back into the seatback. Don’t try to lift the front off the ground yet. All you’re doing is taking weight off the front wheels. Be extremely careful, as minimal movement can have a dramatic effect on your balance. Continue to transfer your weight backwards, becoming familiar with the effect. Don’t continue to step 4 until you feel completely comfortable with the weight shift.
  4. Push into the seatback until the front wheels are entirely weightless. Notice they are touching the ground, but have absolutely no weight through them. I call this the “sweet spot”. This is your absolute center of balance. When a person is green to a wheelchair they tend to lean toward the forward extreme.A full-blown wheelie is the backward extreme. I strongly encourage you to go about your daily activities while unconsciously holding the “sweet spot”.
  5. Begin lifting the front wheels off the ground. Start with just a centimeter, then 2, and then 3. When practicing make sure to hold the wheelie at each level. If you’re lifting 1 centimeter for 2 seconds, and then quickly drop back down, do not progress to 2 centimeters. It’s time to take off the anti-tip bars once you can balance the front wheels 3 centimeters in the air for an extended period of time. Yes, take them off and never use them again.
  6. Don’t think about the fact that the ant-tip bars are gone, as this will not affect the balance you’ve learned. Now that you are able to balance a wheelie at low levels, practice balancing the front wheels at higher levels. Become comfortable lifting your knees toward your chest. It is ok to roll your gripped hands forward as you lift your knees and the front wheels. Practice until your comfort level is 100%. This could easily take days, if not weeks or months, to truly be comfortable. TIP: Practice backed up against a flat wall if you’re having trouble balancing while lifting the front wheels higher. With the anti-tip bars off, lean against the wall until your back touches. The front wheels should be off the ground. Use the wall against your back as a crutch to help find your balance. Remember to take more and more weight off the wall as you find your balance.
  7. The last part of the exercise is to apply it functionally to your daily life. This is the most important step, and should be practiced daily. What obstacles can you now hop over without having to go around? What crowded situations will you now be able to navigate with ease? What street curbs will you CHOOSE to hop down without having to look for the ADA accessible ramp? Eventually, popping a small wheelie to overcome an obstacle will be second nature, requiring little to no thought or effort. Psychologically, this is where you want to be.

Important Note:

If you can complete this exercise, you’re now able to balance a wheelie. There is something you need to keep in mind: A wheelie is simply the backward extreme, as leaning forward is the forward extreme. You needed to learn a wheelie to know the backward extreme, which has its functional sporadic uses. It’s even more important to balance in the “sweet spot” throughout the entire day without consciously thinking about it.

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  • annette

    Jacob, this is really funny about the wheelie bars. I never used them and after picking up my 2nd new chair, these were on it. Why its funny? I never had them in hospital, never knew they existed, so when my husband got me home i couldnt do ANYTHING but barely roll. LOL Obviously, we figured it out, removed and have never had again, with new chair. What newbies will soon learn, these are an extra cost to your purchase. They may ask today, if you want them, but 25 years ago included and charged for.

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