Manual resistance training can be especially valuable for disabled athletes, says local fitness trainer John Philbin.

"Most disabled people can use conventional equipment," says Philbin. "But some have trouble with free weights and machinery. It's difficult for them to perform the exercise properly because of neuro-muscular limitations."

Philbin is the conditioning coordinator for the Achilles Track Club, a group of disabled people who train for long-distance racing and track and field events. The club includes blind members, stroke victims and paraplegics. What most of them have in common is that their strength level is low and they have a limited range of movement.

"The main concern for strengthening the handicapped is to make their life style easier, to create more range of movement, to make them more independent," says Philbin. "We try to improve their ability to transfer themselves, from a wheelchair to a chair, bed or a car. So most MR exercises we do for the handicapped are with the upper torso, midsection and arms. When working with the disabled, it's important to sense their strength level with contact. With MR, the spotter can adjust the resistance better than can be done with a weight machine or a barbell."

Philbin says another advantage MR has for the disabled over strength training with machines and weights is that it requires only one set of repetitions for each muscle worked. "With MR, you can work through one set safely and be completely burned out."

Some handicapped people train not just to make everyday life easier but to improve their competitive abilities.

Achilles Track Club member Paul McDowell of Landover has used a wheelchair since a 1958 automobile accident. "I find it more demanding," said McDowell, 47, the national record holder in the class two injury level pentathlon. "I've been competing in wheelchair sports for 10 years now," he says, "and I find myself stronger than ever."