How to Create an Exercise Program for Special Populations

Exercise is beneficial to everyone – even the special populations.

In the case of special populations participating in a fitness program is a crucial part of living a healthy life.  They include people with disabilities like autism, cerebral palsy and the likes. People with a spinal cord injury or an amputation are also considered part of special populations.

The more you exercise, the greater the health benefits are for the body and also the mind.

So how exactly do you create an exercise program for special populations?

There are four things you can do and we will cover each one in this post.

If you’re ready, here are the four things you need to do to effectively design an exercise program for the special needs population.

STEP 1: Make a preliminary health assessment.

People who fall under the category of special populations usually suffer from one chronic disease or another. If you’re going to train someone from this category, know if they’re suffering from hypertension or if they have a heart disease or even asthma.

Since exercise requires a lot of cardio, not knowing if the person you’re training with suffers from chronic diseases can become fatal for them.

To avoid this, make sure that you do a preliminary or initial assessment. Include a thorough examination of their health history. It’s also best to secure a clearance from your client’s physician before starting them on an exercise program.

Take note: People who suffer from chronic diseases can still exercise. Regular exercise has been proven to improve overall health. Staying active is also proven to reduce the risk of chronic physical and mental health. These include conditions like dementia, anxiety, depression and even mood disorders.

This is where having a Special Education certification comes in. By getting certified to train special populations, you get the necessary knowledge you need to do an initial assessment. When you do this, you can gauge their ability and capacity to engage in an exercise program.

Once you’ve done this, you can move on to Step no. 2.

STEP 2: Let your clients communicate their goals.

People exercise for a variety of reasons. Some exercises improve balance. Others help build your muscles. Some are meant for strength training. Some people exercise to improve the endurance of their hearts. Others like to do a mix of exercises to help with their overall health.

However, not all people are aware that exercise has a variety and that each variety targets a specific health concern.

This is another time when the expertise of a professional fitness trainer comes in.

When you create an exercise program for people with special needs, you need to know exactly what their goals are.

Do they need to strengthen their cardiovascular health?

Then a good dose of aerobic exercises to improve their heart rates and breathing would be recommended.

Do they need – or want – to be stronger?

Then strength training is the ideal exercise program to go for.

Do they need help with balance and coordination?

Then start them with lower body exercises that target the body’s balance.

Some may have ZERO idea on the kind of exercise they need until you tell them simply because they don’t have the know-how.

So instead of telling them the many different exercises they can try that could overwhelm them, let them tell you their goals.

Once they do, create the best exercise program that would fit into those goals they mentioned. By this time, you can get them started on getting better physically.

But before you do that, make sure that you do the next step first.

STEP 3: Before you plan, prioritize what’s most needed.

In this case, don’t just consider yourself as a fitness trainer.

Consider yourself a trained health professional who knows better than your client at this point.

By now you already know any health condition that your client may have. They are also able to communicate their goals. Hopefully, their goals align with their physical ability and capacity to perform the physical activities you’re already creating in your mind.

However, you must act the consultant and gauge if the strength training they said they want is what they really need at this point.

Be the one to make the assessment.

What’s more needed with their present condition? Aerobic exercises? Strength training? Or flexibility and balance routines?

This part of creating the exercise program is very important because you can only get the best results for your clients when you are able to create the right exercise program for them.

You can do this by performing an actual fitness assessment.

It’s sort of a ‘test run’ of the actual fitness program you’d like for them and gives you insight on the best kind of exercises to include in their program.

Here are three things you should take note when doing an assessment:

  •   body composition including body fat, lean body mass and body mass index (bmi);
  •     range of motion or body movement; and
  •     fitness level and capacity

You need to do this because some people have no idea about their fitness level. Much more if they belong to special populations.  By doing an assessment on these areas, you can get a baseline on where to start their exercise program.

Once this is out of the way, you can now go to the last part which is none other than:

STEP 4: Plan.

Planning is your last step when creating an exercise program for special populations.

Once you know their health history, take note of their goals and learn about their fitness level, the next step you need to do is plan the actual program.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommends that you spread out a total of 150 minutes of moderate physical activity in a week. You can do half that time with just 75 minutes ensuring that you do vigorous activities instead for greater and better health benefits.

But this is where you need to plan well.

Following the recommendation of the HHS might be ideal. But then again you have to take note of your client’s goals, fitness demands, time, frequency and even their level of enjoyment for doing physical activities.

When you take these things into account, you can create a personalized exercise program that best fits your client’s needs.

You should know as well that while you may have a fitness program already, it’s not 100% foolproof.

There will be times when progress seems slow for you and your client, but you need to be patient. This is normal whenever you begin a new exercise program.

To make things easier for you and your client, you can extend their fitness program even at home. How? Incorporate physical activities into their daily routine.

Here are some ideas for you:

  • Jumping on a trampoline
  • Walking
  • Swimming
  • Dancing
  • Stretches
  • Carrying things, like groceries
  • Running on a treadmill
  • Using a stationary bike
  • Working with resistance bands

Step 5: Execute.

Once you have planned and designed your exercise program for special populations, it is vital to execute it effectively. Here are some tips to help you successfully implement and manage the exercise program for special populations:

Provide Clear Instructions

Instruction clarity forms a vital baseline in adaptive fitness training. Good trainers ensure robust communication and demonstration of each exercise to participants. This implies using straightforward language and avoiding complex jargon, making it easier for the participant to understand the desired technique and sequence of executing the exercises. Optimum clarity aids in reducing confusion, keeping the session productive and ensuring the participant’s safety.

Adapt Exercises if Necessary

In adaptive fitness training, readiness to modify exercises according to individual needs and abilities is paramount. Participants belonging to special populations might require unique variations or modifications to traditional exercises to accommodate any physical limitations or health conditions they might have. Implementing these adaptations helps ensure that every participant can benefit from the workout irrespective of their circumstances.

Monitor Participants Closely

Active and vigilant surveillance of participants during the sessions plays a key role in ensuring their safety and overall well-being. Trainers should be quick to pick up any signs of discomfort, fatigue, or struggle caused by physical limitations. In response to these signs, alterations, or alternatives to the regimen should be promptly provided. This ensures participants remain engaged and active while maintaining their safety.

Motivate and Encourage

Individuals from special populations often face unique hurdles in their fitness journey, making motivation and encouragement vital. As their fitness guide, ensuring constant motivation and encouragement helps them overcome these challenges. This can be done by celebrating even the smallest achievements, providing constructive feedback, and offering continual support. This persistence can significantly uplift their spirits, assisting them to stay focused and motivated throughout the program.

Keep the Routines Varied and Engaging

To prevent boredom and maintain participant engagement, make sure to incorporate a variety of exercises and activities into the program. Utilize different equipment, techniques, and training methods to keep the workouts interesting and enjoyable for the participants. Additionally, consider adding group exercises or team activities to foster a sense of community and camaraderie among the participants.

Regularly Assess Progress

Throughout the program, regularly assess the participants’ progress and adjust the exercise program accordingly. Conduct periodic fitness assessments to track improvements in strength, endurance, flexibility, and overall fitness. Use these assessments to set new goals and challenge participants to continue progressing.

Address Individual Needs

Each participant in the special population may have different needs and goals. Take the time to listen to their concerns, preferences, and feedback. Customize the exercise program to meet their specific needs, whether it’s targeting certain muscle groups, addressing certain health conditions, or accommodating any physical limitations.

Before we wrap things up, here are a few things you need to remember:

No two exercise programs are the same. No two individuals – special populations or not – are created equal. So when you create a fitness program for special populations, consider an individual approach to make each exercise program unique.

Do you want to learn how to create an Exercise Program for Special Populations? Are you interested in adaptive fitness and nutrition to help the special needs population?

Get started today with the Certify Strong Adapted Special Needs Fitness & Nutrition Course and get certified to help people with special needs reach their fitness goals. 

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Thank you for your interest in Special Strong

One of our local special strong trainers will reach out to you shortly.

In your area we provide virtual in home training. Please take a look at this video to know more about what to expect in a training class. Also join our Facebook and Instagram community where we highlight stories of our clients overcoming challenges to live an abundant life. We hope to highlight your story soon.

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