As a special needs fitness trainer or a personal trainer for Multiple Sclerosis, you’re set apart from other fitness training professionals because you take the time to learn about your clients’ differing abilities. You do this by first understanding the client’s fitness goals as well as performing a physical assessment test to see how they perform. It’s during the process that you’ll learn how to better serve them as a personal trainer. Here’s how to train a client with Multiple Sclerosis (MS).
What Is Multiple Sclerosis?
Before you can hope to understand your clients on an individual level, you must first understand their physical disability, which is very important if you want to appropriately modify exercises in their workout program. Unlike other physical disabilities, MS can shift and change: It’s an autoimmune disease, meaning that white blood cells attack the central nervous system, “thinking” it unnatural and unwelcome. The white blood cells go on to deteriorate part of the spinal cord and brain, leading to lesions (which is where we get the term “Sclerosis”).
This ultimately means that messages from the brain to muscles in the body get misinterpreted, leading to limited mobility in certain parts of the body. To what degree each person is affected will depend on the location of the lesion and the severity of the autoimmune disease. Your clients with MS may be in wheelchairs or move independently. Just because a person with MS has full function in their hands one day does not mean that they necessarily will the next.
With this in mind, you’re not only adapting your workout routines from individual to individual, but you’re also doing it from day to day, comparing your client’s current range of motion to yesterday’s. What’s more: MS symptoms can start to improve with physical therapy. However, relapse is also possible, as the physical ailments are caused by the autoimmune disease, not the other way around.
How to Train a Client with Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
Fully Understand the Disability
Yes, we mentioned this above, but it’s that important: It’s worth mentioning twice. Before you can properly train someone with Multiple Sclerosis, you have to fully understand their autoimmune disease and how it impacts your clients’ physical capabilities.
Part of understanding MS isn’t just understanding the definition, which we loosely provided in the previous section. It’s about studying specific cases and seeing how the lesions in the spinal cord impact range of mobility, from moment to moment. See for yourself how exercise can help individuals with MS, and see how the autoimmune disease can lead to relapses, big and small.
Perform Daily Assessment Tests
The term “daily,” here, refers to each session. At the start of each session with your client, you’ll need to perform a mini-assessment test to see if their physical capabilities have changed, for better or for worse. Usually, an assessment would take up the entire training session, but with MS clients, you’ll need to adapt your methods to fit their needs.
Create a short five- to 10-minute assessment, so you can see how their range of motion has changed since your last session together. If everything is the same or better, great! Carry on with your workout regimen as planned. If not, however, then you’ll need to change course — which brings us to our next point:
Memorize Modified Exercises
Because you may need to shift gears with your client, after performing an assessment test and discovering that their physical capabilities have changed for the worse, you’ll also need to have a series of modified exercises on-hand. By that, we mean that you’ll need to memorize modified exercises, so that, if needed, you can spontaneously instruct your clients to perform them.
If you’re not well versed in modified exercises, then it’s going to be difficult to adapt to your client from session to session. Your ability to adapt is inherently connected to your ability to be a good personal trainer to a client with MS.
Measure Daily Progress — No Matter How Small
Because you’ll be performing micro-assessment tests at the start of each session, this will be much easier for you to do: measure daily progress. However, you’ll also need to take notes as your clients perform the workout routine you instruct them through.
Taking note of even minuscule changes can keep you (and your clients!) motivated to keep moving forward.
Compare Notes with Colleagues
Did you know that therapists will meet up and discuss client notes with each other? They meet with colleagues to compare notes, seeing what methods are working and which ones aren’t. Therapy is based on overarching cognitive theories, but ultimately, boils down to how each individual needs to be treated.
The very same can be said of trainers of MS clients. All your clients with MS are dealing the same autoimmune disease, but they may not all have the same symptoms. What’s more: Each person has a different upbringing, so either way, they’re going to expect different things ranging from how they believe they should be treated to how hard they’re willing to work to achieve their goals.
Meet up with other MS personal trainers so hear about what’s working for your colleagues’ clients and see if there’s anything you can apply to yours.
Physical Training Certification for MS
Perhaps you stumbled across this article because you’re interested in working with individuals with Multiple Sclerosis. Maybe you were unsure if this was a career field at all, let alone one you could actually pursue. It’s not only real; it’s also possible for you to embark on this journey, fulfilling your own passions and helping people with this autoimmune disease at the same time.
When you take our Special Needs Fitness Trainer Certification, you’ll be one step closer to your dream job. However, unlike other certification programs, we won’t pigeon-hole you into learning about just one type of disability. With our program, you’ll learn about both physical and cognitive disabilities, so you can help an even wider range of clients have healthier, happier lives.
Strong Education teaches personal trainers and service providers on how to adapt fitness and nutrition for children, adolescents, and adults with autism, Down Syndrome, and other disabilities through our online adaptive special needs certification course.