If you’re reading this, it’s because you’ve realized that there are very few fitness resources out there for people with disabilities. There are playdates for special needs children, respite groups for parents, and emerging career opportunities for adults with disabilities, but there are nearly no organizations focused on the physical health of those with disabilities. You can be part of the solution by implementing fitness programs for people with disabilities. Here’s how:
Study Popular Fitness Programs
Before you can create something great, you have to look to the greats. (Of course, the argument can be made that “the greats” had no one to look up to before they came around, so you could technically make something great without referring to other work. However, you may not create anything original or anything of value.)
The perk of studying the most popular fitness programs is twofold:
- You get to see what greatness looks (as previously stated).
- You get to see what’s missing from this program.
By now you’ve noticed that all the popular workout programs are exclusively targeted to those who are both able-bodied and able-minded. Knowing that upfront, of course, it’s easy to see that what’s missing here is accessible workouts.
However, you may also discover that the workout program is targeted to a niche group, people who want:
- Abs of steel
- Kardashian backsides
- To increase their endurance
- Get “summer ready”
With these focuses, major components of fitness could be missing from these programs, like cardio exercises, stretches to improve flexibility, and more.
Take note of what’s working and what’s not in the popular fitness programs, so you can make implementing fitness programs for people with disabilities even easier.
Work With Clients With Disabilities and Take Notes
If you want your program to work for people with special needs, you have to work with people with disabilities and take notes. Many of your proposed concepts for your fitness program may sound great, in theory, but how do they work in the “field,” so to speak? Is your program flexible enough to fit each individual client?
If you already have ideas for how your fitness program will work (and you should have some after doing your research!), you might try some of your ideas out with some special needs clients.
If you don’t have any special needs clients…
Here’s what we recommend for building your client base:
- Volunteer with special needs organizations.
- Write a guest blog for websites that support special needs.
- Put out Google Ads for keywords like “special needs fitness.”
- Pass out fliers at your local gyms.
- Get certified with us! (More on this later in the blog.)
Research a Wide Range of Disabilities
You may have become passionate about working people individual with special needs because of your experience with someone close to you. However, because the special needs population is small, the changes of you having experience with more than one or two disabilities is slim to done.
We recommend that you work with a wide client population, but if people with certain disabilities never come your way, it’s important that you’ve done your research, so you can be ready when they do.
Here are some resources we recommend for this research:
- Our Sister Company’s Site, Special Strong
- Research on Disability
- CDC Research on Developmental Disabilities
- American Institutes for Research: Disability and Rehabilitation
- Journal of Intellectual Disability Research
- Disability Research and Dissemination Center
- Center for Research on Women With Disabilities
In the meantime, we have some suggestions for workouts for your program.
Workouts for People in Wheelchairs
Those with limited to no mobility in the lower half of their bodies will need a special set of workouts. Not only will you need to focus on workouts, in your fitness program, that your client is physically capable of doing, but you’ll also need to include exercises that work out the lower half of their body to keep their muscles from becoming atrophied.
Workouts for People With Limited Mobility
An individual with limited mobility is not necessarily the same as someone in a wheelchair. Your client may have enough range of motion to justify using a walker or other means of getting around. Elderly clients, for example, have limited mobility in other parts of their bodies as well. We recommend chair exercises, along with the other exercises recommended in the blogs listed below.
- How to Exercise With Limited Mobility
- Adapted Fitness Exercise Workout Plan
- The Best Home Workout Equipment for Special Needs
Workouts for People With Autism
People with autism need fitness for different reasons. Sure, they need to keep their bodies fit and strong, like the rest of us, but fitness also offers a unique set of benefits to those on the spectrum. Read our blogs below to get some ideas for your fitness program.
- Sensory Workouts for People With Autism and ADHD
- 5 Ways Exercise Helps People With ADHD and Autism
- The Autism Fitness Handbook
Workouts for People With Down Syndrome
People with Down Syndrome often have other ailments that you’ll need to be aware of, as well as behavioral changes. Some of the workouts for people with autism may help in the behavioral department, but besides that we’ve written another article for working with clients with Down Syndrome.
Workouts for Children With Special Needs
Children require their own unique care, separate from their diagnoses. Keeping the attention of a child with special needs is going to be very different from achieving the same goal with an adult. Scroll down for further reading.
- Make Fitness Fun for Kids With Special Needs
- How to Train Autistic Children
- 4 Workouts That Reduce Behaviors in Children With Special Needs
Get Certified to Work With Special Needs
Ready to make more special needs clients, become better at working with people with disabilities, and start a fulfilling career? Get certified with Strong Education! Our program is perfect for personal trainers, special education teachers, behavioral therapists, and parents of children with special needs.
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.