A trainer’s advice on exercise and health

Back in 2006, Ryan Lockard was a college athlete trying to finish his degree. He also worked as an aide for a teenage boy named Ben, who had autism. When he saw that the fitness expectations were set lower for Ben than for the neurotypical kids, Lockard knew Ben was capable of more. He helped Ben understand running mechanics, and coached him as he took on the extra distance. That experience sparked Lockard’s interest, personally and professionally, and he began to focus on athletic coaching for people with special needs.

Six years later, he founded Specialty Athletic Training, a fitness coaching business geared for clients with any sort of disability. With offices in Portland and in Bend, they serve over 400 clients with ages ranging from 4 to 64.

“Many of our clients have autism or ID; some have Down syndrome, or cerebral palsy,” said Lockard. “We believe that every person can improve their health and fitness, no matter their abilities or disabilities,” he added.

Lockard recognizes that people with disabilities can face challenges when it comes to getting enough exercise. Some have had a negative experience which makes them want to avoid working out. Others, like Ben, were given lower expectations. Some feel uncomfortable using loud, crowded gyms, or never learned the mechanics of exercise. At Specialty Athletic Training, Lockard’s mission is to make exercise a positive experience for every client.

Every person is unique, says Lockard, so he avoids set routines. But by finding one exercise a client enjoys, he is able to work in the stretching, strength-building, and cardio exercises that each of us need to be healthy. But he does have several helpful ideas for transition students and their families who want to add more exercise to their daily routines.


Five Tips for Making Fitness Fun


1. Start with what you enjoy

If it’s fun, people will keep coming back for more, says Lockard. Some of us like the repetition of lifting weights; others of us like the solitude of a hike in nature. Most activities can be social, too – working out with family or friends is a double bonus.


2. Fitness as a Family Lifestyle

Lockard has found that his clients are more successful when families make healthy lifestyle changes together. This includes shifting to a diet with less fast food and more fresh, home-cooked meals. “Nutrition is just as important as exercise,” he explained.


3. Provide extra communication

Many people with ID or other disabilities feel better when they understand how their bodies work. Why do we sweat? Why do our muscles feel like rubber? Why is it good for me to breathe heavy? Lockard emphasized the need to listen carefully to questions, and to clearly explain ideas like heartrates, sweating, and muscle fatigue.


4. Get to know your gym

Specialty Athletic trainers don’t work in a separate facility—they often meet their clients in a community gym. “Gyms are great for breaking down social barriers. It’s a win-win for everyone,” said Lockard. Other gym users get to know his clients, and even cheer them on. He added that habits like vocal stimulation can fit right into a gym, where weightlifters often grunt and yell.


5. Keep moving and use a full range of motion

To combat a sedentary lifestyle, we’ve just got to move more. During any exercise, it’s important to use a full range of motion to increase mobility and flexibility. And just as important to keep moving, so the heart rate stays up. Circuit training is a great way to bring together strength, stretching, and cardio!


Check out these exercises designed for people with IDD on the Specialty Athletic Training blog!

Photo supplied by Ryan Lockard