4 Exercise Progressions, 5W’s, and an H
4 Exercise Progressions, 5W’s, and an H
The most frustrating part of beginning a fitness or physical education program for students with special needs is that educators and professionals are not quite sure where to start. Add to that the fact that students in any class will vary quite a bit in their skills. Do we teach gymnastics? Yoga? How about sports units? Are any of these appropriate for our students or conducive to them gaining the physical health and skills they need? I recently released my PAC Profile Assessment Toolbox, the only program of its kind to develop fitness and physical education programs based on three areas of ability.
The PAC Profile Assessment focuses on the three most important areas of functioning; Physical, Adaptive, and Cognitive. Within each of these, an individual can baseline, or begin, at a low, intermediate, or high level of ability. Depending on where they score in the assessment, we can develop not only the right fitness program, but just as importantly have a successful strategy for teaching the new activities. Below are four different exercises used in the Assessment along with the 4Ws and 1H.
- What: Bending knees and lowering the rear end towards the ground while maintaining healthy posture
- Why: One of the most essential human movements and because of sedentary lifestyles many people (both special needs and neurotypical) begin to lose this critical ability and suffer back pain and other issues
- When: Squat early and squat often. Toddlers can spend long periods of time in perfect squatting position. Squatting patterns should be part of EVERY fitness program
- Where: Wherever. In the classroom, gym, therapy clinic, at home, the backyard, Grandma’s retirement home…
- Who: EV-ER-Y-ONE.
- How: My go-to regression has the athlete squatting to a medicine ball (I prefer the Dynamax balls because they are big and relatively soft). After they develop the ability to squat below parallel (i.e. butt close to the ground), we can also start adding weight (Sandbells or other resistance) and adding power activities; frog hops.
2) Overhead Press
- What: Extending the arms all the way overhead with little-to-no bend in the elbow. Then, doing it with resistance.
- Why: For shoulder strength and stability, to increase stamina on fine motor skills, and to strengthen the trunk (often called the “core” but that seems to mean everything and nothing at this point)
- When: I used to only begin loading (adding weight) once my athletes could get both arms up overhead 10x. Since then, I’ve discovered that some athletes perform the movement better witha light weight instead of an empty hand. Start teaching with a light ball or 2 lb. Sandbell. Similar to squats, this is a whenever type of activity.
- Where: See above. Unless it is a basement with a really, really low ceiling.
- Who: Unless there is a pre-existing physical condition such as Cerebral Palsy or other muscular disorder, overhead presses can be used with just about anyone. In the case of CP or related disorders, efforts should still be made to increase strength and range of motion in the shoulder.
- How: Begin with a standing press with one hand. Progress to both hands, and then an alternating (left, right or right, left) press. Add weight as the individual gets stronger.
3) Medicine Ball throws
- What: Picking up a weighted ball (again, I go with the Dynamax), standing anywhere from 5 to 25 feet away from a partner or several partners, and pushing the ball towards them
- Why: For upper body power, coordination, timing, and social interaction, not to mention some cool short-term memory benefits
- When: As a warm-up or part of a partner circuit. Fantastic during the day between school tasks
- Where: Classroom, gym, backyard, park
- Who: I typically begin light throws with an unweighted ball with individuals at about 5-6 years of age.
- How: Begin standing a couple of steps away. Once the individual has mastered passing the ball, increase the distance and teach push-throws (holding the ball at chest level, as seen in the picture above). Once push throws are mastered, you can begin teaching overhead, scoop, and squat-throws.
4) Bear Walks
- What: From a quadruped (knees and hands) position, pick up the knees and walk on the hands and feet across the floor
- Why: Hip flexibility (which we lose when we sit a lot during the day), shoulder stability, stamina, and coordination
- When: As a warm-up or while transitioning from one exercise station to another
- Where: Gym with open space, classroom, open space at home, outside is usually best
- Who: As soon they can crawl, we have the basics of the bear walk. In fact, most toddlers will engage in this movement pattern as part of learning to walk.
- How: Begin by teaching the quadruped position. Some individuals are at first uncomfortable on the ground and need some time to adjust. Once this skill is acquired, begin with short walks of 3-5 feet and progress to longer walks across different spaces
Using just these four activities can yield tremendous physical, adaptive, and cognitive benefits for any individual. The key is beginning at their current level of ability and finding a progression and teaching strategy that meets their needs. As with any curriculum, the goal should be lifelong fitness and physical health, which only comes from making it part of a lifestyle and finding a way to make movement fun. These are only four of the twenty activities found in the PAC Profile Assessment Toolbox. More info is available at www.autismfitness.com/autism-fitness-toolbox
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This post originally appeared on our March/April 2011 Magazine