Fitness Equipment Worth Buying
Fitness Equipment Worth Buying
Over nearly a decade of providing fitness programs for the autism and special needs populations, I have played around and tested a good abundance of different equipment. Since most of my practice focused on in-home sessions with clients, my fitness equipment had to be portable, safe, and have few, if any, moving parts. Fortunate for me and my clients, the most effective (both cost and from a physical standpoint) equipment is all portable, takes up relatively little space and is, for the most part, *safe.
Related: The 7 Habits of Highly Successful Fitness Programs
*Safe can be an unfortunately relevant term.
I won’t launch into my typical 5,000-word tirade about how awful fitness machines are for most populations (particularly young populations with special needs). I will say that I have had many a conversation with an enthusiastic school administrator who tells me that they just purchased a brand new treadmill. When they inevitably ask me what to do with it, I usually tell them to sell it so they can use the PE room space more efficiently. The same goes for big, shiny new apparatuses that weigh nearly a ton and are for “arms, or abs, or legs.” These machines all came out of the 1970’s bodybuilding craze, and have left, in their wake, a great wave of misinformation about what fitness actually is and how to get there.
Objects vs. Objectives
Measuring by peering into shopping carts and living rooms around the country, it is clear we like stuff. And stuff can be cool. The problem, fitness-wise, is when we base exercise around a piece of equipment (or, usually something that more closely fits with the term “devise”) rather than considering the goals we have, or should have, for our athletes and students.
Objectives are the sun around which our fitness programs revolve. I want my athletes with special needs to bend, push, pull, rotate, and locomote safely and efficiently, with strength, stability, and coordination. The more varied situations they can perform these movements, the more fit they become. Not only do I want my athletes pushing, pulling, and bending, I want them doing it in different situations with different equipment, and I do not want them sitting down while they exercise.
Related: Investing in Vitality: Fitness and Long-Term Planning
The Good Stuff
If you’re like me, you’ve skipped the introduction and explanation stuff, promised yourself you would read it later, and come down here to check out the equipment that I actually recommend and use with my ASD and special needs clients. Each of these items wound up in this section because they can:
- Be used with nearly every individual
- Are non-specific and can be used for a wide variety of exercises
- Are safe and fun
- Are economical
Well, let the listing begin.
1) Spot markers
Have an 11-year old who has trouble attending? Have a 7-year old who is already doing single-leg lateral hops? Spot markers are the answer! If it weren’t for spot markers, I would be placing duct tape on every carpet and gym floor I work on. As exhibited above, spot markers come in an array of colors, shapes, sizes, and can even be employed for educational or communication targets as well. “Hop to the red star” or “Jump to a multiple of nine” are two ways in which we can mix plyometrics and academics (I am such a raving dork). Spot markers are great for activities that require attending, hopping, jumping, big steps, or specific distances. I usually browse the options on www.Flaghouse.com
It was a beautiful moment when I found that these things existed. Sandbells are the result of the innovative minds at Hyperwear in Austin, Texas. Sandbells are neoprene (the stuff they use to make wetsuits) disks that can be filled with sand and can be used as dumbbells, medicine balls, or any combination in-between. Because of the behavior issues inherent to the ASD population, a hard, heavy dumbbell may not always be the safest choice. I have, personally, had Sandbells dropped on my feet (accidentally and otherwise, and twice just this week) without suffering any ill effects.
The Sandbells range from 2 lbs., up to the big-boy sized 200 lb. Steelbell (capable of holding 200 lbs. of steel beads or “shot”). I’ve had clients with Cerebral Palsy using Sandbells, and there are pro-athletes training with them as well. How’s that for versatility?
You also have the option of buying them unfilled, which saves tremendously on shipping costs. A 50 lb. bag of play sand goes for around $3.50 at the local home repair store. I recommend getting a couple different sizes, usually between 4 and 10 lbs. for most young individuals.
3) Ropes gone Wild
Similar to the Sandbell, the ropes can be used by any individual of any skill level. All of my athletes love swinging the ropes in an array of combinations (double swings, alternating, “rainbow” swings, circles, etc.) and I usually join in the fun. The ropes, by the way, are by far superior to any “cardio machine” at a fraction of the cost and space. For those still insistent on their children or students “needing cardio,” this is your answer; as opposed to the excitement of running to nowhere or biking in the same corner of the room for 15 minutes.
The Dynamax medicine balls are perfect for throwing, catching, slamming, and for use as a cue for learning to squat correctly. They are soft and do not bounce, so they can be thrown against a variety of surfaces without odd bounce-backs. Their size makes them perfect for learning to catch, and they are very, very durable. They also come in a variety of colors, and have caught the attention of many of my athletes where a dull, old ball simply would not have. You can find them on the relatively antiquated www.medicineballs.com
Fitness programs should always be designed around the abilities and goals of the individual. Rather than resorting to a “this looks cool” or “The ad says this is how to use it” approach, using equipment that is suitable to a range of activities and skills will always be more cost effective, productive, and fun. Successful fitness programs are a blend of intelligent physical goals, motivation, and fun. Innovation is often an important factor. Equipment is just equipment until you turn it into a bridge to achievement. And some bridges are built better than others.
More Fitness Equipment
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- Roping in the Fun Using Fitness Ropes with Special Needs Athletes
- Encourage the Family to Get Moving with These Apps!
- Check It Out! Products You Can Use: Learning Not Limited to Classrooms
This post originally appeared on our November/December 2010 Magazine
Eric Chessen, M.S., is the Founder of Autism Fitness. An exercise physiologist with an extensive ABA background, Eric consults with families, educators, and fitness professionals around the world. Eric works with his athletes in the NY metro area and is the author of several E-books. Visit AutismFitness.com for more information.