The 7 Habits of HIGHLY SUCCESSFUL FITNESS PROGRAMS
Fitness is a life skill. It is the pursuit of a healthier, stronger, more able body through activity, both planned and spontaneous. That’s one of the main differences between general fitness/active play and sports programs. Sports, team or otherwise, usually have a shelf-life. Even if a child or teen does play a sport, it is likely that his or her window of opportunity to do so into adulthood will be limited. We want physical activity to be a lifelong pursuit. To accomplish this requires a greater focus on fitness programs for the autism and special needs population in gyms, schools, therapeutic environments, and yes, at home as well.
If you’re going to initiate a fitness program, it might as well be appropriate, fun, and progressive. This is a long-term thing. No real need for stuff that doesn’t meet the needs of the individual or doesn’t take into account specific skills and abilities. If we’re going to do something, it should actually do something. Here are my seven, supersecret habits of fitness programs that now only you (and everybody else who actually reads my articles) know.
1) The Initiation should be positive.
Pairing physical activity with known reinforcers (things and activities we are certain will increase the likelihood of repeating the target behavior) can lessen that “You’re making me do something new and dreadful” quality that physical activity may have. In the early days of introducing a program, try a few minutes of physical activity followed with a longer period of break or leisure time. Preferred agendas can be used effectively here, so long as the contingency is not “Do four medicine ball push throws and then you can have gummy worms.”
2) Exercise and Activity Selection is Crucial.
I use the different variations of the same 8-10 basic movement patterns. You’ll never see my “101 Autism Fitness Exercises” because it would be a lot of fluff that you, or I, would never use. There are basic movements that need practice and development. All of my athletes squat, perform Dynamax ball throws (push, overhead, and scoop), crawl, jump, press weighted things overhead, carry heavy objects (relative to their level of strength), and locomote (get from point A to point B), usually with hurdle steps. These are the general movements that seem to have the greatest carryover to other physical life skills.
3) Variety is also important.
Adopt the mantra of “Same but different,” for this is where we dwell. Congratulations, you successfully taught Theodore to independently perform a bear walk for five feet. Now, to capitalize on this, ‘lil Teddy (he’s 19, so the ‘lil is sarcastic) needs to perform a lot more repetitions. This develops the strength and stability necessary to master the movement from a physical perspective.
Building the proper movement pattern is needed to build more complex skills. We do this with math, but not so much with physical activity, which is also a learning process particularly when movement deficits exist. The “Same but different” approach incorporates all the basic movements/ exercises and scatters them around a session. We may do weighted overhead walks first, we may do them last, but we’re doing them. We may do those overhead walks around cones, or while stepping on fish-shaped spot markers, but we’re doing them.
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