The 7 Habits of Highly Successful Fitness Programs
4) The Removal of “Have-to.”
The use of language in fitness programming and coaching cannot be overemphasized. I cringe when I hear “you have to do exercise now.” Think of the last time you went out to the late-night, pogo-stick, karaoke, vodka ice-luge Brazilian BBQ place. Nobody told you that you “had” to go. You went. You went because you wanted to. It already sounded fun. Now, I know that some of my athletes with autism won’t take kindly to exercise initially. I know they’ll wander and stray (yours may too) from the target activity, but you simply can’t say “have to.” It turns it into work.
Trade “have to” for “let’s try…” or “It’s time to…”
5) Embrace the Exploratory.
Creative physical play and seeking out novel movement is something often lacking in young people with ASD and related disorders. However insignificant it may seem, if an athlete tries something new and different, or demonstrates a preference for one activity over another (frog hops over bear walks), I let it happen. Providing the tools is the first step towards building something new.
Programs for both individuals and groups need to be scalable, meaning they can be progressed (made more challenging) or regressed (simplified) rather immediately. More open-ended activities including fitness obstacle courses or circuit stations (non-machine, please) are ideal for groups as they can meet the needs of each participant. While one athlete performs long jumps to a variety of spot markers, another may be working on short steps over low hurdles. We start where they’re at and set goals from that point.
7) Find Your Fitness Fun.
The things we love doing are often the things that we tend to share. It is somewhat difficult to teach fitness activities when you don’t engage in them regularly and enjoy doing them. I have parents pull me aside and ask, “What’s a good exercise for __________” (could be legs, arms, but is usually abdominal in nature)? I show them an exercise that is strikingly similar to something their son/daughter just did during our session. When you get away from the gray sea of treadmills and elipticals, fitness can be fun, challenging, effective, and something you want to do.
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.