Pursuing fitness- based training in a gym setting at a high-performance level, has long been thought of as something that a specific type of person does, who is part of a specific demographic; one who already had exposure to exercise and sport performance, is an athlete, or businessperson or the individual who is seeking a way to lose weight. This siloed and divisive understanding needs to evolve, and it is required that there is more education for fitness industry professionals to understand that access to gyms and fitness programming needs to be extended to all individuals.
15% of the current global population identifies as living with a disability, whether it is visible or invisible. This percentage of the population will continue to increase with individuals aging and the onset of different neuro and other degenerative diseases and chronic conditions and the rise of immobility and a sedentary lifestyle, amongst individuals. Additionally, over 70 million people globally have a neurological condition called Cerebral Palsy (CP), which is the most common congenital (diagnosed at birth) disability. These are robust statistics that will continue to rise and there is an extensive emphasis in our world right now on Diversity and Inclusion, and yet it seems there is still vacant space on the gym floor, where we know there is a demographic that needs to have the opportunity to train more than their peers.
Training to Build and Flex Their Muscle: Why Individuals With Disabilities Need Time In a Gym
All of us have heard the phrases “I need my ‘me’ time,” or “I need an outlet.”
Everyone has stress or responsibilities and demands in life that they look to distance themselves from. For individuals with disabilities this can be even more evident. They lead their lives with their respective challenges that are physical or may assume another nature, while they go about their daily lives, and then they must navigate everyday perceived differently by others. The attitude and perception that mainstream society often holds of individuals with disabilities, is that they cannot do the same things as others who do not have visible or invisible disabilities, or that they are too complicated or too challenging to work with, or a burden to the larger society. The fact is that this is not true and that individuals with disabilities are some of the most hardworking and loyal employees, they are citizens who bring a necessary and informed perspective to social issues, and they are some of the strongest individuals both physically and emotionally.
The heart of the matter for gym owners and those in the fitness industry, as well as health practitioners to realize which they haven’t as widely as they should, is that individuals with disabilities need to have the opportunity to train in any gym as do their peers. They need to not be seen as that ‘small percentage of the population’ because the people are not to be quantified, nor their rights to health and wellness minimized, and as mentioned the amount of people with varying needs continues to grow.
There needs to be greater consciousness-raising of the fact that training in a gym for individuals with varying needs both in the case of physical and other forms, is about more than just how one feels at a particular moment when training; more importantly it creates the capacity to improve physically and achieve progress in motor learning and functional movement. Engaging in exercise also helps to prevent physical atrophy of one’s body which is detrimental to one’s condition where they experience adversity already, and atrophy makes movement that one can execute, more difficult to perform.
Performing regular exercise is crucial for individuals with disabilities, especially to prevent new onset of injury or chronic conditions thus improving quality of life. Furthermore, when one with a disability develops of routine of exercise, their mental health, mental acuity, and mental toughness improves. Being in the gym, individuals who are marginalized due to disability, flex the advocacy muscle as well and open the eyes of gym owners, executive leadership, and a facility’s members alike. It’s a necessary opportunity for all to engage in and learn through.
4 Fundamentals of Adaptive Fitness that fitness club operators need to know and incorporate:
- Communication Over Assumption of Needs & Goals– Communicate with the individual to get to know them and the way their body works before asserting assumptions
- Demonstrate thinking beyond what is expected or known- Do not create categorizational programming where one type or style of programming suits all, instead build individualized ways of achieving goals and understanding needs and don’t practice fear or intimidation, but instead willingness, transparency, and a will to be immersed in education
- Seek ways to be innovative in equipment availability, accessibility, and useability- Don’t shy away from opportunities to be the gym owner that has new adaptive exercise equipment and who looks for ways to make exercising at any level feasible and enjoyable for all clientele. Secondly, take time to understand different accessibility governing rules and also the fact that each individual requires unique adaptations
- Realize your gym’s mission as being to provide a space for longevity, strength and whole person health, and not as being intimidated by disability but rather a facility that embraces difference, while being inspired to create and empower new potential and be a catalyst to limiting beliefs, values, and physical practices
Getting to know Jess Silver, Founder of Flex for Access and how the Non-Profit Organization enables health and fitness and re-invigorates the fitness professional’s/ executive’s mindset
Jess Silver is a female entrepreneur whose life story, personal drive and passion drove her to be an agent for change in thought and action in the fitness industry. Herself, being born with CP, she loves sports and has long been engaged in high performance functional fitness. It was her own personal adversity and encounters with others who questioned her physical ability as an avid gym-goer, that prompted her to create Flex for Access and to also become an Adaptive Fitness Personal Trainer and Consultant.
Flex for Access is a Registered Non-Profit Organization which raises awareness of Cerebral Palsy and other physical disabilities and acquired injuries and the importance of fitness and sport for the management of these conditions, and its role in creating new capacity for improvement. Funds raised for the organization are allocated to fitness-based training sessions and sport programs, through its partnered facilities and professionals, and the purchase of adaptive exercise equipment.
As an organization Flex for Access, re-invigorates a fitness club owner’s mindset because it demonstrates the true role of fitness to overall health and longevity in mind and body, and in how exercise is the antidote to creating a divisive society and in limiting detrimental health outcomes and behaviors.
To learn more visit www.flexforaccess.ca
Jess can also be contacted for fitness consulting services offered to your gym, boutique fitness studio or facility.