Caring for those in Need

The Importance of Physical Fitness Training for Special Needs

You have probably heard how exercise is beneficial to everyone, and that good health and exercise always go hand in hand. However, just as exercising is not always easy for people without any disabilities, it’s especially challenging for people with disabilities.

BY Daniel Stein | May 2022 | Category: Mobility

The Importance of Physical Fitness Training for Special Needs

Why Exercise is Essential

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), less than half of American adults who suffer from mobility disability engage in any form of aerobic exercise even as simple as walking. In addition, the CDC notes that people with special needs and other disabilities are more likely to suffer from obesity and other chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. People with disabilities who do not exercise are also prone to cancer. The good news is that regular physical exercise and fitness training lowers your risk of contracting any of these negative health conditions.

Despite the physical, mental or behavioral limitations, people with special needs can still greatly benefit from physical fitness training or any form of exercise.

As you know, exercise helps improve your physical, mental and overall well-being. Even a simple exercise such as brisk walking daily can help you maintain a healthy body weight, prevent chronic conditions like heart problems, strengthen your bones, and help improve your muscle endurance. 

Why Fitness is a Challenge for the Special Needs Population

There’s a big reason why some parents do not encourage their child with special needs to exercise: The fear of getting hurt.

Parents or guardians of the special needs population think that exercise and physical fitness will hurt more than help their children. The fear of getting hurt is one of the biggest barriers to people with special needs to consider exercise as part of their daily routine. However, physical fitness training  – when done right – can help someone with special needs to reap the many benefits that regular exercising has to bring not just for a month or two, but for a lifetime.

The good news is, exercise or physical fitness does not have to hurt. You don’t have to engage in strenuous activities to achieve the health benefits that exercising can bring. Any form of physical activity, even as simple as brisk walking or taking the stairs instead of the elevator, can help improve your health in so many ways.

The key is to remain physically active doing the things that you enjoy even around the house. If you find it hard to stay physically active, here are some exercise tips that you can do and follow at home.  

Working out for the best:  The many benefits of exercise

Boost energy: Exercising makes your heart pump more blood into your body. That means a surge of oxygen flow and a quick shot of energy to keep you moving and alert during the day.

Lose weight: One of the biggest problems of people with special needs is obesity. Unlike some form of diet that can be detrimental to your health, exercising helps you lose weight the healthy way. Even better, it helps you naturally fight obesity.

Improve cognitive health: When you exercise, your body releases good hormones that not only make you feel good but helps you to naturally combat stress, depression and anxiety. Regular exercise has also been known to help sharpen your memory and improve overall brain health together with prope sleep.

Improve behavior: For people with special needs, exercise helps improve behavior because of the same feel-good hormones that help you calm down thereby reducing the incidence of emotional outbursts or sudden meltdowns.

Look good – or even better: If you want that kind of glow that puts you in the pink of health, there’s nothing better than exercise to do it for you. Exercise improves your muscle tone. It also strengthens and builds your body, making you look good and in turn feel good about yourself.

Prevent muscular atrophy: Muscular atrophy is a condition where the muscles decrease in size due to a lack of physical activity. Regular exercise is the key to preventing that from happening.

Enhance rehabilitation and therapy: Some people with special needs due to limited mobility caused by a severe injury or an accident can benefit from physical fitness training to help restore their range of motion. If that’s not possible, exercise can help them manage their injury over time and still improve their range of motion in the best way possible.

Live longer: People who do regular exercise tend to live longer because of improved overall health. Special needs or not, all these benefits of physical fitness and exercise apply to everyone.

Be Patient and Communicate Well

When it comes to people with special needs, explaining how an exercise routine is done may take more time than usual. With that, do your best to be patient when you communicate and make sure that they understand what you are saying before moving forward with the routine.

Provide a Suitable Environment

Some people with special needs can exercise at a traditional gym without any problem. But if that’s not the case, providing a suitable environment at home with the necessary tools and equipment to do your exercise routines would be your best option. If possible, remove distractions so that you can focus on doing the exercise routine on time.

When it comes to exercise equipment, you can get tension bands, dumbbells, medicine balls or other similar tools to help you execute the exercise routines better. 

going strong:  practical exercise tips that you can do at home for people with special needs

Know what they are capable of. People with special needs are very much capable of doing exercise. However, they may not be familiar with a new routine which can become a problem. To avoid this, make sure that you match their skill level with a fitness routine and that they understand exactly what you want them to do to perform the exercise well.

Modify the exercises if needed. Running is good cardio to start with. But if someone is not yet fit to run or do brisk walking, you need to think of other exercise routines that would help them achieve the same benefit without forcing them to hurt their feet or leg muscles unnecessarily, such as swimming. You need to adapt each exercise to the individual needs and abilities of a person with special needs to make the fitness training work to their advantage. This is where adaptive fitness comes in.

Use adaptive fitness. There is a good reason why training people with special needs is called adaptive fitness. No two people are the same when it comes to their fitness goals. In the same way, no two people who both have special needs have the same goals and abilities when it comes to getting fit. With this in mind, you should know that every activity you can think of doing should be personalized according to the needs of the special needs person that you are dealing with.  Most of the time, a regular workout routine consists of three segments: cardio, strength training and rest time. While it’s true that people with special needs must participate in all segments, customization is still important because the exercises that will be placed in each segment will depend on their unique fitness level, skill set and fitness goals. 

Here are the top three exercises we recommend for wheelchair users:

Kettlebell Deadlifts

Start with a 5lb kettlebell on the ground in front of the wheelchair. With a straight back, lift the kettlebell up to the top of your knees.  Repeat this exercise for 10-15 repetitions for 3 sets. When the exercise is being done correctly, you will feel the exercise in your hamstrings and lower back.

Resistance Band Rows

Attach a resistance band to the top of a door frame using a door anchor that comes from purchasing traditional resistance bands.  Once the resistance bands are attached, position yourself facing the resistance band and move your wheelchair until there is no slack in the resistance band while holding the handles. Grab both handles of the resistance band and pull the bands until your elbows are in line with your hips. Squeeze the shoulder blades of the back together while pulling the bands.

Leg Extensions

Start with both feet on the ground.  Slowly lift and extend both legs until the knees are locked. Hold the position for three seconds and lower the feet back to the ground.  Repeat this 15 times for 3 sets.  To increase the difficulty, add ankle weights. 

For equipment, you can purchase the following from Amazon:

Yes4All Vinyl Coated Kettlebell Weights

VEICK Resistance Bands Set

Gaiam Ankle Weights 

Make it Fun!

Exercise routines do not have to be boring. This is why if you can make it, you can organize fun games or events that encourage physical fitness.

Go swimming, let them ride a bike, dance, or even play sports. If that seems a lot, a simple game of tag, hopscotch, tickle fights or even jumping rope will be good enough to keep that heart rate going.

These activities may need a few modifications to suit people with special needs, but it will surely make them more engaged in participating in a physical activity than just going with the usual routine.

Set a good example

Some people think that people with special needs want to isolate themselves from other people. The truth is, they are just like the rest of us. Social. Friendly. Wanting to belong. When people with special needs see their parents or any of their family members involved in physical fitness or any form of exercise, they will be interested to try it as well. 

Congratulate Them for a Job Well Done

Physical fitness training for people with special needs will always be a challenge. That’s why they deserve the applause for a job well done and for making it through their exercise routine, however simple or hard it may be. Simple words of encouragement can go a long way so next time your child or loved one is able to perform an exercise routine on their own, let them know that you are proud of them for doing a great job. 

How Much Exercise is Enough?

Any amount of exercise is better than no exercise at all. The rule of thumb is that any activity that makes your heart beat faster is ALWAYS good for your health.

If you want to achieve optimum results, you should exercise for at least 150 minutes every week. That’s a total of 2.5 hours that can be broken down into smaller activities during the week that is equivalent to 25 to 30 minutes of physical exercise daily.

Take note that before you start any form of physical fitness training for people with special needs, make sure that you talk first to your doctor. Talking to a professional health care provider can help you find ways on how to plan an exercise routine that suits someone with special needs.

Starting an exercise routine for your kid or family member with special needs may seem daunting at the first. But the more you stick to your exercise routine, the more you find your efforts worth it with the many benefits that physical fitness training brings.  


Daniel Stein is the CEO and Founder of Special Strong, a gym franchise that offers adaptive and inclusive fitness training to people with special needs including those with autism, Down’s Syndrome, Asperger’s, ADD/ADHD, cerebral palsy, stroke victims, obesity, spinal cord injuries, and many more. Daniel has certifications from the National Academy of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the National Federation of Personal Trainers (NFPT). He is also a Certified Inclusive Fitness Trainer (CIFT). He also offers adaptive and inclusive fitness training certifications to those who are interested in becoming part of the Special Strong family. For more information, visit or 

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