Strength is for Everyone
There is inherent value in all humans and we believe strength training is valuable and applicable to everyone, including those with developmental disorders.
All humans interact with their environment via force production. Therefore it would benefit every human to develop their ability to produce force. Every human life is meaningful. Some have said that people derive purpose and meaning from the activities we engage in. We may not realize the importance of just having the ability to interact with the environment in a meaningful way.
But what about the millions of people in the world who were born with a different set of cards? There are over 1 million adults in America today that were born with some kind of developmental disorder. The spectrum of developmental disorders is vast, and can be broken down into physical disabilities, such as Cerebral Palsy and severe vision and hearing impairments, and intellectual disabilities, like Down Syndrome.
Is strength training still beneficial for this population? YES. Strength brings value to those with special needs as much as those without. But that inherent value can manifest itself in ways the rest of us may take for granted.
Starting Strength and Developmental Disorders
I’m Marie, a Starting Strength Coach, and coaching these amazing athletes forever changed the way I view strength training.
For the past two years I’ve worked with a dozen adults with developmental disorders at Iron City Athletic Club in Greensburg, PA. Over that time, I’ve watched the way strength training has dramatically changed their lives in positive ways; not just physically, but the mentally, emotionally, and socially as well. I’ve watched as these wonderful people gain confidence and discipline under the bar… and then come out of their shell socially. Some of my lifters couldn’t even look me in the eye initially, and now they greet me with hugs, handshakes, and jokes.
We partnered with a local college to coach a group of students enrolled in a young adult transitional program in 2016. The mother of one of these students told me that the one thing she wanted her son to gain from this program was to find his passion. And he found that under the barbell.
On his first day, this twenty year old male with cerebral palsy could not hold more than thirty-one pounds and pull it off the floor. Eighteen months later, he easily deadlifts 280lbs.
In the gym, he now jokes with the lifters, he helps coach them, and he helps spot. Outside the gym, he stands taller. He has a new sense of motivation and discipline in every new task. Symptoms of his palsy, such as painful muscle tensing and spasming, have significantly lessened. And his game in Special Olympics basketball has drastically improved.
Of course there are some differences in the approach we use to coach these lifters. Through our experience, we’ve found tactile cueing to be the most effective approach and so we’re much more hands on, and this includes often needing to keep our hands on the bar in order to help guide it for those who may not have the control or ability to safely execute the movement on their own. In other words, we help their body complete the movement, we do NOT lift the weight for them.
Physical strength empowers those with developmental disorders. It gives them the independence and ability to do more such as carrying their own laundry or getting in and out of a car on their own for the first time at 50 years old.
They have a new sense of confidence as the weight on the bar increases.
Barbell training is not a participation prize.
Their lifts, their PRs, are truly their own. No one else can lift the bar for them.
They are not special needs lifters, they are lifters who happen to have special needs. The coaching may be different, but the same strength training methodologies can be applied to them with the same training outcomes.
Strength training IS for everyone.