Inclusive Fitness: What Does It Look Like?

Welcome to Irisada‘s blog. We focus on solutions and awareness for families living with differently-abled loved ones so they can live life to the fullest.

When we think of getting fit, we often think of athletes training hard, lifting impossible weights and running marathons with ease. Needless to say, fitness can be a somewhat intimidating concept. What more for our loved ones who are aging, and may lose confidence in their physical abilities? What about our children with different learning needs, who may not be suited for typical sports enrichment classes?

In this article, we want to explore how anyone, no matter their starting point, can enjoy the benefits of fitness! To gain some insights, we spoke to Moses from Innervate Fitness, an inclusive Crossfit gym, and Shermaine from Strong Mind Fit Body, a community initiative that introduces strength-based workouts to seniors.

Photo Credit: Innervate Fitness

Anyone Can Enjoy Fitness!

Innervate Fitness works with seniors and people with diverse learning needs in their specially customised classes, ensuring that everyone works at a level they are comfortable with. Thus, many are able to overcome their unique challenges by adapting movements, exercises and methods of instruction.

For example, let’s look at a simple weightlifting exercise – a deadlift. In a deadlift, a barbell is lifted from the ground to the level of the hips. Moses shared some ways to adapt this exercise. A wheelchair user might be able to perform a deadlift from their chair, by changing the equipment used.  Replacing a barbell with dumbbells, or adjusting the range of motion, could make the exercise more suitable. Similarly, someone with an intellectual disability could be taught using a step-by-step approach. For instance, a broomstick could be used to simulate a barbell and reinforce the mechanics of the movement, before advancing to a real barbell once they have mastered the movement.

Deadlift illustration (Photo Credit: High Intensity Training)

Breaking It Down

Fitness is for everyone, and one way of starting out is to break the concept down into simple steps. Shermaine shared that it is important to understand each individual’s experience of health prior to starting any exercise plan, exploring their unique attitudes and interests in order to journey together towards fitness. We would want to understand what each person understands as ‘being healthy’, their attitudes towards health and exercise, their level of confidence and thoughts about developing a regular fitness routine. This individualised approach is shared by Innervate Fitness, where coaches work closely with clients to design a workout that works for them.

The common thread, then, seems to be that diverse needs don’t have to be an obstacle to working out – with the proper support in place, anyone can enjoy the benefits of physical fitness!

Photo Credit: Innervate Fitness

Beyond Exercise – Building Community

Fitness doesn’t end at the physical benefits – the adventure of trying out different exercises can pull people together.

Strong Mind Fit Body sees the formation of many strong relationships through the process of exercising together. Shermaine also pointed out that fitness can promote intergenerational bonding, with grandparents and grandchildren working out together! Through holding exercise sessions at void decks and community parks, Strong Mind Fit Body seeks to draw people together in the heart of the neighbourhood. Ultimately, physical fitness and health, while important, are just one avenue through which we can build community. 

Moreover, Moses pointed out that fitness classes don’t just build community for the individual.

They can draw caregivers together too, by providing a space for them to share their experiences. One of the best things about gym classes is the experience of hard work and progress that participants share in. This can be a wonderful opportunity for caregivers to become part of a wider community with similar background and experiences, who can support each other through challenges. In fact, Innervate Fitness strongly encourages caregivers to take part in training together with their loved ones, providing great bonding time and allowing them to access a network of support through the gym community. 

How Do We Get Started?

All this sounds wonderful, but if we haven’t been exercising, it may all seem a bit overwhelming! Some helpful first steps to think about:

  • Establish realistic goals, both short term and long term! This could be something simple, like wanting to walk up your block of flats without being winded – small steps are the key to success.
  • Record your progress. Keeping track of exercise and nutrition lets us monitor our progress over time. This also makes it easier to identify problems and challenges, and attain consistency!
  • Rest and recovery is just as important as the exercise time itself. Recovery activities like stretching and foam rolling can prevent injuries.
  • Take a positive attitude: self-love is the starting point of healthy exercising. Wherever your starting point, encourage and build up, and enjoy the process, not just the  results!

Information provided here is drawn from personal experience as well as the sharing of fitness professionals and volunteers. This is not medical advice. If you have a medical condition, do consult a medical professional before beginning any exercise programme.

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Linette Chan

Linette is a university student interested in social issues and the vision of inclusivity. She writes for Irisada's blog and loves learning from the community.

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