At the Bodysmith all of our members are special to us and make our days great but sometimes there is a person that can light up the entire gym. Marcus is that kind of person. From the moment he walks in our door he is greeted like a celebrity and is quick to point out that each person he sees is “the best.”
Our members always look forward to seeing him and they are consistently inspired by how hard he works during his workouts.
Recently a member brought him a batman shirt complete with cape. The site of him running on the treadmill as I flapped his cape behind him drew cheers from the gym and he could not have been happier.
People with DS can benefit from exercise like everybody else and struggle with typical conditions such as obesity and diabetes but they are also prone to some atypical conditions that must be considered when exercising. Marcus’ intention to be a healthy adult with Down syndrome shows in his workouts. Here are some tips from my experience on how other trainers can safely and effectively design exercise programs for those with Down syndrome.
Hypermobility. DS individuals’ ligaments and joints are often able to stretch far beyond normal limits. This leads to an increase chance of injuries such as joint dislocation and subluxation. Of special interest is subluxation of the 1st cervical 2nd cervical vertebrae. This condition is know as atlantoaxial instability (AAI) and can result in spinal cord injury.
- Hypotonicity. People with DS generally have low amounts of muscle mass that is able to stretch beyond normal limits further adding to the instability of their musculoskeletal system.
- Congenital heart defects. Often these are corrected shortly after birth and present no problems later in life but care must still be taken when exercising as DS individuals often have diminished cardiorespiratory capacity.
To make exercise safe and effective for someone with DS, try keeping these tips in mind;
- Core stability is key. Flexibility is generally not a problem so extra attention should be devoted to stabilizing the spine and hips. Many variations of hip bridging, planks and anti-rotational exercises should be used to increase proprioception (nervous system sensitivity around joint structures) and keep the spine safe.
- Shorten the range of motion (ROM). To prevent joint and muscle injury in other areas use exercises that offer controlled ROM to strengthen muscles. Options can include a squat to box or the floor press.
- Pay special attention to the tempos of exercise. The extreme ROM of the DS individual combined with quick movements can expose them to increased risk of injury. Emphasize slow tempos especially at the transition from eccentric to concentric contraction.
- Keep it short and interesting. I have found that 30min sessions work great for Marcus. Like the rest of us the DS individual may not always feel like exercising but if I can make the session engaging and fun we get more accomplished. Marcus likes superheroes so often renaming exercises after superheros keeps him interested and we can be creative and turn exercise into a game. In particular he enjoys chasing me while pushing a prowler sled. When Marcus is not “feeling it” I often let him pick some of his favorite exercises and we focus on them for our session.
- Always get a complete medical history and physician’s release. This will not only alert you to special medical conditions they may have but also any medications that may be prescribed. Communicate with their medical professionals and care givers and do not hesitate to contact the appropriate party if you have any questions or concerns.
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