As you may know, Blaine (Dave Tate’s son) and I have been training together weekly here at the compound since May of 2013. As this is an extension of Dave’s series, They Are Not Angry Birds, I’ll be sharing my hands-on approach to programming and training for a child with Autism.

Who would have thought that Dave needing help during a set would lend itself to initiate the process of desensitizing Blaine’s perception of squats?


Tonight’s training session was inspired by elitefts™ strongman Clint Darden. After viewing one of his recent video posts, he gave me another idea on how to incorporate bands into Blaine’s training. As this was just the starting place in Blaine’s schedule, this particular session reveals how a planned schedule is set up, presented, implemented, and adjusted within a 60-minute time frame. The adjustments illustrate five gray areas that are generally overlooked and unforeseen by coaches who welcome the opportunity to train children, including those with autism. Furthermore, assuming a suitable curriculum or training program is in place, it’s often the gray areas that expedite a child’s learning curve.


Before every session, I gauge the amount of time I’ll need to properly set up before Blaine arrives. The setup is made up of three components that usually take no longer than ten minutes to complete. In ten minutes, the plan is written on the board, the gym is safeguarded and free from potential hazards/distractions, and specific equipment designated in the schedule is located for quick and easy access. This setup is crucial to eliminate downtime and provide easy transition from one activity to another. For tonight, I suspected I’d need extra time, due to the band setup required for the swings. I was right.

Viewing Clint’s video, the concept of attaching a band over a monolift seems pretty simple and quick — something that would take roughly two seconds to do. Considering how much Steven weighs compared to Blaine, and the likelihood of him being rougher on the setup, I anticipated a more extensive setup. I figured five minutes would be plenty to rig the swing up, but it ended up being a group project with the help of Matt Goodwin, Scott Hayes, and Brady Wells. Thankfully, Dave and Blaine arrived twenty minutes late, allowing us to initially setup on a monolift, test, setup on a squat rack, test, and then allow Goodwin to complete the following throat, core and pec blaster: (5) banded swings, (15) clap pushups, (8) mid-air planks, (12) Ramstein chants.

Once Blaine arrived, he bee-lined right to the schedule as expected. Immediately using his sweatshirt sleeve, he began to erase Swing Jumps using Bands on Monolift and the picture that accompanied it. It’s important to mention that along with seeing “squat” on the schedule, “bands” also provide angst for him. Cutting him short before the exercise became completely erased and forgotten, I ensured him that he’d be missing out.

I’ve incorporated bands within Blaine’s training previously, in an unorthodox manner. We’ve used bands for both tug-of-war and for running drills. In each of these cases, Blaine had to demonstrate reactiveness and the ability to quickly alter body position once resistance became increased or reduced. Even though he ended up enjoying both of these prior activities, everything involving bands still requires coaxing and persuasion. He saw bands written on the board and his immediate reaction was to erase it and move on. Knowing a little enticement on my end would go a long way, he followed me to the squat rack after he heard me say, “You’ll be missing out!”

Taking a look at the setup, a few elitefts™ Pro Strong bands wrapped around the top beam of a squat rack, Blaine had “skeptical” written all over his face. He turned to Dave, who was crouched over at the conference table changing his shoes, and asked if he’d test it out first. Before Dave had a chance to completely tie the laces of his squatting shoes, he walked over to the squat rack and began to tug on the bands. Without much more pleading from Blaine, Dave climbed into the banded loop. Similar to how Matt Goodwin tested it out, once secured, Dave performed at least 20 pushups and then began to soar back and forth with his feet and hands in a locked-out position. Blaine found this to be hilarious and within three minutes of watching Dave’s testing skills, it was clear to see that he was “all in,” and anticipating his turn.

As you can see from the video, as soon as Blaine had gotten situated, he began to jump. This band and jump variation is something I’ll use in the future because, as we’ve worked on jumps before, Blaine has trouble initiating and landing a jump with both feet. The accommodating resistance of the band allowed him to use both feet for each attempt, while also supporting him enough to dip his hips below parallel as a source of power to reach enough height to touch the ropes above. The amount of persuasion to get him on the swing was less than it took to get him off!


After a round of Angry Bird Hanging Throws, Blaine’s game was next on the schedule. Different from my game, he wanted to play Truth or Dare. Up first, I played things safe and said “truth.” I’m not sure how it happened, but my “truth” quickly transformed into a “dare” and I was dared to eat snow. Did I really want to leave the warm gym and eat a handful of snow that was plowed against the side of the compound? No. However, here’s another important part of training children regardless if they’re autistic or not: the learning and training that takes place between a child and teacher is reciprocal. Therefore, validation between the two is key for learning and training to take place. What if I approached his choice of game as ridiculous and as a waste of time? What would that have accomplished in the grand scheme of things? Maybe resentment? This is the main reason why I incorporate choice within the schedule, so his voice is heard and valued. Almost training Blaine for a year now, through choice, he has modified and created numerous games that I utilize weekly. It’s also worth mentioning that most of his games involve a story that when retold makes us crack up, uncontrollably. So, when I hear Blaine begin a conversation with, “Remember when,” I know we’ll be replaying a past incident that made me or him feel excited, embarrassed, grossed out, surprised, or scared.


After eating snow and taking a short break to relieve my brain freeze, the obstacle course was up next. His “course” involved a familiar exercise he likes, but with a twist. Although not new, tonight was the first time he gave this exercise an actual title. He also modified the exercise and utilized every person in the gym so it would be recognized as a course rather than just a single exercise. Pain Release commonly uses two players, one medball, and one flat bench. The point of this game is to remain tight as a medball crashes down onto your stomach at varying heights. To play, one person is to lay flat on the bench as the other player drops a medball onto the player’s stomach. The player lying down controls the height of the ball and says “release” for the other player to release the ball from his or her hands.

Up to this night, we have progressively worked up in weight, with much emphasis on staying tight. At first, Blaine’s reaction time was delayed and it took him a while to be able to brace his stomach and entire body. After continual practice, he can now get tight and remain tight on command for an extended period of time. Several months ago, when I first Introduced the concept of staying tight to Blaine, I used my hand to touch his stomach as a cue to push against my hand and remain tight after I made contact. After this became automatic, we then progressed to usingmedballs as something weighted to press against, and eventually Pain Release was born.

Teachable Moments

In the first 20 seconds of the video above, it’s clear that Blaine is lying flat on the bench and I’m standing with themedball, listening for his “release” command. What’s less visible is his spit that’s coating the entire medball. Therefore, this explains why I’m reluctant to use my bare hands to grip the ball, and this further explains why Blaine is yelling for me to hold the ball without my sweatshirt covering my hands. A minute within the video Dave comes over and asks, “Blaine, do you want to torture your dad?” You can see Blaine’s first response as he begins to nod his head, smile, and flail his legs. The video cuts to the end of the session where Dave and Blaine are playing Pain Release, but in between takes, Blaine and I were led to the hack squat machine to assist Dave in a few isometric holds. “Blaine, it’s going to look and sound like I’m miserable and I want to stop,” says Dave, “but keep pushing down on your side until Sheena gets through the 10-count.” Blaine listened closely to Dave’s instructions, nodded that he understood the terms, and assumed position. Once Dave slowly descended into the hole, we applied pressure and I began the 10-count. Blaine used his entire body and hung over the bar, unfazed by Dave’s grimacing face and repeated yells while squatting. He actually smiled throughout the entire set, and when he wasn’t smiling he was hysterically laughing. After the set, Blaine was further convinced that his tormenting mission was a success based on Dave’s wheezing and inability to maintain conversation.

It wasn’t until the end of the session, as we were changing our shoes and putting on our coats, that I could fully wrap my head around the importance of tonight. All of a sudden, Blaine began to describe how Dave looked while squatting and announced his form was terrible. He even mimicked how Dave’s legs were “dancing” mid set by picking each of his legs up about an inch off the floor and moving them as fast as he could. In good spirits, after witnessing the display, Dave then asked, “Someday will you squat, Blaine?” Blaine hesitated for a few seconds, then answered with a firm yes and said he could do better. To date, this was the first time we could talk about squats without Blaine diverging the conversation to something else in a slight panic.

In 60 minutes, the original schedule written on the dry-erase board was adjusted at least four times. Although the importance of a structured schedule is undeniable, the gray areas (planning, setup, choice, flexibility, and teachable moments) that are often unimaginable, give the plan personality, meaning, and momentum.

Who would have thought that Dave needing help during a set would lend itself to initiate the process of desensitizing Blaine’s perception of squats?

YouTube Playlist: Children’s Exercises (Blaine Tate Approved)