I Train. You Train. We Train.

You and I train because we love it. We don’t question it, we just do it. We find pleasure in the pain, time under tension, and the added resistance weighing us down. We anticipate, look forward to, and fantasize about growth, strength, hitting PRs, perfecting technique, overcoming plateaus, experiencing the pump, and supporting protein synthesis.

Then there comes a time when it’s not so much about you or I but more so about he or she. This he or she may be your son or daughter, a friend, a spouse, a mother or father, perhaps a neighbor. We want them to experience this same thrill in some manner as we do. Maybe not so much in its full capacity, entirety or complexity, but to enjoy the benefits of the gym and improve in some fashion.

As I have had experiences training and creating programming for a variety of populations, I’ve learned the most invaluable and impressionable lessons by working with children and adults, their families, touched by autism.

This series is intended to provide simple and often overlooked reminders and considerations for you, the parent, teacher, or trainer to gain applicable ways to incorporate physical activity in your child's, student's, or client's day. Clearly not every suggestion will work for all, but instead will provide approaches that you may find effective.


As you may know, for the past three weeks, Blaine (Dave Tate's son) and I have been training together every Tuesday here at the compound. As this is an extension of Dave's series, They Are Not Angry Birds, I'll be sharing my approach to programming and training for a child with Autism.

As Blaine comes into the gym, he immediately goes to the dry-erase board to check out the schedule. He scans the board and becomes excited as he finally reads Blaine's Obstacle Course near the bottom of the outline. You can tell he's excited because he eventually shines a smile and his shoulders shrug while his voice and arms raise. I quickly found out that my penmanship needs work for as he was reading the schedule he began to playfully smack my head. I placed the cue to hit my hand while in our warm-up, and he instead read it as hit my head.  Oh, and let’s not forget when Dave handed him a water squirt bottle which led to Blaine squirting me with water while trying to read over our schedule. (Thanks Dave!)

We began with paper rips. I noticed a couple weeks back a bin full of old newspapers behind the cardio equipment in the gym. I felt it would be good to put these to use by ripping them in shreds for grip work. Because Blaine can very easily spend hours at a time on his iPad, limiting use in both hands, while having forearms and arms motionless, this is a great way to activate fine motor skills, while having grip, forearm, and arms come into play.  Aside from the reasoning, this simple act of ripping paper is just fun. I'm taken back to my college days, watching my strongman and powerlifting friends rip (or try to) phone book after book. Blaine and I each grabbed a handful of these dusty Wall Street Journals and headed outside. There we in a frenzy began to tear the newspapers to shreds. As always, we made this into a competition, of who could make the thickest wedge of paper and tear. We tore the paper for at least two minutes. Eventually we could progress to magazines, small books, and possibly phonebooks (that's if they still make those things anymore).

This week as I followed up paper tears with hip lifts and tri-kick backs, Blaine was more apprehensive. He remembered these two exercises from the previous week and assumed position without much prompting. On the grand scheme of things, he does not prefer individual exercises where we focus in on technique and form. But, that being said, he is “putting up with it,” as he is realizing that each week is progressive, the once foreign exercises are becoming familiar, and this only means that the fun stuff is soon on it’s way.

Because he prefers an obstacle course-like flow, I divided the next set of exercises into stations. The stations  allowed me to throw in more strength exercises without him realizing it. Here we worked on eye and hand control (throwing a basketball into a small tire), core work (slamming a 4-pound pummel medball into the ground, and lastly throwing in upper body stabilization while engaging hips, legs, back, and abdominals (knee pull-ins using a stability ball). It’s pretty cool that within three weeks of working together I see  improvement in his ability to stabilize himself. He is also putting forth effort when it comes to performing an exercise with intensity and force (i.e. ball slams). This was actually the first exercise that I cued him to go hard and to slam the ball into the ground with added force. With the ball in hand, as he heard the cue, I could see him tighten his jaw while still keeping a hint of smile. He worked hard, as his form looked strong.

His creativity came into play next, as it was now his time to come up with three stations. His three choices were based on my stations, but he decided to switch up the ball placement for each station. Therefore, the target practice was now done with the pummel medball instead of the basketball. He threw the loaded ball with force overhead while trying to have the ball be centered in the tire hole. For the knee-ins he used the basketball instead of the stability ball. This made the exercise much more difficult because the basketball was basically flat which caused him to have to initiate the movement with more force. And because circumference-wise, the basketball is about one-fourth the size of the stability ball, he needed more stabilization of the upperbody and abdominals to stay squared and for the elbows to remain locked. Lastly, the ball slams were done with the stability ball. This caused for Blaine’s grip to become wider, therefore adding a different stress on his shoulders than before. Also, as he slammed the ball into the ground it bounced back up, so he was motivated to utilize some momentum and produce more force to see just how high he could have the ball bounce. As he bounced the ball each time, he'd question if the ball was touching the clouds. Because his form wasn't getting too out of control, I pretended as though the ball was just tapping the clouds. This gesture motivated him to work harder so that eventually the ball shot through the clouds.

Next up were Prowler® pushes! I had written 20 yards on the board so we took some time to discuss how to best measure the distance for our pushes. Blaine said he’d take care of it and grabbed some chalk to create boundary lines. He drew a line at the entrance of the gym and drew the next line approximately 80 yards away. Mid way he drew another line as a buffer area to rest, if need be. Blaine did AWESOME here. He took hold of the handles, kept his head in alignment the entire way, and kept his feet moving. As he began to push, he suggested that it wasn’t the best idea to have the finish line so far way. He took breaks along the way, but pushed strong for 30 seconds at a time before stopping briefly. Again, this was another chunk of time that I cued him to squeeze the bar, push his heels into the ground, and keep moving. It was absolutely awesome to see the determination he had in his eyes to finish, which he did. After the push, we then walked a lap around the lumber yard in order to recover and to lower our heart rate. As we walked I mentioned that at some point we’d have to push that Prowler® back to the gym. He quickly responded that I’d have to push it back. Our conversation tossed around the idea of me pushing it back, to him pushing it back, to us sharing the load, to having Dave pushing it back. Blaine thought the last idea was brilliant! This was our cue to head back into the gym to get some water. At this point Blaine was bouncing as he ran, excited to spread the news that we had some work for Dave to do.

It still is very refreshing, yet comical, to see Dave and Blaine interact. Dave, as every good father should be, is very nurturing and supportive of his son. He makes it known through subtle and blunt ways that he is very proud of his Blaine's efforts, and always motivates his son to work harder and go the extra mile. Blaine is receptive of this and is motivated by his father in and outside of the gym. Blaine is excited to share with his Dad what he just accomplished, although he doesn’t have to have Dave watch his every step. Surely though, after we reach our goal of some act of will and strength, Dave is the first to know. He makes sure that Dave can see the sweat, heck feel it, pouring from his forehead, arms, and hands! Blaine is thrilled to describe his next strength-induced obstacle course to Dave, emphasizing the amount of reps we have to complete of each exercise and how he plans to have me sweat blood.

Onto Blaine’s favorite part of the night. Blaine came up with his obstacle course. He is also doing the same exercises, adding weight and reps. This week we had to carry heavier weighted balls from one side of the gym to the other, maneuver through the equipment to the entrance of the gym, and then crawl underneath the tables FOURTEEN TIMES. Last week our quota was FOUR times. Earlier in the session he commented that we would be doing seven crawls, but this changed to fourteen after Dave refused to push the Prowler® back to the gym (remember that brilliant idea of ours earlier?).

I too see the tables, but much differently.

Well, I crawled under the table sixteen times because two of the times “I cheated” because I rolled, and I can’t roll because I’m older than 11. I had to “redo my sets” because I didn’t do them right the first time. Again, I am continually reminded of Dave while training Blaine and now John Meadows! I absolutely love it! I completed the sixteen reps, but my skin is regretting this feat of determination.  As I was completing my reps, Blaine told me that my character was building through these crawls.

After about twenty minutes of crawling on the pavement underneath tables (maybe I’m exaggerating here) we then headed back to the gym for our last duty, Hunt Wilds. Blaine looked forward to this, as he reminded me that this was our last thing on the list. He handed me the stick and headed to the nearest bench and laid down, instantly motionless, perhaps a bit exhausted.

Just as I thought we were finished, he said, “You’re turn!” I took him up on the offer. I’m not sure if my shins and calves have survived the blow, but all in all, it was pretty cool for him to find the necessity of trigger releasing and then want to have another, me in this case, benefit from it.

Take-home Lesson:

Based on this session, the take-home lesson is that sometimes it's beneficial to switch or share roles. Within one session there are many opportunities (already planned at the start) for me to call the shots, for Blaine to lead, and for us to work together as equals. This set-up works well for Blaine because he loves being in the leadership role. Up to this point in my career, I've been in many situations where this idea or approach to training would not be suitable for the child.  I have also found that you can slowly build these opportunities in small doses for a child that would rather prefer to just be told what to do. Just as any other skill, leadership can be taught and practiced, and continually developed.

Next training session:

While we were completing our crawl work, Blaine mentioned that next week we’d not be having our training session because he would be celebrating his birthday. Although I do know it is his birthday, I'll have to confirm with Dave whether or not this means he'll miss his training.