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 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 five 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.


Tonight marked our fifth week of working together. I came into the session with expectations of pushing Blaine a little harder than usual. I felt he was ready for it, and so far he was showcasing strong workmanship, extra effort, and the ability to withstand performing exercises he didn’t really care for. We got started with hex dumbbell grip work, a familiar exercise from the previous session.  Instead of using the five-pound dumbbells that we used last week, we jumped to the eight-pound dumbbells. In the plan, his task was to beat Sheena, therefore I went first as he timed me with the stopwatch. This was successful.  As it always motivates him to be in competition, he won.

Single-leg hip lifts followed the hex dumbbell holds. Up till this point we’ve been doing hip lifts with both feet solid on the ground, so progressing to a single-leg hip lift was going to serve as a challenge.  Stabilizing was difficult for him, but he was able to complete five reps with each leg.

As I reflect, Blaine’s frustration level at this point was approximately at a four.

Here’s where things got tricky and his frustration level escalated. Based on our prior attempt of box squatting, I knew coming into this week I’d approach squats differently.  Because squats proved to be a word that was already stamped with pain and struggle, I exchanged squats with Duck with No Quack.

This was intended to be funny, and I was hoping that the title would distract Blaine from the buzz word. Duck with No Quack is set up by having a barbell roughly shoulder height on the pins within a squat rack. Standing to the side of the bar (one shoulder touching), the movement is initiated by side squatting underneath it, making sure to clear the barbell before mirroring the same starting position with the opposite shoulder. This is repeated back and forth to reach the desired amount of reps.

My play on words was to emphasize the drop aspect of the movement, ensuring the quack-less DUCK (Blaine in this case) could transfer side to side underneath the barbell, without  hitting his head.

I was wrong.

Instead, this wordplay caused Blaine to agitatedly be in question. He repeated, "I don't know what this means." As I tried to explain it to him, he was not interested in my explanation. He was filled with anxiety and the next thing I knew he was kneeling on the ground, wanting to stop, while simultaneously still questioning what Duck with No Quack meant.

In reflection, at this point, his frustration level was approximately at a seven.

I continued to try to explain it, but then knew it was time to move on. I could still see the irritation in his eyes as we moved on to the next section of our schedule. Tire step-ups were next.  So now with Blaine’s frustration level heightened, we moved on to something that would require great effort from him. Within the first minute of tire stepping, he began to cry, wanted nothing to do with exercise, and ran to Dave.

For the next eight minutes or so, I withdrew and Dave took complete control over the situation. At this point, Blaine was sprawled out on the gym floor as Dave was ever so gently crouching above him. Dave calmed his voice and listened to Blaine as Blaine expressed his feelings. Dave ensured that he could hear him and that he understood what he was communicating. He allowed Blaine to cry and raise his voice.  Once Blaine began to calm down, Dave took this as his cue to begin to whisper to Blaine and suggest he get back to work. In between suggestions, Dave began to playfully tickle him, which led to Blaine laughing, Dave laughing, me laughing, and resulted in Blaine standing up to check his schedule.

Once he was ready, I was ready to get back to work. My demeanor was to accept what had just taken place, start afresh, reference the schedule, give him my all, and be present. This was not the time to dwell on the fact that my decision-making steered us in this direction. Did I once think that my plan for the day would result in a meltdown? No. Was I going to express how I felt I failed and made a poor judgment? No.

Then and there, I quickly decided that A-HA, lesson learned, move on, be more specific, we can do this, let’s go. We went right into stations where Blaine had choice. Our session continued on as planned, and we actually extended our time together by thirty minutes. We got through the stations, hit the conditioning, completed the obstacle course, added a round of Cops and Robbers, and ended with Hunt Wild.

Moving Forward

Tonight I gained more insight about Blaine and how I'd like to conduct future sessions. Specifically, I now have a greater sense gauging his frustration levels and understanding when it’s necessary to modify the plan, back off, or shut it down. Maintaining Dave's overall goal of providing Blaine with an enjoyable experience while moving, I am reminded that this process will continue to mature over time, not overnight.

As I think it’s important to continue to provide him experiences that are slightly out of his comfort zone, it’s more important that he face these situations with minimal frustration. Although these are my intentions, I must also be realistic and realize that there are going to be days when Blaine is confronted with obstacles that are out of my control. In addition, some cues/motivators/precedents that work one session will not work for another. Of course I can compose a beautiful design, cross all my Ts and dot all the Is, but sometimes the strategy on the dry-erase board may not be executed as planned.

As with any program, task-at-hand, everything that serves a purpose and is worth doing, frustration, failure, and discomfort will always be there. Everything I have ever been successful at, in one way or another, has caused me frustration, failure, and discomfort.

Will frustration, failure, and discomfort cause me to quit? No.

Did frustration, failure, and discomfort cause Blaine to quit? No.