Health & Fitness Tips from Australia's Personal Training Professionals
Fitness for people with a disability

Fitness for People with a Disability

Ariel Gonzalez

“I realised there was little to no health and fitness services directly working with people with disabilities, so I thought I would start one.”

Many trainers within this specialised sector say that one of the most rewarding aspects of a career within the disability industry is the potential to use their skills to build meaningful relationships with people that contribute as much to their lives as they get in return.

Everyone can benefit from regular physical activity and the Pediatric Exercise Research Center in California states that there are “substantial therapeutic benefits” for those who suffer from a chronic disease and or who may have a disability.

Because almost one in five people have (or will be diagnosed with) a disability, most people know someone who is affected. ABS figures reveal that 1.5 million people with disabilities engaged with physical activity in New South Wales alone in 2010. Personal Trainers are beginning to understand the value that specialised training gives to their clients. It keeps the body strong, raises energy levels, improves stress and can help reduce fatigue.

Ariel Gonzalez has experienced these positive effects first hand throughout his 20 year career working in the disability field. With qualifications in psychology and fitness, Ariel researched and developed a unique and specific program that incorporates nutrition and exercise and is tailored to the individual.

The results he discovered were astounding and prompted him to start Motivate You Disability Fitness Services, a specialised program that caters for clients with a disability.

His mission was to encourage and support individuals with disabilities and chronic health conditions, to become more physically active and ultimately lead a more fulfilling life. He was in turn rewarded with a satisfying career that really made a difference to people’s lives. He saw the positive outcomes of his work every day.

Ariel believes that working with people with disabilities teaches us so much, and that thinking ‘differently’ challenges both trainers and clients to find new ways of thinking and working.

1 What inspired you to start Motivate You Disability Fitness Services?

I was working in senior management for a disability service provider where my role involved moving people out of boarding houses and into community living.

The clients went from a difficult, regimented environment to having support, money, and even the freedom to go on holidays. But I noticed that their weight increased and that their health deteriorated. I felt compelled to change that.

I realised there was little to no health and fitness services directly working with people with disabilities, so I thought I would start one.

2 Why do you choose to train people with disabilities over able-bodied clients?

I knew I could make a difference and the key is learning and understanding the person’s disability.

For example, there is a set of medical conditions associated with working with someone with Down syndrome (for example, as many as 50% of people with Down syndrome are also born with heart defects) and so any program needs to be mindful of these conditions.

Often clients have an intellectual disability or mental illness so behaviour comes into play. However physical activity is a universal language and can be used to communicate as well as activate.

3 What qualifications are required to work in the disability fitness industry?

The general qualifications required to be a fitness trainer are a SIS30313 Certificate III in Fitness and/or a SIS40210 Certificate IV in Fitness - and enthusiasm, of course!

At present, there are no special fitness qualifications required to work with people with disabilities, although I have developed an internal training system for new trainers to really give them the information they need to make a difference to someone’s life.

4 What advice would you offer students looking to get started in the disability fitness industry?

Spend a lot of time with people with disabilities, and make sure you experience first hand the many disability types. It is important to be able to separate physical disabilities from Autism and Cerebral Palsy, for example.

5 What’s the most rewarding thing about being a personal trainer?

Assisting people achieve their goals; it is why I love getting up in the morning.

Are you interested in getting into the fitness industry? Hear more real life stories from industry professionals here.

Previous article:

Holistic Health
Andrew Simmons

Next article:

Mums and Bubs Fitness
Amanda Ferguson