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Fitness Equipment: The Most Important Piece

“If it is to be, it is up to me!” –Taylor Isaacs

According to Taylor-Kevin Isaacs, a highly credentialed, award-winning, Clinical Exercise Physiologist/Kinesiologist and certified strength and conditioning specialist, the above are the 10 most important two-letter words in the English language, especially when it comes to keeping fit.

“When a client comes into the gym, the first question I ask is, “What do you think is the most important piece of equipment in the gym?” Isaacs says. “Their response varies. Then I tell them, ‘The most important piece of equipment in the gym, or anywhere, is you.”

Isaacs believe that education + motivation = results.  His philosophy is founded in the belief that optimal mindset combined with optimal training and nutrition will result in optimal performance for everyone at all ages and levels of ability.  “Developing a lifestyle enhancement regimen can help to stave off degeneration and disease and increase one’s ability to live an active, unrestricted life.”

Isaacs’ concept of “intergenerational, integrated” fitness is designed to bridge the gap between health care and health clubs.  His goal is to create a chain of Centers of Restorative Exercise that incorporate regular exercise equipment with unique and specialized equipment for individuals with disabilities.  “Can you imagine grandparent and grandchild, individuals with multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, spinal cord injury, stroke, heart disease, diabetes, traumatic brain injury and cancer, and professional athletes all training under the same roof, toiling toward the same goal – to improve the quality of their life?”

Isaacs is not the only one with this type of dream.  The Goodwill Center of Orange County, Calif., created the ultimate fitness center for people with disabilities and chronic disease.  Their 12,000-square-foot Goodwill Fitness Center features an array of premium, accessible exercise equipment.  And like Isaacs, Goodwill of OC knows that to maximize the effectiveness of its fitness center it needs a highly qualified staff. Elizabeth Toumajian, the center’s manager, has a master’s degree in kinesiology and extensive experience developing therapeutic exercise programs for people with disabilities.  “The magic of the Goodwill Fitness Center is that we have the ability to create a program that fits the needs of any ability level.”

The Arizona Bridge to Independent Living began construction on the Virginia G. Piper Sports and Fitness Center for Persons with Disabilities in early June 2010.  This 45,000-square-foot universally accessible sports, fitness and aquatics center is designed to bring people together with all different types of disabilities, of all ages, to encourage wellness, physical fitness and nutritional health.  And in the heart of downtown Chicago, the Helen M. Gavin Health and Fitness Center and the Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz Sports Program provide a place for people with physical disabilities to maximize their health and human potential with a variety of fitness and recreational programs, including competitive sports and activities.

But centers like these are few and far between.  Lack of widespread access to gyms, transportation and knowledgeable trainers are major barriers people with disabilities continue to face when it comes to finding an effective fitness program.

I decided to survey my own area – the San Fernando Valley in California – for accessible fitness centers, so I visited a new 24-Hour Fitness Super Sport gym to see if this nationwide fitness leader had anything that could meet my needs.  It did.  Out of their “row upon row of high tech cardio machines” there was one Techno Gym Excite Top, an upper body cardio trainer.  In the resistance weight area there were a few machines that could be accessed from my manual wheelchair, and some free weights.  The gym also had a lift for their lap pool and all areas were ADA compliant in terms of physical access.  I could tell Techno was making an effort, but it was still disappointing to find so little universally designed equipment when there is so much out there.

On the other hand, when I toured the Goodwill Fitness Center, I found amazing machines that could be accessed by almost anyone from top-end athletes to people with new injuries.  The Cybex Total Access line has swing-away seats so anyone who wants to “pump some iron” can.  The VitaGlide provides a phenomenal cardiovascular workout while toning the upper body by combining a cross-country skiing arm movement with several levels of resistance.  A WinTech seat added to a Concepts 2 indoor rower allows users with limited or no leg movement to row, row, row their bodies into shape.  And the Marpo VLT compact rope climber has a pull-away seat that allows wheelchair users the opportunity to burn more calories and build more muscle while attempting to climb their way to the top.  The NuStep recumbent stepper can provide a challenging cardio workout for a nondisabled athlete as well as provide heart-pumping, full range of motion in all four extremities for someone with the use of only one limb.  Add any or all of this equipment to a public fitness center and suddenly inclusive fitness is the norm, not the exception.

But what do we do until that time comes?  Unless individuals with disabilities have access to a gym or workout facility, it’s hard to come up with an effective fitness routine.

Do What You Can

Laurie Younis of Santa Ana, Calif., never really felt welcome at regular gyms.  “I always felt like a liability.”  She says that after her spinal injury she gained weight and was in a lot of pain; she knew if she didn’t do something, things would only get worse.  “I changed my attitude and my diet.  I was willing to do whatever it took to get a good workout.”  Laurie substituted water, a balanced diet and movement for soda, fast food and sitting in front of the television.  “You start by moving what you can.  Push, stretch and add some resistance.  Do a little more today than you did yesterday and keep doing it!”

Isaacs agrees, “If a person applies education, inspiration and perspiration, he or she will be able to work out in a space no bigger than a phone booth using nothing but him or herself.”  Isaacs recommends speaking with a qualified professional who understands your individual needs and goals, but if you can’t do that, Isaacs prescribes using natural body movements followed by adding the appropriate external resistance.  Isaacs encourages people to remember that the human arm is 5 percent of your body weight, so if you are lifting it, you are exercising.

When you’re ready to add some resistance, a great way to improve muscular endurance, strength, and range of motion by using natural body movements is with TheraBands resistive bands and tubing.  TheraBands offer great versatility in developing a home exercise program and are inexpensive, easy to use and portable.  Other inexpensive home options include adding angle or wrist weights to simple stretching exercises or outings where you walk, run or roll.  The key is to begin small and add to the workout every day.

If you have a bigger budget, you can add some specialized equipment to your home gym.

NuStep offers its T4 recumbent cross-trainer for about $115 a month for three years, or $3,595.  The T4 comes with a range of optional accessories designed to help users with various ability levels get a safe, low-impact, total-body workout.

The EZ Stand Glider combines standing with a full body cross-country skiing motion that provides an active range of motion to decrease spasticity and improve cardiovascular health.  The EZ Stand Glider runs around $7,000 but may be covered by insurance with the right documentation.

Whether you start big or small, the key to fitness is starting.  Eat a balanced diet and begin with small consistent workouts.  Then search out what’s available in your community.  Franchise gyms are beginning to add adaptive equipment, and many local gyms are willing to partner with community members to create an inclusive facility.

About 40 percent of the YMCAs nationwide have NuStep machines along with other pieces of universally designed equipment.  We are not alone in our desire to maintain good health.  A 2010 provision to the ADA says it all: “Providing access to exercise machines and equipment recognizes the need and desires of individuals with disabilities to have the same opportunity as other patrons to enjoy the advantage of exercise and maintaining health.”

For More Info:

- Arizona Bridge to Independent Living,
- EZ Stand Glider,
- Goodwill Fitness Center,
- Helen M. Gavin Health and Fitness Center; Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz Sports Program,
- National Center on Physical Activity and Disability,
- NuStep,
- TheraBands,
- C.O.R.E. Centers,

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