My guest this week is Daniel Stein, whose passion for health and fitness lead him to own and operate his private training business and to get certified through NASM, NFPT, and ACSM. Daniel holds a specialty certification as a Certified Inclusive Fitness Trainer (CIFT) and as a Certified Autism Trainer, which allows him to train individuals with physical and intellectual disabilities. In 2013, Daniel married his beautiful wife, Trinity. A few years later, they prayerfully started Special Strong to pursue their calling of working with the special needs population.
In this episode, Daniel and I discuss how and why parents should encourage movement and exercise for their children with special needs. Daniel presents staggering evidence of the benefits of movement and exercise for not only physical health but also for brain health. Daniel serves children with a variety of health backgrounds such as autism, Aspergers, down syndrome, cerebral palsy, obesity, depression, ADD/ADHD, those suffering severe physical injuries, and more. His training program empowers parents and professionals to take their motivation skills to the next level not only for their children and clients but also by encouraging them to engage in healthy activities for the betterment of themselves. To learn more about Daniel Stein click here.
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Why is Movement Important?
- Movement is necessary for everyone
- Exercise not only helps the body physically but it has the power to heal the brain
- Children with special needs can greatly benefit from physical activity not only to strengthen their motor skills but also to engage their brain by practicing and mastering complex movements
- These movements translate into everyday activities such as washing the dishes and taking the groceries from the car to the house
- Our brains have the ability to heal and many special needs patients have seen vast improvements in their lives by engaging in these activities
- Skepticism runs high in parents who have exhausted many resources and time for their special needs child
- It can be hard for them to envision the possibility of their children engaging in such activities especially after failed attempts at sports teams etc.
- Parents also find it hard to motivate their children and are worn down from the constant search for improvements
Where To Begin
- You want to first establish trust by building their confidence
- Start slow and small, with very simple exercises
- Try a “farmer’s walk” to begin
- Holding 5-10 lb weights and walking back and forth
- To increase difficulty, switch to carrying weight on one side only encouraging balance and posture
- Try a “medicine ball slam”
- Taking a weighted ball, slam it to the ground, pick it back up and slam it again
- This exercise is also effective in releasing emotion and stress – take it out on the ball!
- Try a “farmer’s walk” to begin
- You know your child’s ability best and are their best advocate, think of the simple ways you can start
Building Motivation To Exercise
- Using a reward system created especially for your child
- Example: collecting points for each gym visit that translate into a reward after X amount of points are achieved
- Using positive reinforcers for good behavior and specific praise for what they are doing correctly
- Specific praise helps a child navigate how to improve versus receiving praise for any movement which may confuse them
Where to learn more about Daniel Stein…
Episode Intro … 00:00:30
Daniel’s Story … 00:02:30
Why is Movement Important? …00:06:55
Common Obstacles … 00:15:00
Where To Begin … 00:22:15
Building Motivation … 00:31:00
Episode Wrap Up … 00:37:25
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Hi everyone, welcome to the show, I am Dr. Nicole, and on today’s episode, we’re talking about the importance of physical movement and exercise for children’s brain health and behavior. We know that physical activity is really critical for supporting proper brain development, not only in young children but even as they go through the elementary and middle school and high school ages. Unfortunately, today’s kids are more sedentary than ever before in history, and there can be significant barriers to kids with special needs engaging in physical activity and exercise, and to help us understand all of this and talk with us about this today and provide us with some strategies, I’ve invited Daniel Stein, owner of Special Strong on the show, let me tell you a little bit about Daniel. He has been involved in the fitness industry for over ten years and has owned his own private training business since 2013. His passion for health and fitness led him to get certified through NASM, NFPT, and ACSM. He also holds a specialty certification as a Certified Inclusive Fitness Trainer (CIFT) and as a Certified Autism Trainer, which allows him to train individuals with physical and intellectual disabilities. In 2013, Daniel married his beautiful wife, Trinity and they now have two kids, by the way, and a few years later, they peripherally started Special Strong to pursue their calling of working with the special needs population. In his spare time, he enjoys working out, reading and fishing. Daniel, such a pleasure to have you here. Welcome to the show.
Thank you so much for having me, I’m really excited.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
This is such an important topic and one that I think tends to get neglected in the realm of thinking about strategies and support for kids with special needs, whether those are physical needs, mental health needs, behavioral needs — you know, we all say, “Oh yeah, we know it’s important to move, our kids should be getting physical activity,” but it really goes beyond just the physical benefits of that, and that’s what I want to dig into with you today. But before we start with all of that, I’d love to hear a bit about your story, how did you come to be doing the kind of really unique work that you’re doing today?
Yeah, that’s a great question. So when I was four years old, I was diagnosed with severe ADHD, which is a learning disability, and so I had a really hard time in school, my parents didn’t really know what to do. They put me on medication, I got counseling, I actually got a lot of different types of therapy. But when they got me involved in sports, they noticed a really big improvement in my behavior and my focus, my learning ability in the classroom. So when they saw that, they thought, “Let’s go ahead and buy him a gym membership.” So in middle school, they bought me a gym membership to the YMCA and I’d ride my bike two miles to the gym and two miles back home, just about every day. And that’s where I uncovered my passion for exercising and working out. It radically transformed my life. I didn’t know at the time the benefits of exercise, but what I was finding for myself was it was making me feel better, I was able to focus better. And so, as a result, the quality of my life improved drastically. And so at an early age, I knew that I wanted to be a personal trainer, I knew that I wanted to pursue fitness for the rest of my life. I was fortunate to uncover my passion at a very early age. So I pursued that all throughout middle school and high school, I studied everything that I could, I learned as much as I could, more like as a hobby. And then after high school, I pursued it vocationally. So I became certified, and as I got certified and I started working with the general population, I started realizing real quick that I had a lot of success with that population, but there was another population that was dear to my heart, which was the special needs population.
As I mentioned earlier, I was diagnosed at age four with ADHD, and when it came to the general population, I wasn’t really able to help them with the same things that I overcame, being the mental and different struggles, emotional struggles I had. And I knew I wanted to help that population, so that’s what ultimately led me to start Special Strong, it was because I realized that there are very little resources and very little education out there when it comes to fitness and even nutrition for special needs. Now if you’re in the general population, there are unlimited resources at your fingertips. I mean, Google is awesome and you can find just about anything you want for free on Google for yourself. But if you’ve got a kid with autism, Down syndrome, CP, good luck trying to find information, quality information out there on the internet, because it’s not there. So we created that solution, which was very needed for this population.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
I love how you brought your personal experience as a child into what you’re doing now as an adult, that’s so powerful. And I would imagine that that really helped you build an immediate connection with the kids and the young adults that you’re working with, because you’re not just talking about, “Oh, these are things that you should do, I’m going to show you how.” It’s like, “Here is my story, how this has helped me, I’ve been where you are.”
That’s exactly right. There is a strong “Why” behind what I do. It’s so much more than just a workout, it’s something that I’ve dealt with for a long time and I understand, in many ways, the struggles these parents have on a very personal level.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Absolutely, and you know, I think as you were talking about your experience of getting involved with a gym membership, riding your bike two miles — it brought to mind many patients that I’ve worked over the years where when could get them engaged in buying into that kind of level of physical, activity, as you said it really is life-changing for them, especially as they get into more of those later elementary, middle school, high school years to realize: I have some control over this, I have somethings I can do, getting on my bike, getting to the gym — and they do, they report back and you’re like, “I can’t believe how much better I feel, I can’t believe how much better I’m doing in school,” and it’s just such a powerful thing that I think we too often underestimate.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
So let’s talk now, I want to get into some nitty-gritty with types of movement and things, but let’s just talk in a general way about why movement is important. I think most people, when they think about movement — I tend to use “movement”. Exercise can be a dirty word to a lot of people, right? Like “Don’t talk to me about exercise,” so I tend to talk about it as physical movement. But whatever word we use, I think that most of the time, people put that in the category of, “Oh, that’s something that we should do for our physical health”, right? So I think that’s sometimes why it gets ignored for kids because we’re generally — I mean although unfortunately more and more now, we’re more concerned about things like obesity and type II Diabetes and some things like that for even young kids, but in general, we don’t worry as much about those physical health things for kids, but really, the benefits of movement and exercise go way beyond the physical, right? So I’d love to have you talk a bit about why movement is so important beyond just the obvious physical benefit?
Yeah, absolutely, and I would have to agree with you, and like myself, when I started working out at an early age, I had no idea that movement was — of course, it helped heal the body physically, we all know that it helps with the body, but I had no idea that movement would actually heal the brain, it healed my brain, specifically. I had no idea. And for the audience, I wanted to start by recommending a phenomenal book, because it would take hours to get into the benefits for the brain with what this does. But there’s a great book out there called “Spark” and it’s a phenomenal book, you may have heard of it, Nicole, it’s a best-selling book. It is full of peer-reviewed, medical studies on what exercise does for the brain, what movement does for the brain, and it’s unbelievable, absolutely unbelievable what it does. You know, at one point, scientists, doctors, they used to think the brain was incapable of being moldable. So over the years, it’s amazing that they’ve discovered that the brain is very much moldable, they call it neuroplasticity. So there’s no question, there’s no argument now that the brain can literally rebuild and rewire itself to the point where the brain physically actually changes. And one of the best ways to do that is through exercise. And believe it or not, there are actually specific exercises and specific types of exercises that can help the brain in more ways than others. And so, as a company, that’s one of the things that we focus on, is yes, we do traditional resistance training and strength training movements, of course, we do that, but there is a way to make exercises more complex because the key is complex movements.
Complex movements are going to engage the brain in very unique ways that are going to allow clients like what we’ve seen do things for the first time in their life like have jobs independently, take dishes from the sink and transfer them to the dishwasher. Let me tell you something, we don’t have dishes or dishwashers in gyms, so when we train someone in the gym, we’re not showing them how to do dishes. But the movements that we do translate into everyday activities and when their brains get restored, when their brains start to heal, suddenly things that we’re doing in the gym translate into things like doing the dishes. And we’ve seen so many things like that where the brains just start functioning and firing the way they’re supposed to. We’ve seen clients get off depression medication. They actually call exercise “Nature’s natural anti-depressant” and in some ways, it actually outperformed antidepressants in placebo studies. Way, way, outperformed them. It’s amazing. I can go on and on with the studies and the data, but the bottom line is you’ve got to do it. If you don’t do it, you’re never going to see the benefits and that’s where we come in as a company. People don’t know where to start. “How do I motivate my son?” “How do I motivate my daughter?” “Hey Daniel, this all sounds great, but you don’t understand. My son, my daughter, they hate movement, they hate exercise. How am I supposed to get them to do that?” We hear that all the time and those are the clients we love to work with because we’re able to unlock their potential and help them realize: They do like exercise, we’ve just got to make it and translate it into a way that communicates to them. Their love language, so to speak, their exercise language.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
I love that. It sounds like that could be the title of a book. I’m glad that you brought up the book, “Spark”. That’s Dr. John Ratey’s book, right?
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Wonderful book, and you’re right. It covers so much of the research behind this in one place and the fact that there is so much research — I don’t think people are aware of that. It’s like movement and exercise: It’s not just “Nice to do”, it really is a “We need to do it,” in order to keep our brains functioning well, and that’s for all of us, but particularly for kids who are having challenges as you said, the benefits of that neuroplasticity, and we see that on brain scans now, we can see the difference in how kids’ brains wire up, how parts of the brain work together, how their functioning improves once they’re engaged in these kinds of movements and exercise routines. And the depression, the mental health connection. When I educate parents and kids on this, and they’ll often say, well, if exercise outperforms antidepressants most of the time, why didn’t our physician say this?” And I say, “Well first of all, people don’t know what they don’t know but also, there is a common way of thinking out there among the medical community that people don’t want to hear this. They want to take a pill, they don’t want to exercise — and I find that at least in my client population, they’re very open to hearing what else they can be doing, whether instead of medication or in conjunction with medication to help it work better, and physical activity is hands down one of the best things for improving mental health across the board and we’ve got studies with depression, with anxiety, with bipolar, all kinds of mood disorders, schizophrenia, all of those types of things and it doesn’t get the publicity, right? People aren’t talking about it much! Go ahead.
Yeah, I don’t want to bash doctors because not all doctors are equal and there are good doctors out there who do prescribe exercise as a part of the regimen, but the book on healing the brain right now, and it’s unfortunate, there is a gentleman diagnosed with Parkinson’s and he started exercising on his own for many years and he ends up going back to the doctor and almost all the symptoms were completely gone. So he actually started to write a book about how exercise helped him with his Parkinson’s, and he wanted his doctor to endorse his book, and the doctor refused to endorse the book. And not only that, but the doctor said, “You were actually never accurately diagnosed to begin with.” In other words, “Because of the progress you’ve seen for two years, what that’s telling me is there is no way exercise can do that, and we must have misdiagnosed you to begin with.” And that’s how that ended. It was really frustrating for me to read because I’ve seen a lot of doctors. One of the most important things I’ve learned as a patient to doctors is you’ve got to be a self-advocate. You have to do the research for yourself. If the doctor says something, listen to it, they went to medical school, but it doesn’t mean that they’re always going to have the final answer. You have to research it for yourself. Look into exercise, look into exercise with and without medicine, the pros, the cons, you have to do that kind of stuff. You absolutely have to.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Absolutely. Being your own best advocate and for all the parents, being your child’s best advocate because nobody cares more about your child and the outcomes for them over the course of their life than you do. Such great, great stuff. So I think we’ve convinced people exercise is an important thing to be thinking about with their child, as you brought up, there can be many barriers to that, right? So motivation being a big one, not knowing where to start — I think too for parents who are listening who may have kids with some either mild to severe physical impairment, balance issues, those can be barriers. Talk a bit about some of the most common obstacles or barriers that you see in your work that keep people, families from pursuing this kind of thing for their child.
Yeah, absolutely. The biggest thing that we see is parents are very sceptical, especially if a parent has tried certain sports in their kids’ lives and for whatever reason they have unenrolled from that sport. Maybe the child lost interest, maybe they didn’t excel in the sport, and so they kind of categorize any kind of physical activity as the same. So in other words, if this activity didn’t work over here, then why would lifting weights and going to the gym work any differently? So there is some skepticism and then one of the biggest things that I hear, and the biggest objection that I have to overcome as a company is: “I don’t think my child can do this.” They see our videos, we’re huge on social media, we have close to 50,000 to 100,000 followers, so people see us and they see videos and they say, “There is no way my son or daughter could ever do that.” And that’s really sad, by the way, very, very sad. But at the same time, it’s understandable because they just don’t know what they don’t know. And so I have so much respect for the parents who are willing to give it time and who are willing to try it because it can be fearful, it can be very hard for a parent to say, “My son could get hurt, my daughter could get hurt, I don’t want them to get hurt”. Not to mention, we’ve actually, working with over 1000 clients, we’ve never, not once had an injury. Not once.
So I have a respect for the parents who are willing to do whatever it takes and willing to try new things because there are other ways to motivate their kids and children that not only ends up motivating them, but we see the entire family transform. I’ve seen it start with children because the parents, they’ve got so much on their plate. Special needs children, unfortunately, they take more care, they take more demand than someone who is neurotypical, so the parents get neglected. We see it all the time, all the time. And so these parents invest in services, training, fitness and then they don’t do anything for themselves, but their kids, their lives end up getting transformed and they see their kids and it actually translates up. We see it all the time. All of a sudden, parents starting to go on nutrition plans — I’ve got a mom and dad, collectively, the whole family has lost over 100 pounds, it started with the son. Son is 17 years old, nonverbal autism, it started with him and it translated up to the whole family. So you know, to answer your question, I know that was a long winded answer, but the bottomline is parents just don’t know how to motivate their kids, they just don’t know how to get them to do things. That’s a big barrier that I’ve seen.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
I love that you’re talking about the family involvement piece, because to me, that’s one of the awesome things about incorporating movement into treatment plans, is that it’s something that everybody can do together, which gets so many benefits beyond just the movement, right? Families spending time together, parents improving their health. It’s just like you said, it has this cascading effect on everybody, which I think is awesome. I want to touch on something that you said that I think is important there about, you know, parents see maybe the videos and what other people are doing and they go, “Oh my gosh, my kid can never do that”. And I know we’re going to get into some of the ways to start, but I think that that’s really insightful, what you said around that, because I can see how that would bring up a lot of fears or objections, but the idea that just like with anything, you start where the kid is at, right?
And when you said that, it made me think of a 16 year old that I worked with who is morbidly obese from medications that he’s been on for a long time, from poor eating habits, and I had gotten him to the point, by the beginning of last summer where it was like, let’s start thinking about now some movement. And how was terrified of it, he’s embarrassed, he doesn’t know where to start. So we just started with even a little bit of walking as a starting point to build some confidence. And I think that idea for parents, we have to start where the child is at and grow from there. You can’t expect a kid to suddenly head to the gym and be doing these intense workouts, but starting where they’re at, right?
That’s exactly right, and to your point, I’ll just give a practical example. Some of the things that I just posted a video last week, and I think maybe it had maybe 50,000 or maybe 100,000 views, which is decent. It was a client doing a single leg step-up on a TRX, which can look very intimidating. If you’ve never seen a TRX, it may look intimidating. If your son or daughter has balance problems, it will look intimidating, but ironically, this client, just a few months before that was wheelchair-bound for 8 years. So he had literally never got out of his wheelchair — well, that’s not true, he would get out of his wheelchair, but it would of course be with the assistance of parents, but he was wheelchair bound, and anywhere he went, he would roll himself on the wheelchair for 8 years. He started seeing us, major transformation. And now you see him doing these TRX single leg step-ups that are requiring a lot of balance, and you just would have never known if you would have seen him, where he’s come from.
So to your point, Nicole, everybody starts differently, and I think that’s one of the things that we do before we do any kind of workout plan, we do a very thorough evaluation, and that just helps us know where somebody is starting at, and the great thing for parents wanted to do this on their own is they know their kids better than anybody else. When we do evaluations, it’s not for the parents, it’s for us. In the cases of parents, they don’t necessarily need a thorough evaluation, they’ve been living with their children for many, many years. They know their gate, they know their walking pattern, they know their strengths, they know their weaknesses.
So they don’t need this long evaluation. They can just start in a very, very, simple, basic way that’s going to work for their kids. To your point, everyone’s got to start somewhere. And there is a very good, safe and effective way for just about everyone where they can start.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
I love that. There’s a safe and effective way for everybody to get started. That should really be the key takeaway for people, right? Is that it doesn’t matter what the diagnosis is, it doesn’t matter what kind of shape the person’s in, it doesn’t matter. There is a safe and effective place for everybody to start. I love that. Let’s dive into it a little bit then, what are some of the best movements to start somebody with — or in general, do you have a couple of recommendations or maybe a place that you do start with people?
Yeah. So whenever I start with new clients, my first goal with starting with the new client is I want to build that relationship with the client. And this would be with the parents too. You’re wanting to establish with the client or the individual that there is a sense of trust there. So the most important thing to start with are exercises that are going to build their confidence. Because if you start them with an exercise that’s too complex in the beginning, you’re setting them up to fail and especially with so many of our population, they have this perfectionism thing going on.
So the worst thing you can do is start them with something like a bodyweight squat if they already have trouble bending their knees or sitting down properly, you probably wouldn’t want to start them with that. I mean, in theory, it’s a good idea, but again — the first initial part you want to do is build their confidence with very simple exercises. And practically, one of my favorite things to do when I start with any client is what’s called a “farmer’s walk”, and parents will appreciate this, because if successfully mastered, it will help a lot when it comes to groceries and bringing in groceries from the car to the house. So a farmer’s walk is very simple and you can use just about any weight. I recommend probably about 5-10 pounds per hand. And it’s really simple, you’re just going to lift your chest up, have your shoulder blades back and you’re just going to carry a weight in each arm and you’re going to do it while walking.
So you’ll determine a very healthy pace as far as how far to walk. You could do it for a time, that’s probably the best way to do it is a 30-second walk back and forth. But that’s a really simple exercise and believe it or not, it’s actually really functional! I mean you have to really engage a lot of your body just to have those weights in your hand and it’s also really easy to progress. You can go from two hands to one hand, so instead of having it on equal distribution, now you can put all the weight in one hand so there is a little bit of imbalance, and now your body’s got to compensate for that imbalance because you’ve got 20 pounds on one side and nothing on the other side. Again, easy way to build confidence but also a very functional movement. I mean I promise you I can get somebody sweating if I wanted to, within about 5-10 minutes of a farmer’s walk. But again, very simple exercise, requires very little cognitive functioning, it’s literally just holding weight and walking, and just about everybody who is ambulatory should be able to do that, 95%.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Yeah, and I love that you can start out with as little weight as you need to and move up, and as little time, that to your point the ability to gauge that with what the child can do, and starting there is great and yes, the functionality of that is so huge for so many things. And I love what you said about building confidence because I do think that’s just key with everything with these kids, right? Especially as you’ve said, the ones who have just experienced so much failure or feelings of incompetence or who are afraid to try anything if they think it’s not going to be perfect right out of the gate to build that confidence by giving them something relatively simple that right off the bat, they can feel like, “Oh, I did this! This is going to be okay!”
Yeah, absolutely, that’s so true. And another go-to exercise I like to mention too that’s very good for building confidence is something that they probably already do on a daily basis. We all drop things on the floor or for whatever reason, we have to pick things up off the floor. I don’t care who you are, at some point, you’re going to be on the floor, you’re going to have to bend your knees and pick something up. So a great way to use that in the form of fitness is something called a “medicine ball slam”. We absolutely love this movement, and this is a little bit more complex than the farmer’s walk, but it is more of a brain exercise. It’s classified as a top to bottom exercise, so there is a crossing over the midline by doing a top to bottom exercise, so this is where you really start to engage the brain a little bit more. And it’s real simple, you’re just picking up a ball and slamming it down and picking it back up off the floor and repeating that. That’s another one. It’s actually one of those that’s a little bit more complex, but it’s also a lot of fun.
The kids will have a lot of fun, they get to throw a ball, literally as hard as they want, it will never break. I have fun with it, I’ll tell them, “Listen, if you break this open, I’ll give you a $100 bill.” And they’ll go crazy, they go crazy over it, and thankfully, I’ve never had to give a $100 bill away, thank God! But I would give it away if somebody broke it, somehow. So we have fun with it, and it’s also a great emotional regulator. The medicine ball slam is phenomenal when it comes to regulating emotions. I mean I don’t need to explain science for you to know that taking your aggression out on a ball is going to help you feel better. I mean that’s, you know, if you’ve ever seen people hit a wall when they’re mad, well there is a reason they’re hitting the wall. It’s getting out their frustration and they’re able to express their emotions into the wall.
And how about instead of breaking a wall, let’s take it out on the ball. Because in our case, we do have clients that hit walls, they hit doors, they do all that kind of stuff, but you translate that into a productive movement like a medicine ball slam, and now they’re getting exercise, and now their emotions are also getting regulated. I mean it doesn’t get much better than that.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Fantastic, and I was also thinking about the sensory integration properties of that too, that deep pressure and that weight of slamming that down and picking that up and providing that proprioceptive input to the joints, which is also a very regulating thing too.
Yes, absolutely, and there are numerous benefits to exercises like the medicine ball slam, just like you mentioned, the sensory benefits, even the vestibular system, I mean the change in the vestibular system going from your head up to your head down, I mean that does wonders. That’s the top-to-bottom movement that we mentioned is that the vestibular system being in the ear, and that change in head movement, it’s amazing what that can do for the brain too. It’s just amazing how something very simple can be so profound.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
And I love that you’re also always thinking about how that fits into overall life function, right? As you said, these are not just isolated random things, like how often do we need to be able to do that movement of bending down to smoothly pick something up and come back to standing? That’s a functional life movement that gets integrated into life, carrying weight in both hands, so I love that piece of it too, because I think anytime that we are including functional movements, we’re just getting extra bang for our buck there, right? We’re not just getting the benefits of the physical activity, but as you said, the brain connectivity and really improving life function.
Yes, absolutely. And you know the new thing about functional movements is they’re very easy to progress. So you start with something like a functional movement like a medicine ball slam, and I believe I misspoke earlier, I said that — I was getting it confused but, when you do a medicine ball slam, you’re not actually crossing the midline just yet, but there is a way where you can progress the movement. I’ll just give you an example. What we do often is — whenever the ball gets slammed down, we’ll have people pick it up and we’ll have them draw an x in the air with the medicine ball. So you’re crossing over this way, and then you’re going to cross over this way. So you’ve now crossed the midline. And then again — you can build, I love functional movements because you can build off of them and you can build, and build, and build, and that’s how you build someone’s confidence is you start with a real basic exercise, and then you slowly progress it and build of mastery, and then you can introduce real complex movements, like I mentioned. This gets a little complex and you’ve got to go from here to here, crossing the midline, that’s really complex for a lot of our clients, but again, if you start basic and you work up to that, it’s amazing, absolutely amazing to see what can be achieved.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
So this idea of starting where they’re at and building their confidence, helping them feel competent with this, I think that’s a huge step to increasing motivation and willingness to participate, right? What other things do you feel like are important for parents sitting there going, “Ugh, all my kid wants to do is lie around or he just plays the video games or he doesn’t want to move.” What are some of the other components that you think are helpful in terms of building motivation for doing physical movement?
Yeah, I think there are two components. There’s going to be a motivation component in the workout itself, and there’s also going to be a motivational component outside of the workout when they’re not working out. So what we’ve seen that’s been really successful for our clients outside of the workouts is some kind of rewards system. So that can be different for everybody. I’ve got a client that if he comes into the gym and has good behavior, four okay behavior or two stickers for really good behavior — and if he does real bad, then he doesn’t get any stickers. And that motivates him like crazy. And then those stickers, translate for them to allow him to buy things on Amazon. We all love Amazon, and he loves to shop on Amazon, so that really motivates him to come into the gym and also to give it his 100% when he’s there. And then when we are actually at the gym and we are working out and we’ve gotten to that point, we love to use what are called positive reinforcers. There are a lot of different ways to incorporate that, but one of my favorite ways to do that is fist bumps. My clients love fist bumps! I can get them to do just about anything I want just by a simple fist bump. I mean it’s crazy how much they just feed off of encouragement. They love encouragement. So a lot of times, what will happen with my clients is we’ll finish a set of ball slam, and right after the set’s done, they’ve got their hand fist out, waiting for me to fist bump them. Yeah, that’s right! Here you go, I give it back right to you, Nicole!
And it is so motivating to them, and it reinforces what happens is it’s a positive reinforcement. So they’ve done something really well and the positive reinforcement is the first bump, and so what that tells them is, “If I do the exercise again like this, I’m going to get another fist bump.” On the other hand, if they do something that’s maladaptive or that I don’t appreciate, they’re not going to get a fist bump from me, and what that tells them, is that “If I do X behavior, then guess what, I’m not going to get my fist bump from Daniel anymore.” And so you’ve got to be really delicate with how you handle that, but it teaches them that there are consequences for good behavior, and consequences for bad behavior, and there is no punishment. It’s not necessarily a punishment to take away that hand, but it just tells them, “Hey, listen, if I want that fist bump, I’m going to have to do it a certain way, the way that my instructor or my parent is telling me to do it.” That’s one of our favorite ones, and the other one we like to do, you will find when you start working with your kids or with clients that everyone’s got their favorite exercise. You’ll find it eventually, it may take time, but you’re going to find that they like some exercises more than others. And so for me, I’ve got a client who loves jumping jacks, absolutely loves them. So sometimes instead of the fist bump, I’ll use that positive reinforcer as jumping jacks, so after he finishes a set of farmer’s walks, we’ll say “Okay! Let’s do 30 jumping jacks!” and that’s a positive reinforcer for him to again do those farmer’s walks the way that I want him to do it. So that’s one of the best strategies that I can possibly recommend for inside motivation for the gym, and then also outside of the gym motivation.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Yeah, and I think I like the focus on the positive, right? Instead of being punishing or focusing on the negative, which let’s face it, a lot of these kids, especially if they’re in school all day, there tends to be a lot of focus on what they’re doing wrong. And this is more a focus on spotlighting the things that they’re doing well, and then building that motivation to do that, and I think the relationship is a big part of that too. And to go back to something you said earlier, you really spend your first, probably, several sessions with a kid building that relationship, right? Because when they have that relationship, that goes a long way too to motivating them to want to please you, to want to engage with you in that way, so that piece is important.
Yeah, absolutely. It is all about the positive and the praise and another strategy we use for motivation is behavior-specific praise. So this is going to be more during the workout itself, but let’s just use the examples, since we talked about farmer’s walks and we talked about the medicine ball slam, so let’s say that somebody is doing a farmer’s walk. Rather than saying, “Hey, Timmy, great job on the farmer’s walk!” And give him a fist bump and that’s the end of it, instead, what you can do is say, “Hey Timmy, I liked how you kept your chest up and I liked how you kept your hands to your side the entire time. Great job with the farmer’s walk.” That’s going to do way more for motivation and positive reinforcement that just saying, “Hey, good job on the farmer’s walk.” Because that doesn’t mean anything to that person, if you just say, “Good job”, not to mention, you actually could be reinforcing the wrong things. So if he did something wrong in the movement and you just told him, “Good job”, well that’s a little confusing because he’s doing something wrong and you’re telling him, “Good job”, so again, it’s tricky. A kind of a creative way you can get around addressing the negative part is just focus on the things he did really good. And if he didn’t do something real good, it’s okay, you just focus on the things he’s doing really good on, and then later you can make those corrections, but it’s. Much safer way than them having to feel rejection, and then again, that performance perfectionism kind of kicking in.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
That’s a great point that specific praise is so valuable because it helps them know exactly what part of that to replicate, right? And I find that even within any kind of activity, a kiddo might have a lot of moments that were not so fantastic, but you can usually find something within that to give some positive for and then that keeps the relationship and kind of keeps them motivated, so such really useful, practical tips and strategies. I know this information is so helpful to our listeners. I want to make sure that I give you a chance to share a little bit about specifically what you’re doing, because while you do have an in-person gym where you train kids and work with families, you’ve also got some really cool stuff going online that people can access to get trained, whether they’re a parent or a professional, right?
Yeah, absolutely. We’re doing a lot. We really have a global mindset and a global vision to just educate, even outside the United States, we want to educate people. So what we have is a company called Strong Education, and it’s at certifystrong.com, but it’s designed for parents and professionals to learn how to either work 1 on 1 or in group settings with the special needs population. We’ve created it as very entry levels, so there is no fitness experience required, but even if you already are a professional, you’re going to really benefit a lot from this course. Whereas, if you’re not a professional, you’re just a parent, you’re going to learn a lot with how you can take these things from the course and immediately implement it either at home or if you have a gym, you can implement it at the gym, it’s designed for either/or.
So we’ve been using this education for years for our company, we’ve got many trainers who work for us, and what we did for the first few years is we put them through this, and they’d go train clients, and we had a great success rate. Last year, about mid last year, we decided to make it available to the public, whether before it was very private and exclusive. Since making it public, we’ve certified over 100 people and we’ve formed several — probably about eight different national partnerships. So we’re accredited with seven different agencies and then we’ve also got some national partnerships with Crunch Fitness, which is a huge gym. So we’ve had incredible feedback and success, not only from professionals, but parents are absolutely loving this. They’re getting video demonstrations, they’re just getting really practical tools to empower their kids, to empower their communities. I’ve had parents that have wanted to start group classes in their community with no credentials — and that’s okay, you don’t have to have credentials outside of ours to go start a group class. You don’t have to. Our certifications are strong, nationally accredited certification, and it allows someone to go to do that. So to answer your question, this is a resource that’s going to be great for any parent, any professional that’s wanting to help someone with special needs and fitness.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
I love it. I was so impressed when I was first introduced to you and looking at what you do online and just the quality and the caliber of what you’ve put together for parents and professionals to access, so really can’t encourage all of you who are listening enough to go check out these programs. Give the website again, it’s certifystrong.com is for the online programs, and then is there a separate website for your gym?
Yeah, the website for our gym is specialstrong.com and we’re in the process currently of franchising, so we’re actually looking at starting our first franchise in Louisiana. So we have about six locations in Texas, but there’s been such a high demand, so we’re slowly expanding outside of Texas, and our hope is to be in every state. Because you know for the parents that maybe don’t have time, they’re busy or they just want that extra professional guidance, we want to be there to help because we understand that sometimes you need a little bit more than just watching some videos and trying these things at home. Sometimes you need that extra accountability. So outside of Texas, just to be a solution to more families.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Love it, so excited about what you’re doing, Daniel. Thank you so much for being on the show today and providing all of this valuable information to our listeners.
Yeah, thanks for having me, Nicole.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
And thanks to all of you for listening, we’ll see you next time for our next episode of The Better Behavior show.