Training with Special Needs: Improving Quality of Life Through the CBSE Model

by Elite Personal Trainer Eric Neil
Eric Neil is an NSCA Certified Personal Trainer and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. He has headed HAC’s Community Fitness Friday program since 2019 and recently achieved his Adaptive Special Needs Fitness Level 1 Certification through the Special Strong curriculum.

For people with physical and intellectual special needs, achieving independence starts with providing the tools necessary to do so. The proper training and social environments will allow them to gain independence. The CBSE model offers a full-body training protocol that can help achieve independence.

Community Fitness Friday (CFF) is a program at HAC where we provide the means to achieve fitness and wellness to community members with physical and cognitive disabilities. We have implemented the CBSE model – part of the Special Strong inclusive training curriculum – in CFF’s training protocol and have found it to be beneficial to our participants.

The aim of the CBSE model is to strengthen the client’s mind, body, and spirit.
C: Core Balance and Flexibility
B: Brain and Sensory
S: Strength
E: Endurance

An example of criss-corss marches

Core, Balance, & Flexibility
Individuals with special needs can have poor core activation and limitations in balance and flexibility. This can place an individual at risk for falls, injuries, and other muscular imbalances. Focusing on strengthening the core through functional movements while increasing balance and flexibility is paramount. For example, a person with cerebral palsy or another disorder that affects mobility may have difficulty going up and down the stairs. Implementing a program that requires stepping over hurdles and off boxes will help them gain confidence and independence through functional movement.

Brain & Sensory
Our brain and sensory systems are all about connections. Our brains can be divided into left/right brain and top/bottom brain. Exercises that cross the midline of our body use the left/right brain connection. The top/bottom brain connection is engaged with exercises that cross our transverse line or waistline. Transverse line and midline connections play a significant role in the development of new pathways. An example of a midline exercise would be a criss-cross march. Criss-cross march requires clients to cross their right hand or elbow over to their left knee while maintaining balance and an upright posture.

An example of a top/bottom transverse line neurological pathway exercise would be medicine ball slams. These are performed by holding a medicine ball straight overhead with arms and legs straight, then slamming the ball straight down, looking at knees at the end of the movement.

When the midline and transverse lines are crossed in an organized fashion, we
get bilateral coordination. An example of this would be crawling: moving forward and backward with a diagonal gait (where the right arm and left knee move, followed by the left arm and right knee).

Gateway Garden Center

These types of exercises are especially helpful for individuals lacking in social skills and those who have difficulty managing their emotions. Developing these skills is critical in gaining independence for a client with special needs.

Strength & Endurance
Strength and endurance are the foundation for a more independent life. Building strength and endurance through exercises with a slow tempo with high repetition is key in the CBSE model. An example of a slow exercise tempo would be performing an overhead press with a three-second upward movement phase followed by a one-second hold at the top, then transitioning to a three-second phase of downward movement to return to the starting position. Exercises done with a slow tempo promote the buildup of muscle required for daily tasks plus the endurance to complete those tasks. Weight loss and energy levels will also improve by implementing this style of strength and endurance program.

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