[COACHING THE COACHING CORNER Adjusting training for special populations

Written by Amber Sheppard, presented by Performance Menu A full version of this article was originally published in the November 2016 edition of Performance Menu’s magazine.

Not every person that comes through

your door is going to be an elite athlete or in perfect health. If you want to be a decent coach you need to know how to work with and successfully program for individuals with physical, cognitive, or be- havioral conditions.

What Is a Special Population? Most people think of serious and visible

injuries as constituting a special popula- tion. Special populations are actually much broader. For the purposes of this article we

are going to discuss special popula- tions in three different categories or do- mains: physical, cognitive, and behavioral conditions. • Physical Conditions: These condi-

tions center around structural imbalances and joint misalignments. (1) Metabolic Conditions: diabetes, obesity; (2) Neuro- muscular Conditions: Down’s syndrome, cerebral palsy; and (3) Musculoskeletal Conditions: cystic fibrosis, scoliosis, os- teoporosis, amputations. • Cognitive Conditions: These condi-

tions concern the learning speed of the athletes and how they process informa- tion. Examples include ADHD, dementia, Asperger’s syndrome and brain injuries. • Behavioral /Social / Emotional Con-

ditions: These conditions tend to overlap with those in the cognitive domain. Exam- ples include those athletes from an abu- sive background, sheltered environments (group homes), autism, anxiety, depres- sion, and disordered eating. • Other Conditions: Deafness, blind-

ness, pregnancy (and post pregnancy), as well as age.

Precursors To Training Special Populations Setting up a Standardized Operating

Procedure for new clients, regardless of their condition, should be a priority if you

are going to coach anyone. During these consults, you should be doing assess- ments to see what movements the client is able to do, what cues work best for the client and have them sign a release waiver. If the individual has a cognitive impair-

ment or is a minor, then make sure you get a parent, guardian, or caretaker to sign the release waiver as well. If appli- cable, and the client accepts and signs a HIPPA form, you should also be in touch with the client’s healthcare provider.

“… to be a decent coach you need to know how

to work with … individuals with

physical, cognitive, or behavioral conditions.”

Training Special Populations Special populations do not require

you to wear kid gloves when coaching. The only difference is how you approach coaching the lifts with them based on what their condition is. Physical Conditions: These conditions

are based around muscular tonal chang- es. It may require a more trained coach to spot and rectify, but that does not mean you need to be an occupational therapist or physical therapist to do so. • Metabolic conditions, like diabetes

and obesity, require special attention to the intensity and duration of training. • Neuromuscular


Down’s syndrome and cerebral palsy, concern tonal changes. • Musculoskeletal conditions: These

conditions concern “injuries or pain in the body’s joints, ligaments, muscles, nerves,


tendons, and structures that support limbs, neck and back.” Cognitive Conditions: Since these concern

conditions the concentration

and processing ability of the athlete, they can be the most difficult to work around. However, that does not mean the athlete cannot or will not benefit from strength training. Behavioral Conditions: The most im-

portant thing to remember when coach- ing athletes with behavioral or societal conditions is to be cognizant of what feedback you give them. These individu- als come from a variety of backgrounds and should be approached dependent on their individual circumstances. Other Conditions: • Deaf athletes will respond best to vi-

sual cues whereas blind athletes will need more auditory or tactile cueing. • Pregnant athletes require special con-

siderations. • Youth athletes require gradual pro-

gressions in technique and strength. • Masters athletes require less volume and more recovery.

Conclusion Regardless of an athlete’s condition

when they seek your help, you should be able to help them. After your first assess- ment of them, make sure to stay in con- tact with their healthcare provider if they are a member of a special population to ensure their program is efficient and safe. Don’t be afraid to ask them what modifi- cations they may require during their con- sult and always leave the door open for future discussions or modifications. Performance Menu is an affiliate of

USA Weightlifting. Get a 25% discount at Performance Menu when you use the code “usaw” and Performance Menu will donate 20% of all subscriptions to sup- port the athletes of USA Weightlifting. Subscribe HERE.



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