An intellectual disability should be no barrier to lifting weights at a gym.

When I say that people with a mental handicap should lift weights, I’m obviously referring to those who have no medical issues that would contraindicate strength training  —  and those medical issues would have to be pretty severe, since many “typical” people train with weights despite having an assortment of medical conditions.

Secondly, people with an intellectual handicap would have to have an educable level of cognitive skills to truly benefit from a weightlifting program.

With scores of mentally challenged adults in the workforce, able to hold down a job, why don’t more of them lift weights?

This is because they are rarely encouraged to do so. After all, most of the general population doesn’t even lift weights.

Weightlifting is a Special Olympics event, but those athletes represent an extremely, extremely tiny percentage of people with mental challenges who pump iron.

Another obstacle is that many people, including their family members, believe these men and women are not capable of learning a weightlifting program.

This is really odd, because Special Olympians learn far more difficult activities such as skiing, equestrian, basketball, soccer, figure skating and gymnastics.

Weightlifting IS a Special Olympics sport! 

What a fantastic self-esteem booster training with weights would be to someone who’s down on himself or herself for not being “smart.”

When I had a part-time job in Chicago working with mentally handicapped adults, I took one, an obese 24-year-old, to the gym to get her interested in lifting weights.

She had mild mental retardation and had absolutely no trouble duplicating strength training exercises that I first demonstrated.

Unfortunately, she didn’t become hooked. But the point is, she was able to replicate my correct techniques.

At one of the chain gyms I go to, there is a young man with Down syndrome who independently uses both machines and free weights, while his father works out elsewhere in the gym.

Parents of adults with mental challenges need to see the light and realize how invaluable a strength training program would be for their grown kids, or even teenagers.

Shutterstock/ LI Cook

When I had the part-time jobs in Chicago, I was floored at how miserably out of shape most of the adults with mental retardation were, even though many had high levels of academic functioning.

There is no intellectual barrier as to why a “high functioning” person with an intellectual challenge cannot engage in a full-fledged strength training program for fitness.

In fact, even when they do have behavioral concerns, they can still be excellent candidates for strength training.

One woman comes to mind, “Belinda.” I’d also had a part-time job at a group home where she lived.

At her job, Barbara was responsible as an employee in the daycare center at a health club. At her group home, she acted very childish.

Early every morning before her shift started, she used the health club’s equipment for an hour, unsupervised, and she was not flabby like so many intellectually handicapped adults are.

This goes to show you that even not-so-high functioning mentally challenged adults can still benefit loads from lifting weights.

Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified by the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness she trained clients of all ages for fat loss, muscle building, fitness and improved health. 


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