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NCHPAD - Building Healthy Inclusive Communities

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II. Muscular Strength and Endurance


Several studies have noted that the strength levels of adults with developmental disabilities are inferior to adults without developmental disabilities (Felix et al., 1998; Pitetti & Boneh, 1995; Rimmer, 1994). Muscular strength and endurance is related to improved performance in daily activities including lifting and carrying things, walking up a flight of stairs, maintaining good posture and performing work-related tasks (e.g., pushing carts, stocking shelves). Poor strength has also been linked to a higher incidence of osteoporosis and a greater risk of falling (Rimmer, 1994).

A strength-training program should include activities that the person enjoys, it should be progressive in nature, individualized, and target specific muscle groups in the upper and lower body (e.g., legs, trunk and arms) (Rimmer & Kelly, 1991). Ideally, it should be performed three days a week for 15 to 20 minutes. Any type of resistance exercise can be used to improve strength, including elastic tubing, dumbbells, weight machines, calisthenics (e.g., chin-ups and push-ups), or weighted household items such as a few pounds of sand or sugar or canned goods if they can be held safely. The important thing to remember is that in order to improve muscular strength and endurance, an overload to the muscle group must be performed. This requires the person to find a resistance that he or she can only lift approximately eight to 10 times. If the weight is too light, there may be no improvement or only a slight improvement in strength. Guidelines for developing a strength-training program for persons with developmental disabilities are shown below.

Guidelines for Developing a Strength Training Program for Persons with Developmental Disabilities

  1. Practice using the equipment for several sessions to ensure that the person understands how to properly lift the weight.
  2. Perform two to three sets using various upper and lower body exercises. Emphasize the development of the arms, legs, stomach and back.
  3. Provide adequate rest between exercises. It may take 1 to 2 minutes of recovery time before repeating the next strength exercise.
  4. Pair higher-functioning residents with lower-functioning residents who need assistance in lifting the weights correctly.
  5. Teach persons to record their own scores and those of their lower-functioning partners. Simplified forms can be developed to teach persons with developmental disabilities how to record their scores.
  6. The first few weight training sessions will require a great deal of supervision. Provide clear feedback and emphasize lifting the weights slowly, expiring while the weight is being lifted and inspiring while the weight is being lowered.
  7. Make sure the weights are lifted through the entire range of motion in order to obtain full muscle development. Lifting the weight through the widest range of motion possible will also improve flexibility.
  8. Always stress safety. Weights can pose a substantial hazard if proper guidance and instruction are not provided.

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