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Adapted Fitness Exercise Workout Plan (Home or Gym)

Having worked with over 1,000 clients, Special Strong is the expert on adapted fitness exercise.  We have come up with a list of adapted fitness exercises that you can do at home or at the gym.  Before you start an adapted fitness exercise workout plan, read the following:

  • Make sure that you always start with level 1 exercises until the form is mastered. Once it is mastered, you can move up to a level 2 exercise. In order to go from a level 1 exercise to level 2 exercise, the participant must be able to hold each position for 30 seconds
  • The goal is to perform each adapted fitness exercise three times (three sets) for a total of 30-60 seconds per exercise. Start with the easy exercises one time (one set) for 15 seconds. This entire circuit should take 15 minutes-30 minutes depending on how many times you repeat the exercises. Get creative with mixing them up and making it fun! Create a reward system for completing each workout (positive reinforcers). I do suggest that you do all the exercise categories listed in the order that I created them (core, legs, back, chest, shoulders, arms). This order is based on energy system demand.
  • For participants who are motivated by counting repetitions instead of time, use 15-20 repetitions on exercises that require movement (planks do not require movement, but a push up does).
  • If you want to make the adapted fitness exercises even harder (add progression), you can do several of these exercises on one leg. This requires proper supervision to ensure the safety of the participant.

Adapted Fitness Exercise Workout Plan List

Warm-Up Exercises

medicine ball slam exercise

Medicine Ball Slam – Endurance

This is the most popular adapted fitness exercise that we do with our clients.  Not only does it have brain benefits, but it warms up the entire body.

Tips: Start with the medicine ball above the head.  Bend the knees, squeeze the core, and throw the ball down.  Repeat.

Frog Jump – Endurance

Squats are hard, and most people dread them.  If you can make the squat fun, it has a much higher success rate.

Tips: Instruct the participant to bend their knees and jump like a frog!

Hand Ergometer

You can purchase a hand ergometer on Amazon for under $200.  This is a great adapted fitness exercise for a wheelchair user because many of them can be done sitting or standing.


Core Exercises

how to plank for special needs

Knee Planks – Core (level 1)

The knee plank is a great beginner level adapted fitness exercise.

Tips:  Find a soft surface for the knees. Make sure hips are in line with spine and elbows are underneath shoulders.

Full Planks – Core (level 2) 

A full plank is the ultimate adapted fitness core exercise because it engages the entire body.

Tips: Make sure hips are in line with spine and elbows are underneath shoulders. If hips are sinking or elevated, go back to knee planks.

Bent Knee Side Plank (level 1)

The bent-knee side plank is a great adapted fitness exercise to target the obliques, which do not get a lot of attention.

Tips: Start by laying on your side and stacking your feet together.  Next, bend both knees towards hips.  Slowly hips off the ground.  Hips should be in line with knees and shoulders.

Side Plank (level 2)

The side plank is a very difficult adapted fitness exercise to perform because you must support your entire body with your core and shoulder.

Tips: Start by laying on your side and stacking your feet together.  Slowly hips off the ground.  Hips should be in line with knees and shoulders.

Superman (level 1)

The superman is one of the most effective adapted fitness exercises to engage the lower back and core.  This exercise is not recommended for people who have existing back injuries.

Tips: Start by laying on your stomach, face down.  Make sure that you face down at ALL times.  Slowly lift up both hands and both knees off the floor. Come up, hold for 3 seconds, come down, and repeat

Alternating Superman (level 2)

This is a great progression of the superman, engaging more of the brain and requiring coordination at the same time.

Tips: Start by laying on your stomach, face down.  Make sure that you face down at ALL times.  Slowly lift up your left hand and your right leg Come up, hold for 3 seconds, come down, and repeat on the opposite side.

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Leg Exercises

adapted fitness leg exercise

Loop Band Hip Bridge (level 1)

The loop band hip bridge is a great exercise to engage the glutes. Using a loop band will help to cue the participants to keep their knees in line with their hips, causing more glute activation.

Tips: Start by laying on your back, face up.  Place the loop band slightly above the knees.  Come up on your heels, and press your hips up towards the ceiling.  Shoulders, hips, and knees should be in line.

Single-Leg – Hip Bridge (level 2)

The single-leg hip bridge is a difficult movement to master but teaches the participant to learn to control each side of their body.

Tips: Start by laying on your back, face up.  Bend one knee and bring it close towards your hips.  Take your other leg and lift it up of the ground.   This is your starting position. Now, slowly raise your hips to the ceiling and repeat on both sides.

Chair Squat (level 1a)

The chair squat is the best-adapted exercise start with when attempting to learn how to squat.

Tips: Find a chair where the participant’s feet can touch the ground while sitting.  Start in the seated position with feet shoulder-width apart, arms crossed. Push knees out and stand up, keeping a straight back. Repeat.

Wall Squat (level 1b)

After mastering the chair squat, the wall squat is a great movement.  While the focus is mostly quads, it teaches participants to engage their entire body and hold the position.

Tips: Find a study wall or surface.  Put your back against the wall and slowly lower your body until your hips are in line with your knees.  If this is too difficult, raise the hips above the knees.

Body-Weight Squat (level 2a)

This is one of the most difficult exercises to master from a form standpoint but is one of the most functional movements the body can perform.

Tips: Stand straight with feet hip-width apart, toes slightly pointed out. Stand with your feet apart, directly under your hips, and place your hands on your hips.  Lower down, as if sitting. Straighten your legs. Repeat the movement.  If the participant has a hard time bending their knees, have them hold on to a chair or chest level surface and attempt the exercise again.

Goblet Squat (level 2b)

A great way to progress and add front loaded weight to the body-weight squat.

Tips: Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell on your upper chest.  Then, make your feet wide and toes slightly pointed out.  As you lower your body, keep your back upright and push your knees to the outside.  You should come down to where your elbows are inside the knees.


Back Exercises

adapted fitness back exercise

Resistance Band Rows

The row is a great movement to work on the posteor chain, which is underactive in most participants.  It can also help correct the “slump” posture that occurs from the shoulders rounding forward.

Tips: If your resistance band is too long, find a chair or sturdy object to tie the band to.  Keep the chest up, and pull the resistance band towards your torso while squeezing the shoulder blades together.  Keep elbows in, do not flare out.  Hips should not bend and there should be no swinging.

We recommend these resistance band rows on Amazon


Chest Exercises

adapted fitness chest exercise

Wall Push-Up (level 1a)

Tips: Face a wall, standing a little farther than arm’s length away, feet shoulder-width apart. Lean your body forward and put your palms flat against the wall at shoulder height and shoulder-width apart.  The only thing that should move is your arms.  Hips/back should have no movement.

Modified Knee Push-Up (level 1 b)

Tips: Lie prone on the floor with hands slightly wider than shoulder-width. Bend knees and raise the body up off the floor by extending arms with the body straight. Keeping body straight and knees bent, lower body to floor by bending arms. Push body up until arms are extended. Repeat.

Regular Push-Up (level 2)

Tips: Lie prone on the floor with hands slightly wider than shoulder-width. Raise body up off the floor by extending arms with the body straight. Keeping the body straight, lower body to floor by bending arms. Push body up until arms are extended. Repeat.

Seated Overhead Press (level 1)

Tips Lie prone on the floor with hands slightly wider than shoulder-width. Raise body up off the floor by extending arms with the body straight. Keeping the body straight, lower body to floor by bending arms. Push body up until arms are extended. Repeat.

More Exercises

There are thousands of other adapted fitness exercises you can do, but we picked the ones that have worked best with our clients.  You can also check our special needs home exercises list for more ideas of what you can do.  Lastly, consider getting certified through our special needs certification program and learn how to design your own workout programs.


Special Strong provides nutrition and adapted fitness for special needs children, adolescents, and adults with autism, Down syndrome, and other disabilities. Through our online training platform, we also provide special needs fitness certification courses for educators, professionals, and parents who want to learn how to adapt fitness to serve the special needs population.

 

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