How to Get Your Special Needs Child to Do More Cardio

how to get your special needs child to do more cardio


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Cardio is more than running, but somehow the two have become interchangeable in our minds. If your special needs child hates running, then you might have a tough time keeping them in shape or getting them to lose any weight they’ve gained. Cardio is important to heart health and a key component in weight loss, and it doesn’t have to be the chore society makes it out to be. From the leading experts at Special Strong, here’s how to get your special needs child to do more cardio and have fun doing it:



Dancing is such a great way to get the heart racing. Quick movements that raise your heart rate constitute as cardio, so dancing absolutely applies. The best part is that you don’t have to be “good” at dancing in order to do it, have fun, or get a good workout in. Just turn on some tunes and go crazy. If your kid sees you dancing, then they’re that much more likely to join in too.


You can also enroll your kid in a dance class too! This way, they can get the cardio they need to stay in shape, learn a new skill, and make new friends while they’re at it.



You’ll be hard pressed to find a kid who doesn’t love to swim. And “swim” can be used loosely! Even if your child doesn’t know how to swim, they can still splash around in the shallow end and still get a great workout. Floaties never kept anyone’s heart from racing. Regardless of your child’s specific pool needs, they’ll still get the cardio you know they need to stay healthy.


Riding a Bike

If your child has the ability to ride a bike, then doing so is a wonderful way to incorporate cardio into their lives. There’s something special about bike riding: It almost feels like you’re flying when you got a certain speed. Riding a bike is so fun, in and of itself, that it doesn’t need to be accompanied by a striking view or beautiful scenery to be enjoyable. However, there is that added bonus if you’re rolling through a park, near a lake, or through a well-landscaped neighborhood.


If your kids needs training wheels, no big deal! The pedaling is what you’re looking for. As long as their heart is racing, they’re achieving a cardio exercise. No balance required!

Rock Climbing

People often overlook rock climbing as a cardio-rich exercise. That’s probably because people usually think about running, which involves the legs primarily, whereas climbing is viewed as being an arm-intensive workout. Climbing can be that; however, accurate climbing is a full-body exercise. Climbers should step up with their feet from one rock to the next and use their leg muscles to push off the rocks, so that their hands can more easily reach the next hand hold.


Rock climbing is becoming more and more popular for young people. There are clubs at rock climbing gyms that you can sign your child up for.


Jumping Rope

Jumping in general is a great workout. Whether your kid is jumping on a trampoline, jumping up and down for fun, or jumping rope, they’re getting cardio! Jumping rope is usually safer than trampoline jumping (and considerably more fun than jumping for no reason), which is why we listed it here specifically.


There are so many different challenges you can incorporate into jump roping. And it’s not exclusive to those who are able-bodied! If your child has limited mobility in their legs, they can sit on the floor and use one hand to grip both handles of the rope and use their free arm to hold their knees against their chest. Then, they can swing the rope beneath them and “hop” over it while still sitting.



Technically walking — just regular walking — can be considered cardio if it makes your heart race, so imagine the workout you child will get if you go on a hike together. A gentle incline is all you need to get a good workout on a hike. Unlike bike riding, the scenery is sort of the whole joy of going on a hike!


Find a nature preserve where you and your child can go together and enjoy all the sensory delights!


Group Exercise Classes

The thing about cardio (running or not) is that it’s often a solitary activity. It’s tough to motivate yourself to do cardio alone, let alone convince someone else that they should be doing it. One way that you can get your child with special needs to do more cardio is to sign them up for group exercise classes. Excluding yoga, group fitness classes almost always incorporate some kind of cardio. You can try to find classes that focus on your child’s age group or be inclusive to special needs or both. Special Strong offers group exercise classes for children with special needs. See if we have one in your area!


Special Needs Personal Trainers

Another great motivator for doing cardio is to have someone explicitly tell you when to do cardio, how to do it, and for how long to do it. Just having that accountability can really go a long way. Personal trainers are great at this! And they’re not just for adults or able-bodied people. Personal trainers can work with children with special needs too. The trainers at Special Strong are certified to work with many different types of disabilities, ranging from autism to cerebral palsy, and everything in between. See if there’s a private training session happening in your area!



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