How to Get Your Special Needs Child to Do More Cardio

how to get your special needs child to do more cardio

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:


Special Strong Find a Location Near Me

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!

Tips to Encourage Cardiovascular Exercise for Children with Special Needs

Physical activity is crucial for the overall health and well-being of every child, including those with special needs. Cardiovascular exercise, in particular, offers numerous benefits, from improved heart health to enhanced mood and concentration. Encouraging your child with special needs to engage in cardio activities may require some thoughtful planning and creativity. In this article, we explore effective tips to inspire and support your child in incorporating more cardiovascular exercise into their routine.

Understand Your Child’s Interests

To foster a love for physical activity, it’s important to understand and align with your child’s interests. Cardio for kids should not feel like a chore, but rather an engaging and exciting venture. If your child shows a clear preference for water-related activities, consider swimming or aquatic games that provide excellent cardio benefits. For those drawn to music and movement, dancing can offer a dynamic form of cardio exercise. Engaging in sports, whether it’s soccer, basketball, or tennis, can also spark interest, providing both cardiovascular benefits and the thrill of teamwork and competition. Even simpler pleasures, like taking nature walks or engaging in a playful game of tag, can be wonderful forms of cardio exercises for kids. When these activities resonate with what your child already loves, they’re more likely to engage enthusiastically and consistently.

Adapt Activities to Individual Abilities

When it comes to cardio exercises for kids, especially those with special needs, personalization is key. It’s essential to tailor activities to suit each child’s individual abilities and preferences. This might mean modifying traditional exercises to be more inclusive or adjusting the intensity and duration to align with what your child finds comfortable and enjoyable. For example, if high-impact activities are not suitable, walking or gentle cycling can be excellent alternatives. Ensuring that the chosen activities are within your child’s capability range is pivotal; it encourages a sense of achievement and confidence in their physical abilities. By adapting these exercises, you emphasize that cardio for kids is about more than just physical health; it’s about fostering a positive relationship with exercise and their own abilities.

Make it a Family Affair

Involving the whole family in cardio activities can transform exercise from a solitary task into an enjoyable family bonding experience. Participating in group activities, such as family bike rides, group hikes, or even a game of soccer in the backyard, emphasizes the joy of movement and the value of spending quality time together. This collective approach to cardio for kids not only sets a positive example about the importance of maintaining an active lifestyle but also provides a supportive atmosphere that can be especially encouraging for children with special needs. When children see their loved ones participating and having fun, they’re more likely to view cardio exercises as a pleasurable and rewarding part of their lives.

Incorporate Music and Rhythm

Music and rhythm have a unique way of captivating attention and enhancing the enjoyment of physical activities. By integrating music into cardio exercises for kids, you can create an irresistible allure that draws them into the movement. Dancing is a prime example of how rhythm can transform exercise into an exhilarating activity that kids look forward to. Even beyond dancing, simple actions like marching, clapping, or moving to the beat can add a layer of fun to cardio workouts. For children with special needs, music can also serve as a soothing or energizing backdrop, making the physical activity feel more like play than exercise. This musical approach to cardio for kids can provide an enriching sensory experience, making the act of getting their heart rate up a source of joy and excitement.

Set Realistic Goals

Establish achievable and realistic goals for your child’s cardiovascular activities. Break down larger goals into smaller, manageable steps. Celebrate their achievements, no matter how small, to reinforce a positive association with exercise.

Create a Structured Routine

Establish a consistent routine for cardiovascular exercises. Consistency is key for habit formation. Having a predictable schedule can help your child anticipate and prepare for the activity, making it a more integrated part of their day.

Utilize Technology

Explore interactive and adaptive technologies that support cardiovascular exercise. There are various apps, games, and videos designed for children with special needs, providing a dynamic and engaging way to encourage physical activity.

Incorporate Outdoor Activities

Take advantage of outdoor spaces to encourage cardiovascular exercise. Activities such as biking, rollerblading, or playing games in the park not only promote physical health but also provide opportunities for social interaction and sensory exploration.

Offer Choices and Autonomy

Allow your child to have some control over their exercise choices. Offer a variety of activities and let them express their preferences. Providing autonomy can boost their motivation and sense of independence.

Celebrate Progress and Effort

Acknowledge and celebrate your child’s efforts and progress in their cardiovascular exercises. Positive reinforcement, encouragement, and praise can contribute to building a positive association with physical activity.

Encouraging cardiovascular exercise for children with special needs is a holistic approach that considers their individual interests, abilities, and preferences. By incorporating creativity, adaptability, and a positive mindset, you can create an environment that fosters a lifelong appreciation for the benefits of cardiovascular exercise, promoting the health and well-being of your child.

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!

Special Strong provides adaptive fitness for children, adolescents, and adults with mental, physical and cognitive challenges. Start your own Special Strong gym franchise today and create a lasting impact on your community.