The beginners guide to disability fitness including adaptability, inclusive NDIS personal training, finding the right personal trainer (PT) and NDIS support services.
Welcome to our version of a guide for navigating disability fitness, personal training and the NDIS – written for people with a disability who are looking to improve their health and fitness, as well as those looking to support them in this journey. We’ve covered a lot, so if you want to skip to specific sections use the below list. Also, we suggest saving this link as we plan to update and evolve this post as we discover new methods of training people with a disability and covering new information that matters.
Within this article:
- Addressing some frequently asked questions/inaccuracies
- About WeFlex
- Benefits of exercise for people with a disability
- What makes an inclusive NDIS personal trainer
- Overview of relevant NDIS supports
- Best places for NDIS personal training with a disability
- Using NDIS funding for personal training
First things first, let’s set the scene…why NDIS personal training?
WeFlex itself started as we experienced a lack of inclusion first hand and noticed that the fitness industry wasn’t confident or capable to meet the unique needs of people with disabilities. Since starting in 2020, we have learnt a lot about NDIS personal training for people with disabilities and wanted to share these learnings with you. But before we continue, there are a few things to get out of the way first;
- It is appropriate and beneficial for people with disabilities to exercise. We will unpack some statistics below and you’ll see that it is crucial that they do. Regardless of the disability – we believe, as long as you have a body you can exercise in some way. What that exercise looks like and how it’s performed needs to be tailored to the disability, but there’s no denying, it benefits us all.
- There isn’t an ‘official’ class of NDIS personal trainers who are disability specialists. There is no unique registration category (outside of NDIS registered personal trainers) for this, meaning finding and vetting the personal trainer is your responsibility (or you can leave that to us). However, we can reassure you, it is within the scope of practice for a personal trainer to work with someone with a disability, even if they aren’t NDIS registered.
- The NDIS funding can and does get used for personal training services. There’s a line item for ‘personal training’, as well as therapy assistant for an exercise physiologist, and you can use your core funding for social and recreational use. Meaning both capacity building and core funding can be used to fund your sessions (find out more here). In certain circumstances its even used to pay for a gym membership.
- The holistic benefits of exercise are great, but they are NOT a substitute for other therapies (like occupational therapists (OTs), speech therapists, exercise physiologists etc.), instead they are an affective and non-clinical supplement to these services.
Quickly About WeFlex
WeFlex began in 2020 when Tommy and Jackson’s father passed away from very preventable health conditions. Jackson was following in his Father’s footsteps and Tommy determined to do something about it. Both Jackson (is) and his Father (was) on the Autism spectrum (his Dad a late diagnosis) and when mentioning his brother’s diagnosis to prospective personal trainers, they refused to support Jack. Some claimed they weren’t ‘comfortable’ working with a disability’, others claimed they weren’t ‘special’ PTs and even some gyms were nervous about Jack visiting.
Eventually they found their home at the local Anytime Fitness gym and Tommy qualified himself as a personal trainer to train Jack himself out of desperation. Jack went on to lose weight, increase his fitness and has been independently working on his health ever since. As a newly minted personal trainer Tommy had to register and complete professional development courses and noticed there wasn’t a single piece of education out there on working in disability. None. Zilch. Nada. From this, WeFlex was born.
We are an NDIS registered service provider who provides personal training services to people with disability, through our team of NDIS personal trainers who have been upskilled in unique support needs. We design and develop this education ourselves with support from the disability communities as well as seeking peak body sign-off. We’ve run over 1,500 sessions since starting and hear almost every day of the amazing impact regular exercise is having on the lives of people with a disability.
The benefits of exercise for people with a disability
There’s no doubt that regular exercise improves every body’s fitness and health. What’s important to know though is that the benefits aren’t just physical, they are holistic. Meaning, that regular exercise (with a personal trainer or not) is beneficial for our:
- Mental health
- Cognitive functioning
- Physical wellbeing
- Prevention or delay of some chronic diseases
- Improved immune system and
In short, regular exercise is the gift that keeps on giving! One of the most unique experiences we’ve heard from a lot of our clients is that the more they exercise the more energy they have in the day – instead of making them feel tired and sore all the time, it actually makes them feel better.
All of the above is research backed, and there’s even some specific studies around the impact exercise has on people with disabilities. For example, in a literature review of existing research, it was seen that regular exercise interventions for students on the Autism spectrum yielded positive results:
“Following the exercise interventions decreases in stereotypy, aggression, off-task behaviour and elopement were reported. Fatigue is not likely the cause of decreases in maladaptive behaviour because on-task behaviour, academic responding, and appropriate motor behaviour (e.g., playing catch) increased following physical exercise.” – Read complete paper here
Declaring that exercise “can be a powerful complementary therapy for the ASD population”. To date, the only negative consequences of exercise on disability that has been seen is when the exercise wasn’t appropriate to the client – which is why picking the right personal trainer and program is so important.
What makes an inclusive NDIS personal trainer?
Personal trainers are a lot like gloves, you have to find the right fit. So it’s important to make sure you make the right choice in choosing a PT for the best results, appropriate adaptability, as well as ensuring you enjoy the sessions. Ideally they will have some level of education around working with your disability, disability inclusion principles and inclusive programming. So what makes a good personal trainer for someone with a disability?
May seem vague, but hear us out. Little things that you can see, like responsiveness, professional attire and showing up on time can be indicative of their performance in things you can’t see; like session planning, reading your notes, writing their reports, etc. If it seems like they take their job seriously, then it’s more likely they will take you and your goals seriously – and that should be your first priority. We always vet for this attribute, and you can read about our process here.
How they talk is REALLY important. Do they sound condescending or enthusiastic? Bored or engaged? Communication is the not-so secret ingredient for rapport and if you don’t like how they talk we have a problem. Although we need to remember that communication is two-ways, so pay equal weight to their ability to listen too. Are they understanding you? Are they clarifying? Are they taking on feedback? Transparent communication is the ideal. Better to know they can’t do something or are new with a particular support need than find out too late. Communication is key, and it’s something we teach all the time in our Academy.
Not the most exciting but important nonetheless. There are two types of registration you should check for when interviewing and deciding on a personal trainer.
- NDIS Registration. This may not be necessary depending on your funding, but the benefits of NDIS registration is that they are literate in the scheme, have and will be audited on their admin, and are subject to the rigorous feedback and complaints structure. Meaning they are accountable. As a NDIS registered service provider, we ensure that all of our PTs are registered on the scheme.
- Fitness Registration. There are two fitness registration bodies in Australia; FITREC and AUSActive. They are not legally required to be registered but registration again ensures they are qualified, have insurance, as well as first aid certificates. It’s an easy way to ensure these things. We prefer our PTs to be registered but we always check their paperwork.
Attitude AKA ’Adaptitude’
Exercise and fitness isn’t rocket science, and any personal trainer worth their salt would know how to tailor and adapt any exercise for any body even those with a disability. When you interview a personal trainer and tell them what your goals are (both fitness and NDIS related) the PTs reaction should be enthusiastic. It should be one fuelled by all the things you CAN do as opposed to looking at you through the lens of your limitations. An inclusive fitness professional is excited at the prospect of working with you to find a way to achieve your goals. As they say: ‘Adapt. Overcome. Achieve’.
Experience in disability and the NDIS (desirable not essential)
It is absolutely appropriate for you to ask outright – “do you have any personal experience with disability yourself?” or “do you have any experience in personal training someone with a disability”. You can vet them in advance by looking at their social media, they might have posted photos or videos of clients with disability, examples of adaptable training programs or mention it in their bio. Alternatively, the experience might be with a loved one or friend but it doesn’t hurt to ask.
On top of this, their reaction to the question can be informative as well. Not everyone is going to have extensive experience in disability, NDIS personal training, or support needs similar to yours so this is more desirable than essential. We’ve learnt this from working with our accredited disability personal trainers over the years. Many came to us with no experience but were professional, good communicators, qualified and had a winning attitude, and have gone on to provide over a 1,500 fun and engaging sessions collectively to our clients.
Who does what: A quick breakdown of relevant NDIS supports for health and fitness
NDIS Support Services
This is referring to our beloved support workers. Support workers can be a great help in your fitness journey whether it be supporting you going on walks, getting to the gym, engaging with the personal trainer and even meal prep.
NDIS Personal Trainers
This support we’ve already covered. And as we’ve stated, you can use your NDIS funding to access personal trainers, and they can offer a fun and cheaper alternative to other NDIS supports like exercise physiologists and OTs.
NDIS Therapeutic Supports
Exercise physiologists (EPs) are exercise specialists, and are university qualified and can be NDIS registered. EP’s can be a great addition to your health and fitness team if you have a physical disability or have to manage injuries and conditions that impact your body’s ability to move. They can prescribe exercises and programs which are the most appropriate for your needs. Which a personal trainer can then continue to implement in collaboration with that exercise physiologist.
Occupational Therapists (OTs)
Unlike personal trainers, occupational therapists support participants to develop their capability in a broad range of activities and once again can be NDIS registered. Personal training is definitely NOT a substitute for occupational therapy – however personal training can be an effective supplement to occupational therapy. Improving strength, balance and overall fitness can be a boost to occupational therapy efforts.
Physiotherapists (physio) typically diagnose and manage different types of conditions with the body. They often work with people who have injuries and rehabbing needs. That being said; like an EP they can provide health and fitness programs for people with a disability and suggest particular exercises that meet unique needs, which a personal trainer can assist in the continued use of this programming. You guessed it, they too can also be an NDIS registered physiotherapist.
Best places for personal training
You don’t HAVE to go to a gym to achieve a workout. In fact, there are a lot of benefits to training in other places. When choosing a personal trainer, you also need to consider where you want to conduct the session. In our experience here are the main things to consider with each of these locations. Also don’t be afraid to check out our Instagram and Facebook for a variety of personal training action shots in different locations.
Home Workouts & Training
The best part about working out at home? It only takes you 10 seconds to get there. Working out from home can be a great option if you prefer starting out in a safe and familiar environment. You don’t need much equipment to get in a good workout, especially if the personal trainer has experience working outside of a gym (and typically have their own equipment). Some of our clients have started their journey at home and transitioned into a gym once they were more comfortable exercising and developed their rapport with the personal trainer. Also, your place is accessible and you know where the bathroom is!
Outdoor Exercise & Training
There are immense benefits of training outside including the chance for some Vitamin D, variety in your programming, fresh air, and can even help you sleep better. If you live near a nice park area It might be worthwhile undertaking your personal training session there, an added bonus, they can sometimes provide marked tracks and free to use gym equipment. Obviously not an ideal pick if there’s no park near your home, you’re training in the evening (lighting is needed) and it’s not weather resistant either. But. Training outside can be a great way to mix up your personal training program and progress in your NDIS goals.
Gym Training & Workouts
Firstly, we don’t believe in ‘disability gyms’ or specific NDIS gyms, we simply believe in accessible gyms for every body! Gyms offer one major advantage as a location to train in, they’re built for it! Gyms can offer an opportunity to meet other people as many of them have their own communities within them. They have a wide range of equipment and opportunities to learn and develop. Of course, you will need to do your own due diligence on the gym; is it accessible? Are the facilities appropriate to your needs? Is it affordable? It’s a good idea and common for gyms to offer free trials or at least offer a free visit. Our advice. Take advantage of it and try out a few and never agree to join on the spot. Always think about it and come back in. Most gyms also have personal trainers working in them – and they rarely allow ‘outside’ personal trainers to use their facilities. So beware.
Our dream is that one day ALL gyms are accessible, have personal trainers that are NDIS registered or more gyms can allow members to leverage their NDIS funding, the staff are skilled in and aware of adaptable fitness, and most importantly are inclusive.
NDIS Gym Memberships
This is one the most contentious issues in using NDIS funding for mainstream health and fitness services. Technically, you can use your NDIS funding for a gym membership and it has been done successfully. However, like a lot of things on the scheme it’s all about how you present it and justify it.
This is a topic we are passionate about, so watch this space for future ambitions in making NDIS gym memberships more mainstream and acceptable.
Using NDIS funding for personal training
Fact! WeFlex has over 100 individuals who are using their NDIS funding to get access to an NDIS personal trainer! The truth is the benefits of personal training for people with a disability are so varied that it does contribute to all types of goals (NDIS and personal) and the individuals..
There are 4 different items across both the NDIS core and capacity building support categories you can use to fund your first WeFlex session. Because we work in the general community, at your home and in local gyms (as opposed to ‘special’ gyms’ .. eww) we are supporting the NDIS participant with social and community participation. Which can be funded.
For more information on this, we have written a comprehensive blog on NDIS personal training price guides and accessing NDIS funding here
If you or someone you know is ready to chat with a personal trainer, click here to get in touch 🙂