Posted on

Special Pops: Exercise and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

April is National Autism Awareness Month

The incidence of autism in American children has risen dramatically over the past two decades, increasing from one child out of 150 in the year 2000, to one in 59 in 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Those statistics exceed the global average of about one in 161, although the incidence in Western countries worldwide is also on the rise.

While the underlying cause of autism remains unclear, we do know that children with autism face multiple obstacles that affect their quality of life over the course of their lifespan. According to a report by NPR, during the first two years after high school, two-thirds of young adults with autism were unemployed and had no academic plans for the future. For many autistic adults, unemployment continues well into their 20s.

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?

The spectrum of autism symptoms ranges from mild to severe, and may include one or more of the following:

  • Speech difficulties
  • Impaired social interaction
  • Difficulty communicating
  • Repetitive behavior
  • Sensory impairments
  • Hypersensitivity to extrinsic stimuli
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Emotional detachment

Autistic children and adults are often socially isolated, and often do not pick up on nuanced social cues. 

How Exercise Affects Autism

As the incidence of autism has risen, so has research on ways to help autistic people improve their overall quality of life. Not surprisingly, physical exercise has been found to be one of the most beneficial treatments for ASD. Regular vigorous exercise has been shown to decrease certain stereotypic behaviors in ASD, including hyperactivity, aggression, self-injury, and destructiveness.

Benefits of exercise for people with ASD include:

  • Improved manipulative skills 
  • Improved locomotor skills
  • Increased skill-related fitness
  • Improved social function
  • Increased muscular strength and endurance

It is noted that autistic children are often sedentary and vulnerable to weight gain, which adds the problems associated with obesity to an already challenging situation.

Personal Training and ASD

One-on-one fitness training may be the best solution for individuals with autism. One study suggests that individual training is more effective in terms of improved motor performance and social skills in both children and adults with ASD, compared to group exercise training (Sowa and Meulenbroek, 2012). 

Following are some recommended guidelines for working with people with ASD:

  • Exercise should be vigorous; mild exercise appears to have little effect on ASD symptoms.
  • The exercise program should include at least 20 consecutive minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise, 3 to 4 days per week.
  • Focus on motor skills like hopping, skipping, running and jumping.
  • Incorporate skills-related activities like throwing, catching, kicking and striking.
  • Many autistic people are visual learners, so use visual supports like task cards, physical demonstrations and videos.
  • Sessions should be structured in a similar, predictable way to encourage participation. 


Working with special populations can provide a lucrative niche for your personal training business. Once you establish yourself as an expert in a given area, your business will grow rapidly by word-of-mouth referrals. To identify your niche and grow your special pops client base, get started with W.I.T.S. continuing education online course, Exercise Program Design for Special Populations. Grow your knowledge and grow your business with W.I.T.S.!


Healy, Sean, et al. “The effect of physical activity interventions on youth with autism spectrum disorder: A meta‐analysis.” Autism Research 11.6 (2018): 818-833.

Lang, Russell, et al. “Physical exercise and individuals with autism spectrum disorders: A systematic review.” Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders 4.4 (2010): 565-576.

Sowa, Michelle, and Ruud Meulenbroek. “Effects of physical exercise on autism spectrum disorders: a meta-analysis.” Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders 6.1 (2012): 46-57.

Posted on

10 Tips for Setting Weight Loss Goals that Really Work

Despite the push for body positivity to combat body shaming, men and women of every age and persuasion are still in quest of the Holy Grail for weight loss and a lean physique, and weight loss continues to be a prime driver for personal training. But as we all know, helping our clients lose weight is one of the biggest challenges we face as fitness professionals. 

Some of our clients’ greatest obstacles to losing weight include:

  • Non-compliance
  • Lack of sustainable motivation
  • Chronic stress
  • Lack of a support system
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Misconceptions about food

Setting realistic goals is key to achieving weight loss success, but obtainable goals are more than just a random number on the scale. Follow these tips to help your clients succeed, and watch your business soar!

  • Keep it real: If your client’s goal is to revisit their high school weight, they are already setting themselves up for failure. Mature adult bodies have higher bone density and more lean mass, which adds extra pounds. Add 20 percent to your client’s best adult weight to set a realistic initial goal. You can always up the ante later on.
  1. Do the math: There are scores of reputable resources that support 0.5 to 1 kg per week as a realistic weight loss goal — thats about 1 to 2 pounds. Sit down with your client and your calendar and count out the weeks to set a realistic goal date.
  1. Get to the bottom of things: In most cases the goal is not really a number — the number represents how the client imagines they will look and feel at a certain weight. Ask open-ended questions to find out what they really want. A slammin’ beach bod, skinny jeans with no muffin tops, arms that don’t jiggle, or a butt you can bounce a coin off are all attainable goals that have no number.
  1. Zero in on lifestyle: Chronic stress and poor sleep hygiene are two common obstacles to weight loss, and they go hand in hand. Help your client find stress management tools like meditation or yoga, and discourage bad habits like watching TV or scanning social media into the wee hours.
  1. Prepare for fluctuations and setbacks: Weight loss is a bumpy road, and setbacks can be expected. Your female clients will have hormone-driven fluctuations over which they have no control, and life is full of events that disrupt our best-laid plans. Reassure your client that setbacks are temporary, and persistence wins in the end.
  1. Review goals weekly: Starting off each week with an informal goals review will help your client stay on track throughout the week ahead. Paint a positive picture, and let them know you are there to support them..
  1. Use other markers for success: Body weight is just one way to mark your client’s progress toward the body of their dreams. Reassess body fat and take measurements at the beginning of each month to frame your client’s journey in a positive light.
  1. Hold your client’s feet to the fire: At the end of the day, if you have done your job as a trainer, the client’s success rests on their own shoulders. Insist on daily food and activity logs, frequently review your behavior contract, and remind your client that success depends on consistency and compliance on their part.
  1. Don’t be crazy: Insanity is defined as repeatedly doing the same things and expecting different results. If your strategy is not working after a few weeks, use the FITT principle and other tools to change your approach. 
  1. Reward progress: Every pound lost deserves a celebration. Make a big deal of your client’s progress with a balloon, a card or simply an enthusiastic pat on the back. 


Keeping your clients on track can be a challenge, but the more you know, the more tools you have at your disposal. Dig into the psychology of weight loss with a Lifestyle Coaching Certification, or enhance your knowledge with continuing education courses such as Nutritional Concepts or Sports and Exercise Nutrition from our Health and Fitness series. Remember, a successful client is the best advertising for your business, and the best way to help them succeed is through W.I.T.S. education.

Posted on

Special Populations: What they are and why you need them

Most personal trainers enter the fitness industry to build a career they love, and to help others realize their potential to lead a fit and healthy lifestyle. Yet many get stuck in the mire of low-paying gym or studio jobs that just don’t cut it in terms of financial rewards and sustainable growth. Oftentimes, the pool of available clients is split among multiple trainers, and new clients are assigned on an “ups” system so that everyone gets a fair shot.


Posted on

Trends in Training: Blood Flow Restriction Training for Strength and Hypertrophy

Resistance training for strength and size is a long-established cornerstone of the fitness industry, harkening back centuries. Physical culture and bodybuilding laid the foundation for fitness as we know it today, and many of the same principles apply. However, science trumps tradition where sports and fitness are concerned, and major advances over the past few decades in our knowledge about human physiology have enabled athletes and fitness enthusiasts to grow bigger, faster, stronger and less prone to injury.


Training Smarter, Not Harder

Until recently, the formula for enhancing strength and hypertrophy has been calculated at about 65 percent of one-rep-max. For competitive bodybuilders, that can mean hours at the gym each day, cranking out multiple sets with long recovery breaks between. 

That is all well and good if you are already fit and have plenty of time on your hands. But for athletes recovering from injury, that approach is just not feasible. During rehabilitation, an injured athlete’s ultimate goal is to return to play. Yet an injured appendage cannot (and should not) be subjected to high training volumes during the healing process. 

Enter blood flow restriction, or BRF training, a promising new approach to increasing muscle strength and size at much lower training volumes.

A Quick Review of Basics

Overload is the underlying principle of all fitness training. When you challenge your body to perform at new levels, adaptations occur to help you meet future challenges. By manipulating muscle fiber recruitment, BFR training provides a way to increase muscle size and strength at much lower training volumes — as low as 20 to 30 percent of one-rep-max, as opposed to the traditional 65 percent. 

As an example, if you can press 500 pounds with your legs only one time, the traditional calculated training volume for hypertrophy would be 65 percent of 500, or about 325 pounds. With blood flow restriction training, you can achieve similar adaptations in muscle size and strength with about 100 to150 pounds.

As you will recall:

  • Your muscles are made up of two types of muscle fiber — Type I slow twitch and Type II fast twitch.
  • Type I muscle fibers rely heavily on oxygen to repeatedly contract, generate relatively low levels of force and are smaller than Type II fibers, but they can contract repeatedly without fatigue, as long as training intensity is low and oxygen is in ample supply.
  • Type II muscle fibers are larger and produce high amounts of force, but fatigue quickly, To contract, type II fibers rely on phosphocreatine (PCr) stored within the muscle cell, which the body produces in limited supply.

The idea behind blood flow restriction training is that by limiting available oxygen during weight training, Type I muscle fibers are deactivated, forcing Type II fibers to do the heavy lifting. 

But there’s more to it than that. Lactate, a precursor to growth hormone,  is a byproduct of Typpe II contraction that promotes muscle protein synthesis. After a BFR training session, growth hormone secretion can be as much as 170 percent higher than after a traditional training session.

Because BFR uses significantly less weight, damage to muscle fibers is limited, while protein synthesis is enhanced. By deactivating Type I fibers, gains in muscle strength and size can be achieved with much lower training loads.

How BFR Works

During BFR training, tight cuffs or bands are applied to your upper arm or upper leg, limiting blood flow during your exercise set. It is important to note that only those two sites are considered safe for applying blood flow restriction bands.  Applying them elsewhere can potentially damage nerves and other soft tissue.

BFR training can be used with almost any type of exercise.

  • A typical BFR training protocol is one set of 30 repetitions, followed by three sets of 15 repetitions, or 30/15/15/15, for a total of 75 reps. 
  • Perform reps slowly, with a 2 second count each for concentric and eccentric phases. 
  • Allow 30 seconds’ rest between sets.

BFR training bands can be purchased online. Some allow you to measure occlusion pressure precisely. Recommended occlusion for the lower body is 80 percent, and 50% for the upper body. For BFR straps that do not measure pressure, use a rating of discomfort scale of 6-8 out of 10 for the lower body, and 4-5 out of 10 for the upper body.

Stay Up to Speed with W.I.T.S.

Innovative advances in physiology and exercise science are being made every day, with no sign of slowing down any time soon. As a fitness professional, you cannot afford to stay out of the loop. Enhance your knowledge, keep up with the trends, and gain  valuable CECs with W.I.T.S. continuing education. Boost your credentials with an additional certification, like Youth Fitness or Older Adult. Get the CECs you need to renew your certs with our Health and Fitness series, and our monthly webinars. Stay current with all the latest trends in fitness by subscribing to the W.I.T.S. blog, and leave your competition in the dust.

Source: Nitzsche, N., et al. “Comparison of an Acute Resistance Training on the Lactate Concentration with and without Blood Flow Restriction at Different Loads.” (2018).

Posted on

The “Hidden” Benefits of Physical Activity in Youth

Guest Post by Dave Johnson, MS

In 2010, a study published in the International Journal of Obesity sent shockwaves through the public health community. According to the authors of the study, researchers found that 20% of people born between 1966 and 1985 were obese in their 20s, an obesity prevalence milestone not reached by their parents until their 30s or by their grandparents until their 40s or 50s[1].

That means more Americans are getting heavier earlier in their lives and carrying the extra pounds for longer periods of time, which suggests that the impact for chronic disease and life expectancy may be worse than previously thought. In short, this generation may be the first not to outlive their parents!


It’s not news that we have a growing problem in the United States but this particular news came as a shock to many. Based on recent data things haven’t really improved, either:

  • The percentage of children and adolescents affected by obesity has more than tripled since the 1970s.
  • Data from 2015-2016 show that nearly 1 in 5 school age children and young people (6 to 19 years) in the United States has obesity.
  • Children with obesity are at higher risk of having other chronic health conditions and diseases that influence physical health. These include asthma, sleep apnea, bone and joint problems, type 2 diabetes, and risk factors for heart disease.
  • Children with obesity are bullied and teased more than their normal weight peers and are more likely to suffer from social isolation, depression, and lower self-esteem.
  • In the long term, a child with obesity is more likely to have obesity as an adult. An adult with obesity has a higher risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and many types of cancer.[2]


What’s odd about all this is that people are well aware of most of the benefits that come with regular physical activity (improved muscular strength and endurance, improved heart and lung function, improved blood lipid profile, etc.), yet inactivity remains at an all time high. Perhaps, then, our message should shift to some of the “hidden” benefits of physical activity in youth.


One area of key interest for parents relates to academic performance. In an era where standardized testing is “normal” and academic rigors have never been higher, parents should be made aware of the cognitive benefits of physical activity. A multitude of studies has shown a positive correlation between physical activity and cognitive skill development (perceptual skills, intelligence quotient, achievement, verbal tests, mathematics tests, developmental level/ academic readiness, etc.). Further, researchers in California consistently found that students with higher levels of fitness scored higher on the SAT-9 (their standardized tests). There was a positive linear relationship between the number of fitness standards achieved and standardized test scores[3]. The evidence is clear: increased physical activity equals increased academic performance!


Another area of interest for most parents revolves around mental health, particularly conditions such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). CDC data estimates that, as of 2016, Approximately 9.4% of children 2-17 years of age (6.1 million) had ever been diagnosed with ADHD[4]. A study from Journal of Abnormal Child Psychologyshowed that offering daily before-school, aerobic activities to younger at-risk children could help in reducing the symptoms of ADHD in the classroom and at home[5]. Symptoms of ADHD typically include inattentiveness, moodiness and difficulty getting along with others. This is yet another positive outcome associated with regular physical activity.


One final “hidden” benefit of physical activity lies in a child’s social health. In a society where social media dominates our landscape and digital interaction occurs far more often than physical interaction, physical activity provides an outlet for children and adolescents to collaborate with their peers to develop important interpersonal skills such as cooperation, teamwork, empathy, and leadership. These skills are imperative for helping young people build self confidence and self efficacy, two traits that have a direct correlation with personal and professional success.


The youth fitness demographic remains largely untapped. Most parents who actively seek fitness assistance are interested solely in specialized athletic training, but they only represent a fraction of the parents with children. Most parents are well aware of the traditional benefits of physical activity, but these “hidden” benefits carry significant weight and can be used to successfully market to a significant demographic. If you’re interested in learning more about this exciting topic, including specific training techniques for children and adolescents, check out our Youth Foundations courses!


[1]Warner, J. (2010, April 09). Baby Boomers May Outlive Their Kids. Retrieved from

[2]Obesity Facts | Healthy Schools | CDC. (2018). Retrieved from

[3]Sattelmair, J., & Ratey, J. J. (2009). Physically Active Play and Cognition: An Academic Matter? American Journal of Play,1(3). Retrieved from

[4]Data and Statistics About ADHD | CDC. (2018). Retrieved from

[5]Michigan State University. (2014). Exercise before school may reduce ADHD symptoms in kids. Retrieved from

Posted on

Benefits of Exercise for Breast Cancer Recovery

One of the most important, if not THE most important part of recovery from the debilitating side-effects of breast cancer surgery and treatment is correcting postural deviations that are the result of muscle imbalances. We must re-educate the body to restore its’ normal balance. Most of us think of balance as one’s ability to stand without falling, but it actually represents the ability to stabilize and maintain a specific body position. Postural control is defined as the act of maintaining, achieving, or restoring a state of balance during any posture or activity. Therefore, it only makes sense that performing exercises to correct range of motion and postural deviations, while incorporating the aspect of balance, would yield the greatest results! (more…)

Posted on

Top 5 Myths — and Facts — About Fitness Training for Older Adults

The over-50 age group is the largest growing demographic in the fitness market, and the demand for personal training among older adults is high. Most older adults have the time and money to hire a trainer, and want the reassurance of safe and effective exercise to achieve and maintain optimal health. Yet many personal  trainers are reluctant to take on older clients, especially those in their 70s and beyond.

Following are five common myths about training older adults, and the surprising truth about the advantages of working with this very special population:

Myth 1: Older people are boring, and we won’t have anything in common.

Fact: Older adults who engage in fitness activities are anything but boring. Most are highly accomplished, with stellar careers and colorful life experiences that go back decades. Training older adults gives you a rich cultural experience that you will not experience with younger clients.

Myth 2: Older adults are fragile and pose a high liability risk for injury.

Fact: When working with a trainer, older adults pose no greater risk for injury than the general population. The same principles and guidelines that govern all adults also apply to older adults. Progressive overload, specificity, the FITT principle and consistency are all principles that apply to older adults. The ACSM exercise guidelines are nearly identical for adults of all ages.

Myth 3: Older adults have medical conditions and take drugs that make it difficult to train them.

Fact: Medical conditions and medications may impose certain challenges, but they can be overcome. The key is to know the client’s health history and physical limitations, and to educate yourself about how to work with those limitations and get results. Working with older adults is a great opportunity to expand your knowledge and expertise. Becoming certified as an Older Adult Fitness Specialist will give you additional tools and specific knowledge for training older adult clients with health issues.

Myth 4: Older adults cannot expect to get stronger or healthier through fitness.

Fact: Given the appropriate levels of overload, older adults can build bone and muscle, increase cardiovascular health, improve flexibility and generally improve overall health. Moreover, older adults benefit from the psycho-social aspects of fitness training, with reduced levels of depression and anxiety, and improved mood.

Myth 5: Older adults are frugal and won’t want to pay for personal training.

Fact: Older adults have a high appreciation for health and are willing to pay for training that enhances their overall quality of life. Most know that medical interventions are expensive and often ineffective. Older adults often have a surplus of discretionary income that they are willing to spend on their overall health and wellness. Family members are often supportive of their loved one who wants to improve their health through fitness, and appreciate the added safety provided by a certified trainer. Moreover, an older adult is more likely to become a long-term client, giving you greater financial stability in the long run.

W.I.T.S. Older Adult Fitness Certification

The older adult population has certain unique needs that do not appear in the general population, and there is growing demand for fitness professionals who understand those needs. Trainers are in high demand for in-home training, retirement communities, and gyms and studios. Enhance your credentials, increase your expertise and grow your career with the W.I.T.S. Older Adult Fitness Specialist certification, available live and online.

Posted on

Top 5 Secrets to Weight Loss Success in 2019

A decade or so ago, we all believed that most of our calories should come from whole grains and other carbs, and that eggs and other saturated fats gave us heart disease. We were also sure that longer bouts of cardio would yield greater reductions in body fat. But times have changed, and the jury is in. New research shoots holes in just about everything we thought to be true about successful healthy weight loss. 

Here are five weight loss secrets, backed by clinical evidence, to help you succeed in 2019:

  1. Close the window: We once believed that eating small meals and snacks several times throughout the day was a great way to stabilize blood sugar and silence hunger pangs, thereby facilitating weight loss. Not surprisingly, few people who followed that advice actually lost weight. Giving your body a steady supply of energy negates the need to tap into fat stores. Instead of eating around the clock, practice intermittent fasting by eating all your calories within a six to eight hour window, and stop eating at least three hours before bedtime. Watch your energy soar as your fat melts away. Study
  1. Burst out of your plateau: Long bouts of moderate-intensity cardio lasting 60 to 90 minutes will help you burn fat, but it is a huge time commitment that most people cannot sustain. Burst training, aka interval training, speeds up fat loss while giving your metabolism a boost that lasts for hours. To begin, try walking for two minutes, then running all out for 30 seconds; repeat that cycle for a total of 20 minutes, three to five times per week, and watch your body shed its fat layer. You can adjust the walking to running ratio as your fitness level improves, spending more time in sprint mode. Study
  1. Lift heavy objects: There is no doubt about it, resistance training is one of the fastest ways to whip your body into shape and shed unwanted pounds. Use good form, and push yourself beyond your comfort zone. You will be amazed at the transformative results. Study
  1. Manage stress and sleep: Sleep deprivation and stress make a double-edged sword that elevates cortisol levels, encouraging your body to hang onto fat. Your body needs sleep to maintain a healthy immune system and refresh your brain. Chronic stress leads to metabolic disease and weight gain. It is nearly impossible to lose weight when you are always stressed and sleep deprived. Study
  1. Fatten up your diet: A diet low in carbs and processed foods, with moderate amounts of protein and high in healthy fats encourages your body to use fat for fuel, all day long. Avocados, coconut oil, nuts, eggs, salmon, sardines, olives, cheese and other foods high in fat will cut your hunger pangs and give you plenty of energy for your workouts. Study

Losing excess body weight can be a positive step toward better health. However, the scale should not be your only tool for measuring your progress. A well designed fitness program will help you reduce your body fat percentage, lose inches, and increase your overall strength and endurance. Obsessing about the numbers on the scale can undermine your progress and kill your motivation. Instead of zeroing in on a specific body weight, think about your energy level and how well your clothes fit. Looking and feeling your best spells success!


W.I.T.S. has all the tools you need to keep pace with the fitness industry and stay informed about the latest research. Increase your value and tap into a growing market with an Older Adult Fitness Certification. Help your clients manage stress and lose weight with Lifestyle Fitness Coaching. Hone your business skills with our Online Business Management continuing education courses. Stay on top of the latest industry trends and watch your business grow with W.I.T.S.!

Posted on

Benefits of Exercise for Cancer Recovery

One of the most important, if not THE most important part of recovery from the debilitating side-effects of cancer surgery and treatment is correcting postural deviations that are the result of muscle imbalances. We must re-educate the body to restore its’ normal balance. Most of us think of balance as one’s ability to stand without falling, but it actually represents the ability to stabilize and maintain a specific body position. Postural control is defined as the act of maintaining, achieving, or restoring a state of balance during any posture or activity. Therefore, it only makes sense that performing exercises to correct range of motion and postural deviations, while incorporating the aspect of balance, would yield the greatest results! (more…)

Posted on

Chronic Pain Management

Compiled by June Chewning, MA

Hey!  Did you know that all pain is all in your head?  It doesn’t mean you don’t have real pain when something to cause pain happens, or that chronic pain is not real.  Feelings of pain are very real and are initiated by the brain for a very important basic reason…to keep you safe. (more…)