Special Population Feature: Exercise for Down Syndrome
While training clients with Down Syndrome is rewarding, it also presents its own unique set of challenges. From the Strength and Conditioning Journal.
The NSCA’s Strength and Conditioning Journal publishes a series on exercise intervention forSpecial Populations. Volume 34, Number 1 focuses on Down Syndrome (DS)–a neurological disease present at birth resulting from a duplicate copy of chromosome 21. Although research is limited in this field, this article provides a thorough review of DS etiology and the exercise recommendations for this population.
Down Syndrome (DS) patients are afflicted by a wide-range of musculoskeletal, neurological and endocrinological impairments. The most common musculoskeletal impairments effecting strength and conditioning are hypotonia and hyperflexibility, or decreased muscle tone and increased flexibility around joints, respectively. Personal trainers and fitness specialists working with DS patients must be aware of these complications in order to coordinate an exercise plan.
DS patients will have difficulty generating resistance to even more passive forces and their hyperflexible joints make them more susceptible to injury during movements requiring higher degrees of coordination (e.g., power exercises, plyometrics, agility). Like other special populations, exercise intensity for DS patients should proceed gradually. Machine based resistance training and aerobic training is encouraged at the start of an exercise program because of its low level of difficulty.
Fitness professionals should also be well-versed on non-musculoskeletal conditions affecting DS patients including cognitive disabilities and hormonal imbalances. This can result in decreased cognitive retention, decreased motivation to exercise, and other issues. It is important to make DS clients feel comfortable with exercise; the fitness professional must focus on gradual progressions that require patience and adequate supervision.
NSCA Professional members can read this series by logging in on the SStrength and Conditioning Journal page.
About the Author
Down Syndrome: An Introduction for the Strength and Conditioning Professional.