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  • Autism Exercise Specialist | Grow Your Career + Meet Community Needs

    by David Barr | Apr 15, 2021

    David Geslak Autism Training ACSM

    Personal Trainers Need More Clients. And Persons with Autism Need Personal Trainers.

    Key Points

    1. The autism community needs exercise and the place where many should be getting it, the schools, is leaving them wandering and wondering.

    2. Persons with autism thrive with individualized, in-person instruction.

    3. While virtual training continues to grow, personal trainers have an opportunity to make a meaningful impact on a community that needs exercise.


    Over the past year there has been a dramatic increase in virtual workout options, leading many to claim that face-to-face personal training is “dead.” While it may be true that many people have gone virtual (and many won’t return), there is a segment of the population that needs the personal attention of in-person training — persons with autism.

    Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is the fastest-growing developmental disability in the world (5). According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 54 children is diagnosed with autism. Supporting research for the autism community shows that exercise can improve focus, on-task behavior, and language development and reduce maladaptive or stereotypical behaviors (1-5).

    Many — maybe most — persons with autism learn best with individualized, in-person instruction in both the school and therapy settings (e.g., physical, occupational, behavioral). In response to COVID-19, the education system has gone primarily virtual and its effects, shown in a recent study, are detrimental.  

    Personal training is a perfect match for the way this community learns. And they need it more than ever because physical education (PE), in many schools, continues to go by the wayside.


    Many Persons with ASD are Left Wandering and Wondering in the Gym

    The Every Student Succeeds Act (6) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (2004) support participation in physical education in schools for students with disabilities. That said, many students with autism do not receive appropriate physical education services or the full benefits from physical education.

    The U.S. Government Accountability Office identified key challenges in physical education for those with disabilities — lack of clarity regarding schools' responsibility in PE, limited teacher preparation, and budget constraints (7). In response to these shortcomings, the fitness industry has an opportunity to help the autism community achieve the many lifelong benefits of exercise.

    Creating Autism Exercise Programs that Make a Difference

    Having gyms and fitness centers welcoming this community is a needed first step, as many in this community are still being turned away because trainers don’t know how to teach them. Just as you would educate and prepare yourself to lead a HIIT, yoga, or spin class, it is even more critical to educate yourself when working with persons with autism. Developing an exercise plan for persons with autism that is only 90% correct will most likely result in 100% failure.

    ACSM and I created the Autism Exercise Specialist Certificate so you will have the protocols and tools you need to make a difference. We need to take action to help these individuals and their families. As gyms, fitness centers and trainers struggle to find new clients to replace those who are now working out on their Peloton® bikes, the ASD community is a new opportunity to find clients who want and need your services. Empowering the ASD community to make the exercise connection is worth the effort.

    They’re waiting…so let’s get moving!

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    David Geslak ACSM

    David S. Geslak, BS, ACSM-EP, the founder of Exercise Connection, has pioneered exercise tools and programs to engage and improve the lives of those with autism. David also created the Autism Exercise Specialist Certificate (AESC) in partnership with ACSM. He has trained professionals around the world on the AESC. His commitment and methodology to bringing exercise to persons with autism has been enthusiastically embraced by professionals, higher education, and the autism community.


    1. Elliott RO Jr, Dobbin AR, Rose GD, Soper HV. Vigorous, aerobic exercise versus general motor training activities: effects on maladaptive and stereotypic behaviors of adults with both autism and mental retardation. J Autism Dev Disord. 1994;24(5):565-76. Epub 1994/10/01. doi: 10.1007/BF02172138. PubMed PMID: 7814306.


    2. Nicholson H, Kehle TJ, Bray MA, Heest JV. The effects of antecedent physical activity on the academic engagement of children with autism spectrum disorder. Psychol Sch. 2011;48(2):198-213. doi: 10.1002/pits.20537.


    3. Schmitz Olin S, McFadden BA, Golem DL, et al. The effects of exercise dose on stereotypical behavior in children with autism. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2017;49(5):983-90. Epub 2017/01/07. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000001197. PubMed PMID: 28060033.


    4. Sowa M, Meulenbroek R. Effects of physical exercise on autism spectrum disorders: a meta-analysis. Res Autism Spectr Disord. 2012;6(1):46-57. doi: 0.1016/j.rasd.2011.09.001.


    5. Tse ACY, Liu VHL, Lee PH. Investigating the matching relationship between physical exercise and stereotypic behavior in children with autism. Med Sci Sport Exerc. 2021;53(4):770-775. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000002525.


    6. U.S. Department of Education. Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). 2015.


    7. U.S. Government Accountability Office. Students With Disabilities: More Information and Guidance Could Improve Opportunities in Physical Education and Athletics. 2010.


  • Fitness Loans During COVID-19 | Protect Your Small Business

    by David Barr | Apr 05, 2021

    USREPS ACSMACSM is part of the Gyms Act team - to provide Small Business Administration grants to small gyms and fitness studio owners.

    According to the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA),

    COVID-19 related closures were responsible for a 58% decline in revenue and the loss of 1.4 million jobs in 2020.

    In collaboration with IHRSA and the Coalition for the Registration of Exercise Professionals (CREP), the ACSM Certification Board (CCRB) is actively engaging with members of Congress to advocate for the Gym Mitigation and Survival Act (H.R. 890).

    This act would provide Small Business Administration grants to small gyms and fitness studio owners.

    This year saw the convening of a new Congress. One piece of legislation that has been introduced is directly related to our profession. It is H.R. 890 - Gym Mitigation and Survival Act (Gyms Act). This Act is one of many additional measures Congress is considering to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. If passed, it will provide relief to the nation’s health and fitness industry by providing Small Business Administration grants to small gyms and fitness studio owners to help them recover from significant lost revenue in 2020 due to COVID-19.

    CREP is making legislators aware that this important legislation: offers much needed relief to the fitness industry; supports the healthy lifestyles our nation seeks for the citizens; and has the potential to save thousands of jobs and small businesses.

    We know that measures have been approved to help other industries affected by this pandemic and CREP hopes that similar considerations will be given to the health and fitness industry, one that has not received targeted government aid to date. Without it, many businesses and jobs will be lost, and the health of our nation further challenged.

    To date, we have reached out to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and the members of the House Committee on Small Business (charged with reviewing this legislation), requesting their support for this legislation. We will be reaching out to others in the coming months. 

    CREP has and continues to tell government officials at the federal and state level that the contributions of exercise professionals are vitally important in promoting the healthy active lifestyles that are so important to the wellness of this country, especially during, and may be even more so after, the pandemic.  

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  • Highlighted Sessions in Environmental and Occupational Physiology to be Presented at the 2021 ACSM Annual Meeting

    by Caitlin Kinser | Apr 01, 2021

    annual meeting environmental and occupational physiologyFor those still considering whether or not to register for the 2021 ACSM virtual Annual Meeting, please keep reading to hear about the ‘not to be missed’ sessions within the Environmental and Occupation Physiology (EOP) topical area. EOP offers a comprehensive virtual program for the 2021 conference, with some sessions rolling over from 2020 in addition to many new and exciting sessions. This topical area is highly relevant to anyone interested in topics relating to human health and performance in environmental extremes, including cold exposure, heat, diving physiology, altitude and microgravity. Sessions range from basic science to applications for training, clothing and policy development in athletes, clinical populations, military, firefighters and related occupations. Many of the sessions will appeal to researchers, athletes, coaches and clinicians, so please join us for some great EOP sessions.

    We are excited to promote the EOP highlighted symposium which rolled over from the 2020 program, and aims to address the critically important topic of “Environmental Pollution, Climate Change and Human Health.” This session will be held on Thursday, June 3rd at 9:30 a.m. and brings together speakers from the U.S., Australia, Spain and Monaco. Talks include “Cooling Athletes with a Spinal Cord Injury During Exercise,” presented by Michelle Trbovich, M.D.; “Simple and Inexpensive Heat-Mitigation Strategies for Older Individuals Exposed to Extreme Heat,” by Lily Hospers; and presentations by Mar Viana, Ph.D., and Gemma Castaño-Vinyals, Ph.D., concerning air pollution and the consequences of pollution on human health, respectively. The session will be rounded up by Paolo Emilio Adami, M.D., Ph.D., discussing the World Athletics commitment to a cleaner environment, focusing on air quality, athletic performance and implications for athletes. Please join us for what will be an excellent series of talks!

    A second theme in EOP programming concerns sex-related differences in physiological responses. This provides another timely topic, discussing “Responses to Environmental Challenges for Women” chaired by Lacy Alexander, Ph.D., FACSM, and Gabrielle Giersch, Ph.D., which will be held at 3:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 3rd. This brings together an excellent group of speakers including Nina Stachenfeld, Ph.D., FACSM, highlighting current knowledge gaps and emphasizing the increased need to address female-specific responses to extreme environments. Billie Alba, Ph.D. and Gabrielle Giersch, Ph.D., from United States Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine (USARIEM) will discuss sex-related modulation of physiological responses to cold and hypoxia, and thermoregulatory considerations across the menstrual cycle, respectively. Finally, Stacy Sims, Ph.D., will complete the session discussing strategies and considerations for female athletes.

    Another exciting session is a symposium on “Skin Wettedness in Thermoregulation” that will be held at 1:00 p.m. on Tuesday, June 1st, chaired by Zachary Schlader, Ph.D., FACSM, and including Ollie Jay, Ph.D., FACSM, George Havenith, Ph.D., FACSM, Davide Filingeri, Ph.D., and Nicole Vargas, Ph.D. For those interested in physiological responses during ultra-endurance events, Robert Coker, Ph.D., FACSM, Brent Ruby, Ph.D., and John Quindry, Ph.D., FACSM, will present a symposium entitled “Friends and Enemies of Physiological Resilience under Extreme Conditions” at noon on Saturday, June 5th . Topics will include cytokine responses, autonomic control, water turnover and nutrient availability during exposure to multiple stressors experienced by ultra-endurance athletes. The 2021 virtual meeting also features a comprehensive range of e-posters covering all aspects of environmental, occupational and military physiology, including physiological responses to heat, cold, altitude, hyperbaria and microgravity. Applied aspects of the EOP topical area also highlight military, police and firefighter relevant tasks and physiological responses.

    We have a phenomenal EOP program spanning the entire conference, with sessions also available to access beyond the conference period. Due to the EOP topical area boasting a very full program, only a small number of sessions are highlighted here. Please review the full EOP program and other relevant meeting information and we hope you join us for the 2021 ACSM virtual Annual Meeting

    Caroline Smith HeadshotCaroline J. Smith, Ph.D., FACSM, is an Associate Professor in the Department of Health and Exercise Science, Appalachian State University, NC. She is Director of the Thermal and Microvascular Physiology Laboratory specializing in thermal physiology. Her research program broadly focuses on thermoregulatory responses during exposure to heat and dermal carcinogen exposure in occupational settings. Dr. Smith received her PhD in Thermal Physiology from the Environmental Ergonomics Research Center, Loughborough University, UK, and completed postdoctoral training at Noll Laboratory, The Pennsylvania State University. She is the topical representative for Environmental and Occupational Physiology on the ACSM program committee.

  • Highlighted Sessions in Clinical Exercise Physiology to be Presented at the 2021 ACSM Annual Meeting

    by Caitlin Kinser | Mar 25, 2021

    2021 annual meeting clinical exercise physiologyAs the topical representative for Clinical Exercise Physiology, it is my pleasure to highlight some of the exciting program sessions at the 2021 Annual Meeting that will be held virtually.

    Our highlighted symposium this year is titled “Exercise and Medications in the Treatment of CVD Risk Factors” to be held on Wednesday, June 2nd at 4:15 p.m. (All times listed in Mountain Daylight Time). This session will discuss the clinical relevance of combining medications with exercise on the prevention and treatment of CVD risk factors and highlight potential interactions of exercise and common medications used to treat type 2 diabetes, dyslipidemia and hypertension. Moreover, these talks will describe suggested synergistic, additive or antagonistic effects and identify gaps in knowledge for future direction in effort to optimize CVD risk reduction. This session includes a great lineup of speakers and is being organized and moderated by Steve Malin Ph.D., FACSM, Rutgers University, and will include talks by Linda Pescatello, Ph.D., FACSM, University of Connecticut (Exercise and antihypertensive medications), Adam Konopka, Ph.D., University of Wisconsin (Exercise and metformin), and John Thyfault, Ph.D., FACSM, University of Kansas Medical Center (Exercise and statins). We look forward to an informative session on this important and relevant topic.

    As a follow-up to the 2019 highlighted symposium on the importance of cardiorespiratory fitness for predicting health outcomes, Robert Ross, Ph.D., FACSM, Queens College, and Jon Myers, Ph.D., VA Palo Alto Health Care System, will provide a lecture on “Strategy for Implementing Cardiorespiratory Fitness as a Routine Measure in Clinical Settings” which is scheduled for Thursday, June 3rd at 1:15 p.m. 

    In addition to these sessions there will be a tutorial lecture on “Advancing the Field of Clinical Exercise Physiology: The Clinical Revolution” (June 1st, 4:30 p.m.), a Colloquium on “Cardiac Preconditioning and Exercise-Induced (Mal)Adaptations to Exercise: Clinical Implications” (June 1st, 3:30 p.m.), and a timely Symposium on “The Implications of COVID-19 on Cardiac Rehabilitation: The Need to Accelerate Provision of Non-Traditional Approaches” (June 4th, 2:15 p.m.). Rounding out the Clinical Exercise Physiology section is a Colloquium on “Stress Testing in the COVID Era” (June 5th, 9:00 a.m.) and several poster sessions spread throughout the week.

    We look forward to a wonderful virtual 2021 ACSM Annual Meeting! It is my hope that you will find these sessions informative and thought provoking, and that they will foster opportunities for those interested in Clinical Exercise Physiology to connect and network.

    Join us at ACSM's 2021 virtual Annual Meeting!

    Harber_MatthewMatthew Harber, Ph.D., FACSM
    , is a Professor of Clinical Exercise Physiology and Director, Clinical Exercise Physiology Laboratory at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. His research aims to assist health professionals to develop exercise plans for life-long fitness. 
  • Why We Must Prioritize Equitable Access to Physical Activity for Children with Disabilities

    by Caitlin Kinser | Mar 22, 2021

    active boy in wheelchair with bat and ballProviding children with disabilities equal access to quality education is a central tenet of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This four-part American legislation governs how states, schools and public agencies provide special education and related services to more than 6.5 million children across the country. Within this legislation, students are entitled to free and appropriate public education, including specially designed instruction, supplementary aids and related services based on their Individualized Education Program goals. IDEA is intended to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability at no cost to parents. Despite these important legislative wins, children with disabilities are often overlooked and systematically excluded from physical activity opportunities provided at schools.

    Current evidence suggests that children with disabilities are 4.5 times less likely to engage in physical activity compared to children without disabilities. Contributing factors to this disparity include:

    • The general population has a lack of understanding of children’s ability level and fear of potential injury. For example, the play behaviors of children with disabilities differ from their peers, as they engage in more solitary play than those without disabilities.
    • Many playgrounds are not adapted (i.e. equipped with wayfinding systems, unitary surfacing, flush transitions, sensory elements, etc.) to meet the needs of children with disabilities. This potentially limits them from engaging in spontaneous physical activity during recess.
    • A scarcity of adapted physical education programs and curricula for students with disabilities is commonly documented. An increased emphasis on competition rather than inclusion during physical education class significantly hinders physical activity participation among this group.
    • Adequate training to plan and implement inclusive physical activity and recreation programs for children with disabilities is lacking.

    We must identify and acknowledge these barriers to equitable access to school-based physical activity opportunities, and develop targeted strategies to promote health and wellness in students who are underserved. More importantly, in the current COVID-19 environment there is an urgent need to provide resources and strategies to families of children with disabilities. While schools across the nation have transitioned to virtual learning, these resources can prevent further declines in physical activity participation.

    Call-to-action: Universal and tailored approaches to promote equitable physical activity opportunities in schools

    The school setting is a pragmatic solution to providing quality physical education and increasing access to physical activity opportunities for children with disabilities. During the academic year (nine to 10 months), children spend most of their waking hours at school. School-based programming provides structured physical activity opportunities for children with disabilities to learn and develop motor skills through quality physical education, and offer a spontaneous chance to practice motor skills during recess, free from the constraints of adult direction. School administrators can reduce barriers to physical activity in this setting by utilizing a universal design approach. Simply, universal design focuses on accommodating the greatest number of individuals, in the widest possible range of situations, without the need for alterations. When applied to physical education, universal design supports the various ways that students receive, process and express information by proactively creating learning experiences that meet the needs of all students. Universal design strategies include three main components: (1) presenting information in multiple ways; (2) engaging students in a variety of instruction activities; and (3) using multiple means of assessment. These variations are embedded into lesson plans at the start and are not added in afterwards. Universal design is an evidence-based approach to providing inclusive physical activity in schools.

    While universal design strategies close the gap in access and usability, there is still a need to adapt physical activity programming to meet the specific needs of some students. Physical education, which is a federally mandated service within special education, enables students with disabilities to develop a variety of physical, cognitive and social skills. However, within physical education the delivery of the curriculum and the type and training of professional delivering the content are inconsistent. Thus, students are challenged with developing such skills in an unpredictable manner. Adapted physical education consultation and service delivery allows skill acquisition delivered by a qualified professional. Adapted physical education involves a process in which one professional helps other experts, parents and community members to work more successfully with students with disabilities within the school setting. Increasing access to adapted physical education services can have a substantial impact on youth physical education. 

    Call-to-action: Utilizing specialized services to support lifelong physical activity

    Employing an ACSM/NCHPAD Certified Inclusive Fitness professional should also be considered to ensure developmentally appropriate physical activity programs and positive professional attitudes when interacting with children with disabilities outside of the school setting.

    Professionals that may contribute to the physical activity needs of students with disabilities within the school setting include physical, occupational and recreational therapy. Physical therapy addresses issues of functional mobility use within the school environment and access to learning within a classroom or gymnasium/playground/field. The physical therapist also works on range of motion as it relates to a student’s ability to receive instruction, participate in activities and learn. Occupational therapy helps individuals restore and develop skills necessary for maximal independence and more specifically helps students with disabilities develop skills such as concentration, movement and problem-solving. Finally, recreational therapy specializes in the area of recreation and leisure activities, including art, aquatics, music, dance, drama, horticulture and outdoor recreation. Recreation therapists provide information about adaptations for recreation programs, information regarding leisure assessment and insights into available recreation/leisure programs in the community. Utilization of these specialized services can support students learning and motor skill development as well as enhance enjoyment of leisure activities, all of which may contribute to lifelong physical activity in students with disabilities. For school districts and communities where services are limited and/or unattainable, some things to consider are: collaboration and resource sharing with neighboring school districts; advocacy from both families and service professionals for these services to be included in children’s Individualized Education Program (IEP); and seeking out and receiving assistance from local and county human services to financially support and/or offset the cost of these services. 

    Call to Action: Parent support and advocacy for inclusive physical activity opportunities

    Parent support plays a vital role for promoting physical activity for children with disabilities both in and out of school. Factors such as encouragement, presenting opportunities for their children to engage in physical activity, enrolling their child in sport clubs at an early age and parental modeling all contribute to higher physical activity levels in this group. These experiences help children feel comfortable and open to participating in future physical activity opportunities both at school and in their community. Parents can also identify additional inclusive physical activity programs and resources provided by local universities, colleges and medical facilities. These programs have been instrumental in bridging the gap between rehabilitation and community-based health promotion. The National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (NCHPAD) is a public health practice and resource center on health promotion for people with disability. NCHPAD’s website includes links to statewide resources for adapted physical activity opportunities. Programs highlighted in this directory can serve as models for inclusive physical activity in communities where opportunities are limited. More widely known programs for physical activity and sports for persons with intellectual disabilities (such as Down syndrome) include the Special Olympics and, for varied categories of disability, the Paralympics. Programs mentioned above also include online videos to promote physical activity in the home environment for individuals with disabilities. Examples include Special Olympics Fit 5,      NCHPAD’s Autism Exercise video series, and NCHPAD’s Home Workouts video series. Community programs that provide virtual opportunities for this population to engage in physical activity cannot be overemphasized, particularly in the current COVID-19 environment.

    Finally, in Healthy People 2030 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services emphasizes the need for daily participation of all students in physical activity. However, most elementary, middle and high schools allow “exemptions” to required student physical activity. Common reasons cited for “exemptions” are cognitive and physical disabilities. To promote inclusion and physical health, clinicians, families and educators need to advocate for all children, including those with disabilities, to participate in sports and recreational activities, to have access to adaptive equipment, proper training and clothing, adequate hydration and access to inclusive playgrounds, parks and recreational facilities.

    The value of physical activity cannot be understated for children with disabilities as evidenced by the inclusion, for the first time, of physical activity recommendations for this group in The World Health Organization 2020 Guidelines on Physical Activity and Sedentary Behavior. By  restructuring physical opportunities at schools, working collaboratively with community supports and empowering parents to advocate for their children, we can realize the full potential of IDEA, and our children, irrespective of ability status.  

    For additional information:

    Lakowski, T. & Long, T. (2011). Proceedings: Physical Activity and Sport for People with Disabilities. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Center for Child and Human Development

    Murphy N.A., Carbone P.S. (2008). American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Children With Disabilities. Promoting the participation of children with disabilities in sports, recreation, and physical activities. Pediatrics. May;121(5):1057-61.

    King, G., Law, M., King, S., Rosenbaum, P., Kertoy, M.K., Young, N.L. (2003). A conceptual model of the factors affecting the recreation and leisure participation of children with disabilities. Phys Occup Ther Pediatr. 23(1):63-90.

    Frost, J.L., Wortham, S.C., & Reifel, S. (2012). Play and child development. (4th ed.).Pearson.

    Rimmer, J. H., & Rowland, J. L. (2008). Physical activity for youth with disabilities: a critical need in an underserved population. Dev Neurorehabil, 11(2), 141-148.

    Inclusive Play Design Guide Workgroup (2015). Inclusive Play Design Guide

    Authors: Marquell Johnson, Ph.D.; Vincenzo Nocera, Ph.D.; Navin Kaushal, Ph.D.; Lauren Simon, M.D., FACSM; Rebecca Hasson, Ph.D., FACSM, and the ACSM Strategic Health Initiative on Health Equity