As seen in Spectrum Life Magazine Summer 2023 Edition
Specialty Athletic Training was founded in June 2012 to provide access to professional fitness services to the disability community. Our programming is relationship-driven with the purpose of creating a fun and inclusive environment where everyone feels safe and welcomed.
Lewis & Clark College is home to our Portland, Oregon location and is where we first began building our Specialty Athletic Training community. I played football at L&C during my college years and was part of the coaching staff at the time. I spoke with the athletic director to discuss my vision and he was very supportive and encouraging. We continue to train at L&C and it has been our home base throughout all our years.
As word spread about what we were doing, interest in our program grew outside of the SW Portland community. We soon had people traveling from Vancouver, Washington and other communities in the Portland Metro area to access services. This led to us expanding to Vancouver in 2016, where we now have our own location in the Orchards area. We have since expanded to serve the Central Oregon community by training out of Boss Sports Performance, as well as our most recent expansion to Eugene, Oregon at CrossFit Evviva.
This piece was written to encourage and support people with disabilities who want to improve their physical health but are anxious about athletic training and wonder whether a gym is right for them.
What process do you use to help beginning or nervous gym-goers feel confident working out?
The first thing that we do is have a phone conversation to start the relationship-building process. We discuss not only goals and struggles, but your general interests as well. Our goal is to have each person feel comfortable with us before they even step foot in one of our locations.
Getting a tour of the facility is the next step of our process. If you are a new gym-goer or nervous about starting, try and get a tour during a less busy time in the gym. During your initial phone call, ask when the busiest times are for the gym, and avoid those when scheduling your tour.
Hiring a coach that you trust and enjoy working with is vital to your progress. They will be able to provide you with a structured program to reach your goals, as well as hold you accountable. It can be difficult to get started, and having a personal coach will help you stay consistent, especially during the tough times in your fitness journey.
What benefits of exercise carry over outside of the gym that improve confidence?
The best part of my job is hearing stories about how fitness has changed a client’s self-confidence outside of the gym. With a consistent fitness program, you will see results in the gym. Most importantly, you will see an increase in your quality of life. Being able to do things that you were unable to, or thought you were unable to do, before you began training will become the norm.
My favorite story was hearing a mom's story about her son getting on and off the school bus independently for the first time after he began training with us. This is the perfect example of how gaining strength and confidence carries over to daily life. Her son began seeing improvements in other areas of his daily life as well. The confidence he gained while training was the start of a positive snowball effect in this individual and family’s life.
What about wardrobe? What do you wear to feel confident but not hinder your workout?
I recommend wearing what you feel comfortable in, that also coincides with the rules of the gym that you’re going to. Many gyms will require closed-toe shoes for safety, not allow denim (it can be hard on the equipment), and require you to wear clothing at all times. The last one seems obvious, but it can be common for males to lift shirtless at certain gyms or studios (mainly CrossFit boxes).
We understand that our clients may have sensory needs or other accommodations when it comes to clothing. Although we prefer them to wear closed-toe shoes, it is not required at our locations, and we make exercise selection modifications as necessary. You will find me working out in sweatpants, a t-shirt, a hoodie, and a pair of running shoes.
Goal-setting tips? Any particular apps you like for record keeping or tracking progress?
For all of our 1:1 clients, we use an app called Trainerize. It allows us to track progress and has a great positive reinforcement system built in. If you are looking to track nutrition, I highly suggest MyFitnessPal. It is free and allows for easy tracking and customization as needed to meet your goals.
How do you recommend avoiding the comparison trap so people can still feel good while they’re striving for improved health?
Our society deeply struggles with the comparison trap, so don’t feel alone! Everyone posts their “perfect” lives and bodies on social media, but tend to leave out their struggles. I’m a huge fan of the fitness influencers that show their bodies in not flattering poses and lighting, highlighting that they are not “perfect”.
Consistency is key. Remember that everyone struggles with daily motivation, but it is important for you to show up.
Your fitness journey is exactly that, YOUR fitness journey. Everyone starts somewhere and that first step can be the most difficult. You CAN do difficult things and getting in a fitness routine becomes one of the most positive addictions that you will experience.
I also encourage people not to connect their success based on the number on the scale. That number can become stagnant but doesn’t mean that you’re not seeing positive results. Pay close attention to how your clothes are fitting, your daily mood, and your energy levels.
Another motivating factor is that your health also directly impacts your loved ones’ lives.
According to the CDC, over 40% of American adults are obese and individuals with disabilities are 57% more likely to be obese compared to their peers. The numbers posted are from the year 2020 (pre-pandemic) and it is safe to assume that the numbers have skyrocketed even more after our sedentary lifestyles during the lockdowns. Obesity puts you at a predisposed risk of stroke, type II diabetes, and heart disease; the three leading causes of preventable premature death.
Any time that I am lacking the motivation to exercise, I think about my wife (Mary) and my two boys (Rory and Tatum). I want to do everything in my power to increase their quality of life. My staying active and healthy plays a huge role in that.
About the Author
Ryan Lockard, CSCS*D, CSPS*D is the Founder and CEO of Specialty Athletic Training. He is accredited by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and a Certified Special Populations Specialist. Lockard is a member of the board of directors for the Autism Society of America and the advisory board for the NSCA Oregon chapter.