Special Strong is a new business that specializes in teaching healthy habits to people with special needs. The founder and president, Daniel Stein, took time out of his busy, constantly-on-the-move schedule to sit down at a local Starbucks and have an interview with me. Here’s the heart and soul of Special Strong.
What's Important about Special Strong?
Question 1: Go ahead and tell me about Special Strong. What do you want people to know about you?
Daniel Has Special Needs
“I really want to tell you why Special Strong started in the first place. Special Strong started because of my own special needs. When I was four years old, I was diagnosed with ADHD, and people wanted to counsel me; they wanted to put me on medications. Nobody ever told me that exercise would help – until I got into high school.
“I started playing sports. I got involved in weight lifting, and I found that working out and eating right helped me better than any medication, any therapy that I’d ever tried.”
Exercise Can Help People with Special Needs
“And so, at that point, I realized that there was a huge need that wasn’t being met in this population. The typical reaction when you get the special needs diagnosis is counseling and medication, and there’s a need for that, but there’s also a need for exercise.
“Just as an example with [people with] Down Syndrome [and] a need for exercise: They have an average weight gain of five pounds a year. So, do the math. After 10 years, that’s 50 pounds of additional weight. So, this population needs to exercise. So we started Special Strong in 2016 to provide a solution for this huge need that’s out there.
“And so, we provide services all over [the] DFW. […] We have access to about 10 locations in the Metroplex.
Where Is Special Strong?
Question 2. Tell me what that means – “Access.” Are these 10 locations that you have access to gyms that you work out of?
Special Strong Works out of 10 Locations
“They’re gyms, rec centers, community centers. We don’t have our own facility. We partner with other facilities that have their own gyms, and so the nice thing about [working with gyms is] you can access all of them.
“So, if a client lives [in], let’s say, Allen, and they’re using a gym in Allen, they may also be able to use one in McKinney, Frisco, Plano – so it’s very convenient.”
Who Needs Health Education?
Question 3: Is your online target audience the parents of your clients, and, if that’s case, are the parents usually already health conscientious or do these parents also need convincing?
People with Special Needs and Their Parents Need Health Education
“We do have a decent amount of clients who [are] independent, on their own. […] We may have an amputee victim or a stroke victim, so take the parents out of the equation. They’re reaching out to us on their own, for their own services.
“So, but to go back to your other question with the parents in mind, most of the parents that we see […] – some of them have decent [health] habits in place because they know about the diets for special needs and they know about dairy, gluten and things like that.
“But then there’s also a very large percent that’s uneducated, and they simply don’t know the effects of a healthy life style and how that can impact their son or daughter.”
How Does Special Strong Educate Parents and Clients?
Question 4: How are you working to educate those parents on how to help their children get more exercise and how to eat healthier?
Special Strong Uses Personal Trainers
“The education comes in two-fold: It comes in the trainer and the [nutritionist]. […]
“What ends up happening is the client ends up seeing the improvements, the behavior improvements, the new levels of independence – the parents can really quickly learn [that] this is helping them, and it’s really a form of self-education because they’re seeing new changes in their son or daughter that they’ve never been able to see.
“As an example, we have clients that couldn’t’ get jobs [who are] now […] working part-time jobs. […]
“As an example, Josh – Josh is about 27 years old, [has] Down Syndrome, couldn’t hold a job his whole life and started working with us. After about six months […], his constipation issues went away, so he’s able to now […] actually hold a job without having issues like that, and he had enough independence and confidence to go work somewhere. That’s just one of many examples. […]”
Special Strong Also Uses a Nutritionist
“[As for the second way parents and clients are educated about health]: Every one of our [clients] also see a specializes, functioning nutritionist, so if you’re a training client, not only do you get the training, but you’re [also] getting an expert that works with a special needs population and specializes with the population [to educate them about nutrition]. […]
“Right now we have one nutritionists, and she’s also a registered dietitian, and she sees pretty much all of our clients. [She sends home] personal plans, recipes, homework assignments, yeah. It’s amazing, what she does.”
How Does Special Strong Convince Parents to Improve Their Child's Health?
Question 5: How do you convince parents that there is a need to improve their child’s health before the personal trainer starts to educate them?
Parents Don't Need to Be Convinced
“Typically, the parents already know there is a need, so typically, we don’t [convince them] because when someone comes and sees us, there’s already a need that they need met, so they’re coming to us, thinking, ‘My son’s overweight – my daughter’s overweight – they have horrible posture because they’re playing video games all the time.’
“And they start to see things change in their son or daughter that they don’t like, and so they think to themselves, ‘What can I do to fix it?’
“So, when they come to see us, one of the most common things that we hear people say is, ‘We want to see behavior improvement. We want to see moods get improved. We want to see weight loss, and we want to see their palettes change and get better with nutrition.’ We hear that all the time.
“And so […] they’ve already identified the needs at that point. We just show them how our services can help meet those needs.”
What Age Group Is Special Strong For?
Question 6: Does Special Strong market their services to a specific age group within the special needs population?
Special Strong Is for Teens, Young Adults and Anyone Who Want to Be Healthier
“The age group that we’re targeting is between the ages of eight and about 24. We do train clients outside of those age groups [though]. That’s just kind of our target age group.
“Typically, people who are like, in high school or [recently] out of high school or even middle school [are] the clients that we see.
“We’re targeting churches that have special needs ministries. You know, we’re not really targeting gyms because most gyms don’t have [clients with] special needs that are there, so we’re […] working with a lot of day habs. […] People with special needs go there all day long. […] Those are our target markets or our target audiences.”
What Are Some Workouts You Recommend?
Question 7: What home workouts can you recommend to people with special needs who are trying to start a workout regimen?
Daniel Says to Focus on the Core
“I would say something to start off with would be focusing on core musculature exercises, and I say that because that’s – in the mainstream population, too – that’s where [the decline in health] starts. That’s your foundation.
“And most of our population – again, the video game consumption and the inactivity – they have very weak cores. […] Sitting up like this is a very difficult task. I mean, I could tell you to do that right now. I could tell you to put your shoulder blades back and sit up properly, but the special needs [clients] – if we told them [that], it would be very difficult.”
Focus on the Glutes
“Very basic things. There’s an exercise called a hip bridge. […] That’s a really good exercise to employ because it targets the glutes, which are one of the biggest muscles in your body, and also one of the most inactive muscles in this population.
“Phenomenal exercise. You can do that at home with no equipment. You just need your body.
“There’s different ways you can cue the client, the participant, to lift up their hips for that exercise by tapping on the outsides of their hips a little bit, to tell them to come up, and that’s […] another benefit of a trainer. […]
“YouTube is a great resource. Go to YouTube. Type in ‘hip bridge.’”
Do Workouts That Are Mental Exercises Too
“Another one that we like to do is a medicine ball slam. It’s one of the best meltdown exercises because it helps reduce meltdowns. It helps with emotional disturbance issues and emotional stability. […] Actually, it’s more a brain exercise, really, than it is a physical exercise.”
How Has Special Strong Improved Client Behaviors?
Question 8: Can you tell me about some other clients that you’ve seen behavioral changes in because of these exercises?
Special Strong Made Robert a Better Student
“Robert’s probably the best example. Robert’s been working with us for over a year, and when he started seeing us originally, he had meltdowns so bad to the point where his parents had to put football gear on him, and he’d have to go in the garage and just hit himself on the head. […]
“That’s how severe it was. So, we’ve been working together for a year now. I recently did a public speaking engagement at McKinney North High School where he attends school, and a teacher came up to me afterwards and said, ‘Are you the one that’s been working with Robert?’ And I said, ‘Yes.’
“And they said, ‘Robert’s a completely different person.’ They said, ‘Whatever you’re doing with him, […] we don’t even recognize him anymore. He’s completely different.’ […]”
Special Strong Reduced Robert's Meltdowns
“He still has meltdowns, but they’re nowhere like what they used to be, and he’s able to do things with his parents that he wasn’t able to do before. […] Transition was really hard for him, so when they would travel, and he would be away from his home environment, that was really hard for him.
“He can now do those things with no problem. There’s just countless […] examples with Robert, and how it’s helped him, just emotionally, behavior-wise. When Robert started, he couldn’t even finish a PE class, he was so out of shape.
“Today, he plays soccer. Recently, he did three back-to-back soccer games. He didn’t complain at all about his endurance. And so those are just some of the few benefits that we’ve seen.”
How Often Should Clients Workout to See Improvements?
Question 9: Do you recommend that your clients work out three times a week, the standard recommendation, or should clients be doing some kind of exercise every single day in order to try to reduce their behaviors?
Clients Should Workout Two to Three Times a Week
“Yeah, the standard is like, two to three times a week. What we’ve found with most of our clients is [that] doing two to three times a week, just in a gym setting, is typically enough to help manage a behavior.
“If we have someone that’s just really dedicated (and, really, the parents have to be involved for them to do it every day) – but if we have people that do it every day and people [who] do things at the house, I mean, the sky’s the limit in terms of improvement.
“Getting someone to actually adhere to that is about one in 20. Parents are very busy and it’s […] not that they don’t want to help, it’s just […] sometimes they feel like they can’t. […] Even if they have the tools to do it, their lives are so busy with their son or daughter with special needs.
“That’s why they want to hire someone and say, ‘You’re the expert. You do it.’”
How Has Special Strong Improved Relationships?
Question 10: How have parent and child relationships changed because of these diet changes and these exercises?
Special Strong Instills Values
“One of the things that we do in our training is […] focus on the mind, the body and the spirit. So, we’re a Christian company, and so we use Christian values in everything that we do, and by doing that, we’ve seen a lot of our clients have a lot more love and respect in their families.
“And so they treat their parents a lot different now because they’re learning how to have respect in workout sessions. […]”
Special Strong Helped Charlie
“So, I’ll give an example: Someone that I recently started with […], he’s very used to saying, “No” when he doesn’t want to do something. And I’ll say, “Charlie, would you do something?” And he says, “No.”
“So, the first time he told me that, […] I looked him in the eyes and I said, “In this gym, you will never tell me ‘no’ again.” And, today, he’s never told me ‘no’ on an exercise.
“And so, I don’t know how that’s translated to his house yet, but I’m just giving you an example on how we can instill values in our clients.”
Special Strong Helped Robert
“With Robert as an example – Robert’s just so much more loving now. When you’re not having meltdowns and you’re not angry all the time, you’re more loving.”
Special Strong Helped Josh
“Josh – the other client that I mentioned that has a job – Josh was extremely depressed when he started seeing me, so now that he has life back in him […], his mom says ‘she has her son back’ – those are her words.
“You can imagine the relationship benefit that it had with a son who was depressed and who now […] is very happy, is joyful and just enjoys life.”
Become a Personal Trainer with Special Strong
Special Strong is always looking to expand by taking on new personal trainers at various location in the DFW Metroplex. If you’re a personal trainer, and you’re interested in working with Special Strong, click the button below to fill out a form expressing your interest.
Donate to Organizations that Help People with Special Needs
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Achievement Center of Texas is a nonprofit organization that teaches children and adults with special needs art skills, life skills and relationship-building skills Monday through Friday. We couldn’t do what we do for our students without the support of donors like you who care.
To donate to our center, please click the donate button below.