As the students filed into the exercise studio with their water bottles, they didn’t look all that different from anyone else at the Northwest Sport & Health Club.
And that was the point.
Jared Ciner, a support counselor with Jubilee Association of Maryland — a group that provides residential services to adults with developmental disabilities — recognized that his clients needed more physical activity. But they weren’t comfortable in a gym.
“This population typically doesn’t see a fitness center as a place catering to them,” Ciner says. “It can be intimidating.”
Because Ciner also happens to be a personal trainer with Sport & Health, he came up with the idea of the Spirit Club (short for Social Physical Interactive Respectful Inclusive Together). Launched earlier this month, the six-week program is designed to familiarize people who have Down syndrome, autism spectrum disorders and other developmental disabilities with working out.
“Today is all about getting exercise and moving around. And most importantly, it’s about having fun,” Ciner announced at the kickoff class before a quick game of freeze dance got the whole group — family members and assistants included — grooving and smiling.
When they circled up to introduce themselves and go over a few stretches and exercises they could also do at home — such as toe touches, arm circles, butt kicks and jumping jacks — Ciner gave a detailed explanation of each move and greeted every success with applause.
The exercise setting has the potential to strengthen social bonds as well as muscles, Ciner says. That’s why he asked students to partner up for a series of ball exercises, which was 24-year-old Carly Wasserman’s favorite activity. (“I liked passing,” she said.)
Ciner ended the class with a nutrition tip: Half of every plate should be fruits and vegetables.
“Healthy food will make us strong,” one student replied. The Spirit Club should help, too.
Details: Sport & Health (4001 Brandywine St. NW) expects to continue the program. Currently, there are two groups: 2 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Sundays. Registration for six weeks is $150. Get more details at Jubileemd.org.