Health: Initiatives make getting fitter accessible for all

Using weights at InstructAbility training centre
Using weights at InstructAbility training centre
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For disabled people, fitness can be more of a challenge. Abi Jackson reports.

At this time of year gym adverts are everywhere, usually featuring super-fit Lycra-clad models.

The trouble is, if you don’t bear the vaguest resemblance to these sporty physiques, the world of fitness can seem an intimidating place.

“The way the leisure industry markets itself is very aspirational. When you look at the imagery used, it’s at the elite end. People must look at it and think, ‘Well, that’s not for me, I don’t look anything like that and probably never will’,” says Jules Twells from the English Federation of Disability Sport (EFDS).

Twells is part of the EFDS’s Inclusive Fitness Initiative (IFI), which aims to make fitness and physical activity more of a reality for less active groups within society.

“The benefits of physical activity are well documented, from the physical side - improved fitness, weight management - to the psychological rewards, but there can also be added benefits for disabled people,” says Hilary Farmiloe.

She is national project manager for InstructAbility, an award-winning gym instructor training programme for people with disabilities, created by YMCAfit and spinal injuries support charity Aspire.

The programme is open to people with all types of disabilities, and it’s the standard gym instructor qualification.

“Putting disabled people in the workforce at leisure centres sends out the message immediately to anybody coming in who has an impairment that they’re welcome and exercise is something they can do,” says Farmiloe.

At the core of the InstructAbility programme - which is expanding north in 2015 - and also at the core of the IFI’s ethos, is breaking down barriers that might be preventing disabled people participating.

“There are a multitude of barriers,” explains Farmiloe. “Two very key areas are accessibility - can I actually get there, what are the transport links, and once I get there, can I get in the doors, can I get up to the second floor? And then once you get there, can I actually use the equipment?”

Psychological barriers are equally a factor, and something many of the InstructAbility students have experienced themselves.

“I’ve learnt a lot from the students coming onto the programme,” says Farmiloe. “Some said they’d been into a gym, got as far as the front desk and come across this sort of negative attitude.”

This is why, as well as promoting the importance of access and having adapted equipment on offer, staff training is also a big agenda - and this starts with the reception desk.

There are more than 400 IFI accredited fitness centres across the UK, with examples including GLL-run and Everyone Active centres, and there are over 100 items of gym equipment available which carry the IFI stamp of approval.

It’s all a big step in the right direction, and so far, around 40 per cent of students who’ve completed InstructAbility training have been offered paid work.

For more information, visit www.efds.co.uk/inclusive_fitness or www.aspire.org.uk.