Fitness Trainers Need Training Too

This month, BGF launched a fitness training platform for professionals that shows them how to create safe, effective workouts for people with Parkinson’s.

Once the shock of his Parkinson’s diagnosis wore off, Fred Scheiffele tried to cope with the idea of spending most of his days confined to his home on the outskirts of Portland, Oregon. “One of the first things I did was buy a La-Z-Boy recliner because I just assumed this was it for me,” he said. “It was all going to go downhill from there.”

But then Scheiffele met someone who changed his life for the better—Jenny Wilhelm, the lead neurology physical therapist at Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU)’s rehabilitation department, who specializes in Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders.

Wilhelm was involved in the original research conducted by OHSU’s Balance Disorders Laboratory, which concluded that “Boot Camp”-style exercise classes demonstrated significant improvements in Parkinson’s mobility issues such as rigidity, stiffness and gait. “From that study, we created a PD exercise class at OHSU that I helped lead for several years,” she said.

Scheiffele was a regular attendee of that class and experienced firsthand the benefits of group fitness classes catered toward people living with Parkinson’s. “I’ve always been fairly active and into sports, so exercise wasn’t a foreign concept for me,” he admitted.

“But Jenny works me hard, which I need. And exercising with other people with Parkinson’s gives us the chance to motivate each other. If one person is struggling, there’s a roomful of us ready to say, ‘Hey, you’ve got this. Keep going. If we can do it, you can do it.’ Nobody’s there to judge anyone because we’re all going through the same thing.”

“There’s certainly a social benefit to exercising together as a group,” Wilhelm said. “But there is also a safety element. It’s important for fitness professionals to be knowledgeable about Parkinson’s disease. That way, they can help patients exercise at the level of intensity they require to experience symptom improvement without causing injury.”

BGF to the rescue

The Brian Grant Foundation has long recognized a need for more physical therapists, personal trainers and group fitness instructors who can develop safe and effective exercise classes for the Parkinson’s population.

That’s why BGF launched the Training Center for Professionals with free, online courses for physical therapists and fitness professionals. The training teaches the basics of Parkinson’s, safety considerations for fitness classes and the most effective types of exercises to mitigate symptoms.

The program includes a downloadable training manual and 12 easy-to-follow lessons that provide a comprehensive approach to understanding balance deficits and other physical limitations of Parkinson’s disease.

The lessons walk trainees through safety precautions, shows them how to incorporate dual tasks in fitness routines, and demonstrates various exercise types—such as boxing, Pilates, yoga and tai chi—that can be adapted for people with PD.

Each lesson includes a video of Wilhelm demonstrating hands-on techniques with help from actual people living with PD, including Brian Grant himself. Trainees take a brief, multiple-choice quiz at the end of each lesson recapping what they’ve learned.

BGF is recognized by the National Academy of Sports Medicine and Athletics and Fitness Association of America as an Approved Continuing Education Provider. Fitness professionals already certified by one of these organizations can receive continued education units for participating in the training.

“I am so proud to be affiliated with organizations like BGF that go above and beyond to improve the lives of people with Parkinson’s disease,” Wilhelm said. “The more people who take this training, the more lives we can positively impact. I feel lucky to know people like Fred who want to prove to themselves and others that exercise really can improve Parkinson’s symptoms.”

“I honestly don’t know where I’d be today if it weren’t for Jenny Wilhelm at OHSU and the Brian Grant Foundation,” Scheiffele said. “Exercising makes me feel like I have more control over my disease. I walk out of those classes exhausted and drenched in sweat but also stronger and more powerful than before I walked in. I leave with a sense of pride that I accomplished something important that day.”

As for that La-Z-Boy recliner? “I don’t even use it,” Scheiffele quipped.

To sign up for the training, visit training.briangrant.org.

By Kathryn Jones