Adaptive Functional Fitness Training (AFFT) – Erik Kondo

There are many barriers to participating in adaptive recreational activities and activities in general for people with disabilities. One barrier that inhibits many people from participating is that they don’t know how they will be able to adapt to their chosen activity.

It is important to recognize that inclusive recreational programs make up only a small fraction of possible options. Many people with disabilities don’t necessarily want to participate in an official adaptive program all the time. They want to get back to the activities they were doing before with their existing community of family and friends.

For example, a newly injured yoga practitioner doesn’t necessarily want to go to a special adaptive yoga class at some distant location. She may want to do her practice at home or at her favorite yoga studio as was her routine pre-injury. The same goes for a weightlifter. He may just want to get back to his local gym. A handcyclist may want to ride the bike paths in his area as he has always done.

The problem that many of these people face is that they don’t know how they can manage certain aspects of these activities independently (or with directed help) so they give them up or never attempt them in the first place. For many people with disabilities, the fear of not being able to perform difficult transfers or actions stops them from participating altogether. How will the yoga practitioner join her class if she can’t transfer back into her wheelchair from the floor? The gym goer may want want to do pull-ups, but doesn’t know how to manage them. The handcyclist can’t make the transfer to and from his handcycle. The wheelchair dancer has trouble with maintaining wheelies and executing spins. The gym Crossfitter doesn’t know what to do when her class is jumping rope or is using the exercise bikes. The camper is unsure of what to do in case he falls from his wheelchair when on a trail in the woods. While these problems make up only a small aspect of the activity, they serve as roadblocks that prevent the person from engaging.

Adaptive Functional Fitness Training serves as the initial preparation (bridge) that enables the person to enter into his or her chosen activity. Whereas Physical and Occupational Therapy are the medical/therapeutic side of training, AFFT is strictly the practical performance side. Where practical performance means taking into consideration the interplay of the capabilities of the person, his or her assistive equipment, and the environment in order to produce the desired result.

Adaptive Functional Fitness Training differs from Adaptive Fitness in that the goal of the training is not solely fitness, or wellness itself. The goal is to develop the ability to participate in future fitness training, activities and recreations . For example, many wheelchair users have not optimized either their wheelchair or their level of skill in order to take advantage of its full performance capabilities. They may feel that pushing their wheelchair around is too difficult to be enjoyable and as a result they do not engage in “walks” around the city with friends and family. In this case, the “walks” are the lifestyle fitness activity. The problem may be a combination of improperly setup wheelchair, inefficient pushing technique, and a low level of physical conditioning. In this case, the goal of AFFT is to provide these people with wheelchair optimization, technique training, and a baseline of conditioning that will enable them to happily join in “walks” with their friends and family.

In summary, Adaptive Functional Fitness Training is targeted towards improving specific functional areas. The training will vary with the individual. Its goal is to make the person as self-reliant and prepared as possible to engage in future activities.