Fitness training can be a challenge for the average person, but for individuals with developmental disabilities the pursuit of gym-bound wellness comes with a wealth of additional considerations.
A new gym in Hartsdale called Breakthrough Fitness Co. offers a distinctive special-needs fitness program under the supervision of Jake Allyne, a personal trainer who has become an expert in this niche within the fitness world.
Allyne had not previously considered opening his own business until the Covid-19 pandemic forced the temporary closing of his big-box gym employer.
“I didn’t go back to my regular job,” he said. “I pivoted when the pandemic hit and worked virtually. And I had a large client base within the special needs community, including clients with autism and cerebral palsy.”
Allyne was introduced to this client base during his college years when he worked with a special needs fitness program at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan. His popularity in this field quickly grew, and during his big-box gym gigs he became the go-to trainer for special needs clients.
As the pandemic restrictions began to ease, he would meet with his clients at parks and later in his garage, which he turned into a workout space. To his surprise, these clients sought him more during this time.
“They increased their frequency because so many other things were cut off and that was a big impact on them socially,” he said.
But for a post-pandemic environment, Allyne realized he needed something that could accommodate a growing client base.
“I realized I couldn’t do it as a solo endeavor,” he said. “I needed to get out of my garage and into an actual space.”
Allyne worked with the Westchester County Office of Economic Development’s Launch1000 program. The result is a new gym that will be ready for a soft opening in late July, with a grand opening set for September.
In approaching the training regimens of clients with developmental disabilities, Allyne explained that an in-depth analysis of individual needs is crucial for planning a successful strategy.
“I’ll normally take a good hour or two to spend with them and see how their body moves, what gets them to tick, what they like,” he said. “And then, we’ll start with simple everyday movements and coordination — some of them work better within one plane of motion, some of them work better with patterns.”
Allyne is planning for a combination of one-on-one and group training sessions. But he is also cognizant on creating an environment that will not disrupt his clients’ concentration on training. For example, the typical gym design with a seemingly endless number of monitors and screens on machines and walls would work against a 13-year-old client who is obsessed with video imagery.
“When you put 200 screens in a room, it’s very hard to get him to focus,” he said. “But when we took the screens away, that was when he flourished.”
Actually, he went beyond flourishing — Allyne added that he received word that his young client recently took first place in the 200-meter sprint at a Special Olympics tournament.
Allyne also highlighted a client with autism who used the pandemic period to increase her exercise frequency, resulting in a 40-pound weight loss.
Allyne also maintains a base of nondisabled clients, and he stressed one key instruction that applies to all of his clients is the value of maintaining a state of wellness.
“I think that daily movement and a moderately balanced diet can decrease a lot of the health risks that we as a society take on,” he said. “This is especially more beneficial to the special needs community.”