Adapted Fitness- Exercise with Body by Brent




Kate Helfrich and Brent Hartman are two presenters speaking at The Accessible World Conference who will add a unique introduction to fitness, exercise and inclusion for a wide range of people.  Both fitness instructors at Body by Brent, the trainers will present how exercise can be adapted to meet the needs of people after having gone through short term rehab or living with short or long term disabilities which has become Kate Helfrich’s passion and area of expertise. This event will demonstrate to viewers both in talk and photos how people with disabilities such as Spinal Cord Injuries, disabilities from birth or any kind of extreme change to the body, can train and exercise with the art of adapting workouts to meet the needs of each individual. An example of exercise for someone with a SCI may include the trainer acting as a resistant force for the client to push against to create strength and isolate muscle work instead of using machines.  Or for someone who wants to practice standing or walking with adaptive devices such as a walker or parallel bars, can create parallel bars by using ones wheelchair and part of a couch to practice side leg lifts, marches or squats that can be done at home or in compensation if equipment does not fit the individual’s needs. In addition, the core concept of their talk will introduce the idea that someone with a disability who would like to get fit, can work out alongside those who also want to get fit but perhaps do not have a disability.  “We want to try to merge different populations together which can help sensitize people including those without specific health issues and this can work both ways.” Says Kate. These are just some of the creative educations that will be presented on April 29th and hopefully leave the audience with the thought of possibility and not limitation.




To understand the passions that both presenters have in their work is to take a glimpse into their past and how it led them to the present.  Brent Hartman, an exercise physiologist and certified trainer, attended East Stroudsburg University for both under grad and grad school and has been a fitness instructor for nine years. He became interested in this form of health training because he liked working out and wanted other people to experience the “joy” that he has.  Kate Helfrich is a PT assistant and is also now a certified personal trainer, began her career in 2008 when she worked in rehab and wanted to find a career in which she could move around all day and be with people.  She also wanted to offer care to clients that was more than what was written on a prescription pad so she transitioned back to school (East Stroudsburg University as well) and began working for Brent in 2014 as a certified personal trainer.  Kate will graduate from East Stroudsburg University this August, 2016 with an undergrad degree in Exercise Science.


It’s interesting to note the diversity of populations both Kate and Brent work with. Brent shares that he wanted to work with the non-athletic client and likes to see people successfully do things such as getting positive blood work results, not needing medications long term, or getting up out of a chair with more ease and safety. Although Brent has experience working with athletes, he worked for 3 months with the Rutgers football team as an intern, he prefers working with lay persons as it represents a different “Why?” question than with athletes. The “Why?” being the specific purpose(s) behind the training methods and program design utilized with each client. One example may be that a lay person may want to move easier and so one’s goal may be to lose weight. An athlete on the other hand may want to push 600 pounds or have specific performance goals to work towards when playing football or competing in the Olympics. It’s not to say that both groups don’t follow similar paths when working out, reducing injury or having specific goals to meet, there may just be a different methods applied for a client who wants to get healthy, move more freely, and have an improved quality of life over all. And that’s where Brent’s focus and passion lies.


Although Kate works with a diverse population in her own right, she became interested in working with clients who have disabilities when she met Wendy Crawford seven years ago, who has a level C5/6 complete spinal cord injury she sustained in a car accident many years ago. Wendy had lived in Miami for a time and worked out there, but when moving to PA found that there are not many places for persons with varying abilities to work out, and so she challenged Kate to consider branching out to work with other populations.


Post her injury, Wendy continued to work out because she found it to be a good way to keep her body healthy and injury free.  Since Wendy sits all day, she feels that it’s important to keep moving, maintain flexibility, endurance and muscle balance.  She also finds that it helps mentally by allowing her to relax, de-stress, take a timeout and feel strong. Some exercise components that Wendy and Kate perform together is muscle strengthening and flexibility while Wendy does Cardio independently through the use of her Vitaglide and FES bike.  At times, Kate may have Wendy put on gloves so she can hold Thera bands and connects them to create different exercise angles for Wendy’s work outs.  Kate also transfers Wendy out of her chair so she can stretch. “I go on my stomach which is important to stretch my body and work on my back muscles.”  As Wendy and many other manual chair users know, when pushing a chair all day one develops front/chest muscles while back muscles are neglected.  Working the back muscles not only evens out muscle balance, but also helps with posture.  Additionally, Wendy notes that if she has difficulty with an exercise, Kate will assist her so she can go through the motions and gradually strengthen weak muscles. Through all of Wendy’s hard work, she has come to see increased muscle tone, flexibility and prevention of injuries.  



Adapted Fitness Exercise

In addition to having two clients with SCI, Kate has taken on two clients with disabilities from birth.  Both clients have a condition called Osteogenesis Imperfecta which in simple terms means brittle bones.  As the writer of this article, living with OI and being a client of Kate for a year and a half, I wanted to share my own experiences of how working with Kate has changed my life. The core issue of living with Osteogenesis Imperfecta is that one lives with brittle bones and can experience few to many fractures. As a child I experienced over 20 fractures in my legs breaking both femurs multiple times and my left tibia. It’s important to note that there have been people who experience up to 100 fractures in a life time and so safety becomes a core issue.  Still, persons who live with brittle bones as with any disability need to experience life fully and that includes exercise and fitness. In doing research on OI, I found that the more protective one is towards an individual the less independent that person may become. But with gentle exercises such as swimming, persons can obtain movement and muscle building while reducing stress on their joints and bones.  My work outs began when I became a dancer back in the 1990’s and used exercise as a means of strengthening especially when I began dancing on the floor and using my full body for movement. This gave me a strong foundation to begin working with Kate, and a year and a half later I have come to see my body change in ways I could not imagine.


kateside2I have greater muscle strength in my legs, arms, core and back. I no longer have upper back pain due to strengthening my back muscles that were once very weak. I have more flexibility in my hips and legs and can get in and out of my chair with greater ease.  Exercises that I do with Kate and on my own include Cardio with a hand/leg cycle that I perform for 30 minutes once a week and using hand weights to strengthen my back, chest and arms.  I use Thera bands to increase muscle strength in these same areas and a stability ball that I sit on for dynamic strengthening of my core, legs and arms.  I’m now able to work on planks in which I lie flat on my stomach with my heels up against the couch and using my arms I push myself up straight to perform a 30 second plank. I also do standing exercises holding onto my chair and couch to perform squats, front, side and back leg lifts and standing for one minute holding on for 5 seconds and then standing independent for 5 seconds. My next progression to my exercise program will include obtaining a rolling walker to practice walking up to 25 feet in my home. Performance of all of these exercises have contributed to a sense of overall wellbeing, improved strength and a feeling that I too have a choice in how I care for my body and can change or improve in similar fashion as anyone else.


brentWhen working with clients of varying abilities, it is important to have good resources to learn from. As part of Kate’s education to working with clients who have OI, she looks up research articles in scholarly journals on various databases as well as sites such as  In addition, Kate and Brent use resources through the ACSM or American College of Sports Medicine and the NSCA or National Strength and Condition Association. These are two leading organizations that they follow, are certified by and members of. It’s important to note that all new clients, regardless of abilities, go through the same format when beginning to work with both trainers.  This includes a client orientation, health history (comprising of: medical health history, exercise history, injury history, etc.) and then an interview and movement analysis that builds to create an exercise program. In addition, the trainers do research between orientation paperwork and movement analysis. When a client is going to try a new type of exercise that may need medical clearance, Kate and Brent use a specific form to obtain clearance from a doctor before training begins. They also implement a Risk Stratification process or check list form to determine the risk of the individual before beginning and whether physician clearance is required for program initiation.



Kate & Brent at the studio in Doylestown

For clients who have possible skin issues such as someone with a SCI, the trainers take added precautions to reduce any potential for skin break down.  With Kate’s two clients who have SCI, beginning with the initial interview and all procedures that follow, this allows Kate to learn about her clients more holistically and reduce any possible issues that could occur.  Kate also voices that a skilled pair of eyes is a great way to reduce skin break down.  If for example a client has potential for skin issues that he or she cannot see or feel, when doing an assessment or work outs, this may lead to the trainer finding something that the client isn’t aware of.  The trainers also take added precautions such as consistently asking questions that include any issues of pain, discomfort or anything else that could arise.


To end, Kate and Brent go on to share that working with their clients has taught them many important lessons such as purpose, compassion and insight.  And through this conference and their everyday work, they want to bring needed exposure to the public and professionals how important inclusion of exercise can be.  Everyone wants to be healthy, everyone wants to feel good about their bodies, and although people may go about it from different angles, the end game and purpose is always universally the same.

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