Approximately 1.5 million Americans suffer from Parkinson’s disease (PD), with an estimated 60,000 new cases diagnosed each year (www.parkinson.org). Many suffering from PD look to fitness professionals to help delay or reduce the often debilitating effects of the disease. Working with this population can pose significant challenges; however, IDEA member and personal trainer Danielle Vindez finds the task very rewarding. “Over the last 9 of my 13 years as a personal trainer, I have had the gratifying experience of working with several people living with PD,” she states. “It is my impression that clients with neuromuscular challenges wholeheartedly value their personal trainer.”

Based on the research to date and her own years of
experience, Vindez believes that PD clients can up the ante on current fitness programs. “With regular exercise—cardiovascular and strength training—the PD-challenged individual can maintain a good functioning level of
mobility and slow down disease progression,” she argues. “Traditionally, therapy and
exercises were based on teaching compensation for neural motor loss. Exercises were at
a low to moderate level of intensity. Studies today suggest that we may be able to recover the degenerative effect of PD with demand-specific higher-intensity work.”

Vindez has implemented the research findings into her programs and discovered that—following appropriate strength training and acclimation—her PD clients respond well to ballistic movements. “Once a strong foundation is in place, I have found plyometric exercises to be of value,” she says. “When I have clients with PD perform rapid movements, they accomplish the task. If I slow things down, the tendency to ‘freeze’ is more prevalent.”

Fast-paced plyometric training seems a promising protocol for clients with PD, but more research is necessary to determine the absolute validity of such a regimen. Any trainer working with a PD client should have a clear understanding of scope of practice and work closely with the client’s physician.