Gym Owner Monthly

UK Gym Breaking Boundaries with Adaptive Athletes as the Focal Point

The role of a coach can often include getting creative with movement substitutions when it comes to an athlete with an injury or recovering from surgery. While it isn’t that frequent for most, Craig Graham, the owner of CrossFit Alt Movement, is always thinking of new ways to help his adaptive athletes succeed.
One big thing: Graham opened CrossFit Alt Movement, located in the United Kingdom, in January of this year after discovering a gaping hole for athletes with disabilities. He found that many trainers in a gym or even the personal training setting lacked the knowledge of how to modify movements so the athletes could adapt to the activity in a meaningful way.
  • Graham said he first started working with athletes with disabilities when a woman reached out to him to train her son with cerebral palsy. He was so successful others began to reach out asking Graham to train their children.
  • “Within the span of a year, my entire business transformed from training your able-bodied clients or your everyday people into a complete adaptive coach,” he said.“It sort of happened naturally and organically and before you know it my business changed.”
  • Graham’s popularity grew so much so that he created a wheelchair weightlifting club that operated out of a community center and then out of a CrossFit gym.
  • “We wanted to sort of create a vision around what we were doing but in a cool environment rather than your standard disability training where it’s a very therapy based focus.”
After moving into the CrossFit space, Graham said the class exploded and from there he came up with the “Alt Movement” concept. The idea behind it is the athlete is not moving in the standard way a conventional person would and “it’s exploring ideas of how individuals with a disability can move and how they can still get the same stimulus from a workout, but by using different concepts or different alternative ways of moving.”
While operating out of CrossFit Thurrock Graham toyed with the idea of opening his own gym specifically for disabled athletes.
  • “We felt that it was a point where we needed to either make that jump or continue at this level. So I’ve done the crazy thing of putting everything on the line, drawing all my life savings and putting my house down as collateral on a unit,” said Graham.
  • “January this year is when we first launched so we managed to find a unit suitable for wheelchair access with big enough doors, a disabled bathroom. We’ve got everything in place.”
  • “This has allowed us to bring in more schools. This allowed us to bring in more service providers. So there’s providers that come in and sort of work with adults with disabilities to have after their education is finished.”
Aside from his adaptive athletes in the gym, Graham also brings in local schools who have students with disabilities to help P.E. teachers find movements that work rather than just having them sit on the sidelines.
  • “Some of the teachers were absolutely all in because they couldn’t understand how we were getting them to do these things, but their traditional methods of P.E. wasn’t necessarily working as well,” said Graham. “A lot of stuff is very different, as you can imagine for physical and learning disabilities. It’s very much game based, a lot shorter workouts and lower skill.”
CrossFit first launched the adaptive training course as a specialty course in 2017. Conversations surrounding adaptive divisions being added to the Games were ongoing, but didn’t come together until 2021—the first year adaptive divisions were added. The Wodapalooza competition in Miami, FL has also historically included several adaptive divisions within their event.
Graham has big hopes to expand into more schools and continue to build CrossFit Alt Movement and shine a light on the adaptive CrossFit community.
“For me it’s so much more rewarding being able to do this than what I was doing previously. Don’t get me wrong. I love working with able-bodied people, I still coach able-bodied CrossFit classes. But I feel like this is so much more rewarding and educating others around it,” he said.