Anyone that knows a friend or family member with Asperger’s will easily pick out one of their most notable traits: They are obsessively passionate about something, and might not stop talking about it until you say something *insert laughter here*.
Though not always an obsession, those with HFA (High functioning Autism) or Asperger’s like I do may find common ground when discussing the hobby of health and fitness. Of all hobbies, especially for those with sub-par motor skills as us, the topic of bodybuilding just as easily turns into a niche subject for Aspies.
Bodybuilding is the type of hobby that takes immense amounts of dedication, discipline, and consistency; all of these required traits, oddly enough, are characteristic of those on the higher functioning end of the Austim Spectrum. Anywhere from 3 to 15+ hours is spent in training by itself, and that’s deemed the easy part of the lifestyle (hint: nutrition comes heavily into play).
An Aspie’s brain is, essentially, wired to keep working toward something until it is deemed “perfect.” This perfectionism will sometimes exceed the limits of their logic, and the Aspie may drive himself or herself practically mad over dwindling results through time.
One could picture the idea of perfectionism gone too far like this: Someone training at the gym (we’ll say an Aspie) has an overblown set of trapezius muscles (back of the shoulders), and he talks himself into thinking that they’re not large enough. His argument is based on his repeated failures in locking out (fully extending) on a compound lift known as the deadlift.
Though the traps (short for trapezius) may play some factor into the no-lifts (incomplete lift), the lifter must also realize that every other muscle contributes to the lockout as well. From the calves perpendicular to the bar on the ground, all the way up to the latissimus dorsi and rhomboids as the bar crosses the knees, the failure of a single compound cannot be entirely blamed on a single part.
Not only can lifters like the one above be overly perfectionistic about their appearance, but they can also be overly critical about the form in which they use to lift, or about what types of lifts they decide to incorporate into their routines. For some, they will choose to not move up on a weight until they are 100% confident that they have the lift mastered; inevitably, this could leave the lifter to a premature, elongated plateau (effectiveness of training and nutrition reduced).
I went to high school with someone who may have also had Asperger’s; however, I never took the time to ask him. We had a weightlifting class together, and he stuck to the same weight, on the same exercise, for the entire semester.
The intended lift for him was the Olympic Clean & Jerk (C&J). Through the entire semester, he was so fixated on perfecting the first portion of the lift that he never got around to perfecting the movement as a whole.
Ultimately, a person with Asperger’s will find himself or herself stricken with perfectionism in whatever their craft or hobby may be. Some are able to move beyond it, and progress normally, while some remain in a stalemate of “just right.”
Health and fitness are not entirely confined to the world of exercise. Any bodybuilder, power-lifter, or Olympic weightlifter knows this. Nutrition, as a coach mentioned to me, takes up a larger portion of your results than the training.
Anyone that has dined out, or made food for a person with Asperger’s or HFA will notice one cringe worthy trait within our eating habits: We have a tendency to be extremely picky. Often, we may decide to eat the same things on a daily basis, with almost no deviation from those habits.
In nutrition, this pickiness can be either a massive positive, or a grand negative. If a lifter decides that their diet consists solely of chicken, rice, and some greens, then there’s no problem. However, if that lifter is anything like me (eating out at the frozen section of grocery stores), then there may be some potential losses, even at the height of training.
Another issue that Aspies may face regarding nutrition is meal planning. As creatures of habits, we tend to enter a routine; even if that routine doesn’t appear overly ritualistic, we tend to not make time for tasks that may pose as relevant in the future. However, if an Aspie incorporates meal planning into part of their daily routine, then the usually daunting chore of nutrition planning becomes an acceptable part of life.
Overall, those on the spectrum can find joy in just about any hobby. With health and fitness piquing their interests more, you’ll often find that some of the biggest health nuts are, in fact, autistic.