While most gyms seek to build muscles, Fitness for Health in Rockville aims to also build confidence and self-esteem.
Marc Sickel founded the gym 23 years ago as a creative approach to help special needs children and adults. provides multi-sensory and individualized programs for children and adults with varying skill levels. Its equipment is designed to help those with coordination and motor delays, autism, ADHD/ADD and other learning disabilities, weight management and self-esteem issues. Personal trainers also use the equipment to work with adults struggling to get back to health and groups seeking a team-building exercise or birthday party.
A fire in the store next door destroyed the gym, at 11140 Rockville Pike, a year ago. Sickel rebuilt the gym, bigger and better than before. The new gym, fitted out with a glow-in-the dark climbing wall and high-tech electronic games, reopened in June.
Instead of rows of treadmills and stationary bicycles, the first thing one sees on entering is a 5-foot wide, 30-foot long trampoline.
Twin brothers D.J. and Matt Ficca, 21, of Chevy Chase, walked merrily back and forth on the trampoline one day last week.
The trampoline works on balance and perception, Sickel said.
The twins, who are highly functioning on the autism spectrum, have been going to Fitness for Health weekly for 8 to 10 years, said Meredith Ficca, their mother.
“They were hyperactive and energetic,” she said. “This helped integrating sensory things they were overwhelmed by.”
The boys were able to move from special education schools to in Bethesda as a result of the gym and a lot of therapy work, Ficca said. Matt graduated in June and will attend a special program at in the fall. D.J. lost a year of school due to illness and will graduate next June.
The twins work on their gross and fine motor skills in the gym.
From the trampoline, they moved to a XerPro wall, where they ran on soft flooring that was marked to resemble a football field, and threw balls at lighted targets. The wall was originally designed for tennis players working on accuracy, Sickel said.
Next, they moved to the Trazer, which is a floor-sized adaptation of Nintendo Wii-style video games that require players to move their bodies on the floor sensors.
“You’ve got to make exercise fun,” Sickel said.
The gym also features an interactive climbing wall, a glow-in-the dark climbing wall and a laser maze.
D.J. said he liked the sport wall best. Matt said the trampoline, changed his answer to the sport wall, then said, “I like it all.”
“A lot of research shows, you take a cognitive component, put it in movement, you increase the learning curve,” Sickel said.
Success builds success, he said. By building confidence and self-esteem in children with autism or cerebral palsy, they become willing to take healthy risks, he said.
“The child will not be so consumed with the idea of failure and too anxious to participate,” Sickel said.
The gym is open seven days a week. It takes clients by appointment only, except on Friday nights, when the gym is open at a rate of $15 per hour for the first child and $10 for each additional child. Individual instruction costs about $110 for a 50-minute session.