When Andrew Edwards started strength training, he discovered fitness could provide the detail, routine and healthy focus he needed. Here, in his own words, he explains how exercise has helped him compartmentalise his autism.
I first started weights sessions when I was 25. Before that I had kept fairly fit, but mainly through circuit training and cardio. It was as if I was just going through the motions.
In April 2017, I felt like I hit a bit of a wall and needed a fresh approach. I was no longer comfortable in the environment I had at the time, and I felt the training sessions had become far too predictable. I had put on a lot of weight due to the stress that was causing me.
I’d wanted to have a healthy diet for years, but due to a lack of education and over-complication from the trainers and instructors I’d encountered, I did not know how to eat well.
I ate all the same foods in a very autistic manner, as eating disorders tend to go hand in hand with the condition. Fundamentally, I felt I needed a change and a new approach.
Comfort is key
My experiences have taught me that you must be comfortable in your environment. Leading up to 2017, everything was just so complicated. Surely it could be simpler?
That’s when I found Number One HSP and a personal trainer called Geraint Roberts. Geraint simplified what could be complex information, in a way that I was able to process. He also encouraged me, while giving out clear, concise advice on how I could improve my training and nutrition.
Thanks to Geraint’s skill at training me, I entered a powerlifting event in March 2018. On the day itself, I broke a personal best in the deadlift and won a trophy!
My exercise sessions, initially with Geraint and now with Chris Hibbert, enable me to successfully compartmentalise my life.
One of the most important pieces of advice that I can offer regarding training is that you must be in an environment that is conducive to you being comfortable in yourself – feeling happy, making the physical and emotional gains you realistically want – while being correctly supported and advised in a modern, scientific manner.
Number One is a calm, accommodating, encouraging, understanding community environment that has enabled me to make tremendous physical, emotional and mental gains, while comfortably executing exercises I never thought I’d be able to.
Very few gyms offer such an inclusive environment, especially for anyone with autism who can be intimidated by the gym setting.
Before I found Number One HSP, I was suffering with severe obsessional behaviours arising from my autism. I was also quite overweight and I’m not ashamed to say that the structure and focus of getting up four mornings a week to be coached by Geraint saved my life.
After Geraint left in February 2020, Chris Hibbert (Hibbo) became my coach and has carried on the fantastic work that Geraint undertook.
In the coronavirus lockdown, he continued to programme full and thorough sessions for me every day at home. These programmed sessions, along with daily walks with my sister Melanie, kept me sane and relaxed.
Usually, I train four mornings a week with Hibbo: three strength sessions and one HIIT workout. I also go for a one-hour run once a week, covering around 7.2 miles (on 16 October I finished my first half marathon in 1:54:10) and during the warmer months I play cricket for Chirk Seconds in the Shropshire County Cricket League.
I enjoy Olympic lifts, especially cleans. I also really enjoy pull-ups and chin-ups, toes to bar, and sumo deadlifts.
All my workouts are programmed by Hibbo on an application called TrainHeroic. Since August 2018, the app has collated every rep of every session in a statistical, data-driven manner, which is perfect for my autism.
Healthy body, healthy mind
After training, I feel I have the power to tackle the stresses and strains of the rest of my day. It helps me compartmentalise my day, which greatly helps my autism, while my thought patterns became clear and coherent.
Without exercise, my family, and my mates, I dread to think what would become of me. To people who claim they can’t fit training into lives, I believe they are missing out on the biggest stress reliever of all.
I also believe it to be an excuse, as even the most time-poor can fit a HIIT session into their daily routine.
Fitness gives me not only physical strength, but also massively helps my mental and emotional state.