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Training clients who are 56+: a guide for success.

Training clients who are 56+: senior woman performing a stretch on a yoga mat and smiling.

In recent years, many studies have come out revealing that decline in health really starts to impact us in tangible ways starting in our 50’s. While this might not be true for everyone, it is true for a lot of people in different ways. There are many aspects of our body that play major roles in our health that start to decline at or by the age of 50. One example is gut health. Our gut, for the most part, maintains a healthy level of “bad” and “good” bacteria. However, in our 50’s we start to see that balance erode overtime, leaving us with a higher concentration of “bad” bacteria. So training clients who are 56+ may take some extra consideration. This guide will show you exactly what type of mindset to approach training your senior clients with.

Much like any client, it all starts with the assessment

Because personal training intersects with a lot of areas in people’s lives, the assessment is one of the most important aspects of starting a successful fitness journey with your clients.

Make sure you really spend time in assessing their past injuries, conditions, ailments, goals, and anything else that you feel is reasonable. Now this isn’t to say that everytime you are training clients who are 56+ years old that they will have a long, extensive medical history. You might get someone who’s 60 and can run a faster mile time then you.

I regularly go do the incline here on the weekends and get passed up by people who are old enough to be my grandparents…with a mountain bike on their back. The best part is, I’ll finish the incline and start making my way down the ~3.4 mile trail to the bottom and get passed by them…on their second pass.

So if there is anything that speaks to this, don’t over or underestimate anyone’s health or fitness levels. Just do some really solid assessments.

Make sure you place emphasis on monitoring progress

This really depends on what the goals are of your client and where they are in terms of physical fitness and health levels. Really you want to make sure you are setting expectations and goals along the way that are realistic.

If you have a client that has come to you and has not been physically active for a long time, then be prepared to set smaller, more realistic goals.

However, it’s always how to tell how people’s bodies adapt to stress like physical fitness. One person may adapt amazingly and see better results. While another person’s body might adapt at a slower rate.

Just make sure you monitor the progress heavily, always touch base with them to see how they are feeling, and make adjustments to programming based on that.

Consider functional training

Depending on the goals of your client and what they are looking at getting out of fitness training, functional training may be a great option for them.

What is exactly meant by functional training? Functional training trains your body to get better at performing movements that are normal. Depending on the person, this might be slightly subjective. For example, if someone is a football player who plays a specific position and performs certain movements everyday at practice and in games, they would practice certain exercises that help them get better at those movements.

However, for some people, this could be training that helps them say, get out of a chair easier. Getting out of a chair is commonly considered to be an ADL, or, Activity of Daily Living.

There are a lot of ADL’s that become difficult for people who have developed conditions due to old age or due to an injury. Regardless, functional training can really help in these areas.

Be there and provide motivation

Depending on your client, you may get someone who doesn’t have any real experience in the gym or with physical fitness. If this is the case, the image they have of their body only touches the surface of what is possible.

Try to really motivate your clients. Not just physically, but mentally as well. We don’t mean stereotypically cheer them on, although that might help, we mean be there for them. Be there when they might be feeling down and be there when you know they could be doing better.

Incorporate balance exercises

As we age, our bodies systems that help us maintain good balance become less effective. Your body becomes less accurate in taking into account the effects of gravity and spatial awareness. While balance exercises are good for pretty much anyone, they are especially beneficial when training clients who are 56+.

You can incorporate exercises in the warm up, in the actual workout, or in the cool down. It doesn’t really matter where, it just matters that you are incorporating balance work.

The reason why this is so important is because as we approach 65 years of age falls go from something that is momentarily inconvenient to something that can really pose a serious health risk.

Flexibility workouts are just as important

For a lot of people, poor range of motion and tight muscles are not only just “bad flexibility” but also a source of pain. Often times, unknowingly so. Take the sciatica for example. I personally had a run in with this after a hard collision in a football game that strained a muscle in more lower back.

I had no idea then, but that strained muscle would later go on to cause a muscle imbalance in my lower back that would also cause sciatica pain down my right leg. I suffered with it for years until I finally went to a physical therapist. They did work on loosening my tight lower back and fixing the muscle imbalances that I had. Which inevitably helped alleviate the sciatica pain I was dealing with for years.

While the flexibility issue wasn’t the entire cause, it played a role in the pain that I was dealing with. For some older clients, doing something as simple as a frequent stretching routine might actually make significant gains in improving their quality of life if they are dealing with pain on a day-to-day basis or pain in association with certain movements.

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