Age Is NOT A Disability, Stop Treating It Like One
Please STOP treating your aging clientele like they are “OLD.” And for those of you older adults who have goals of being physically active, healthy and high functioning for a lifetime (at any age), age itself can never be seen or treated as a disability. Sure, the process of aging presents different challenges that require smarter approaches to training to achieve true longevity. But that’s what intelligent training is all about.
As lifelong athletes and fitness professionals, we are the energy setters, we are the ones who inspire effort by educating and teach our clients how to move safely and efficiently and we are the ones who assist our clients in achieving things they didn’t think were possible. If we treat our older adult clients, or ourselves as we age, like they are fragile, frail and too weak to train themselves stronger then they will greatly struggle to see improvements and to overcome their physical limitations. There is an unhealthy mindset for training older adults that the fitness industry has adopted over the years that I like to call “common practice.”
Common practice is following what the majority of the industry has done without questioning why. One fitness professional learned it from the previous and as the industry advanced its training techniques for athletes and the general public little was done in terms of advancing training disciplines for the older adult. In this case, the common practice mindset says to train older adults like they slowly dying instead of improving their physical and mental ability so they can live a fulfilling lifestyle into their golden years. We must change our mindset or else our clients are doomed. We must challenge them to grow and overcome limitations and the best way to do this is with resistance.
What are the benefits of resistance training for older adults? A basic search says:
- To improve muscular strength and tone to protect your joints from injury.
- To maintain flexibility and balance which can help you remain independent as you age.
- Resistance training may help reduce or prevent cognitive decline in older adults.
Can you think of ANY other demographic that can benefit from resistance training MORE than older adults? I feel like resistance training was made for the aging population however, our industry has created a common practice that say older adults shouldn’t lift anything over 30 pounds, they should sit down while exercising and only training on machines, they shouldn’t lift anything over their head, power based movements are never to be performed to prevent injury and they shouldn’t get up and down off the ground without assistance.
Did you know that 70% of older adults over the age of 70 will DIE as a result of a fall? Can you think of a better reason to train your older adult clients to be able to get up and down off the ground by themselves? Is there a better reason to increase their bone density, tendon strength and joint stability knowing that the chances of them dying from a fall are so high? We have to make a change. We have to take a stand and lead by example utilizing science based and researched application techniques as our primary weapon. We can literally save our clients lives by breaking out of the “common practice” mindset and helping to increase their independence and drastically improve their quality of life.
The 10 Commandments of Training For Longevity
I hope my ten commandments for training the older adult below will assist you in your endeavors of working with such a rewarding and proud demographic while continuing to rewrite the book on “common practice” on intelligent training at any age.
#1 Do NO Harm
The majority of older adult clients have worked with a personal trainer prior to working with you however, it ended poorly and/or they were not impressed with their service. The reason this potential client is coming to you is typically due to one or more of the following experiences:
- They felt like the product or quality of service they were receiving wasn’t worth the investment.
- They felt like the quality of personal attention, specific and personalized programming and progressive coaching they were receiving wasn’t worth the investment.
- They felt that the exercises they were asked to perform were injuring them or potentially leading them toward injury.
Ultimately, their personal trainer was NOT improving their quality of life. They did NOT feel value in their service, they did NOT trust their personal trainer to build them a proper program and they didn’t feel like their trainer was safely implementing the proper exercises that best fit their needs.
You need to know that you are being compared to a poor experience, the client is coming in skeptical of your service, but they are prepared to commit to a good program and want to be won over as they are continuing to pursue a fitness professional’s services. We, the personal trainers, need to be the answer to our client’s problem, not the cause of a new problems and we need to establish a high-quality level of trust and value with our new potential client in the personal trainer – client relationship.
#2 Resistance Training is MOST Important
Getting your client stronger (via resistance training) is the safest and most efficient way to successfully achieve their training purpose (goal). No matter what their training purpose might be or what physical limitation(s) they might have; getting them stronger with resistance training is the foundation in which their success will be built on.
The more solid the foundation, the more successful the clients training program will be as progress can be pursued more aggressively knowing that the body has the strength and stability to work at higher levels.
Resistance training (via consistent or progressive resistance loads) can successfully address most bone and joint limitations including arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, osteopenia, muscular atrophy and more.
#3 Program Design Movements that Assist in Address Daily Life Movements
Pulls from over-head and off the floor are daily life movements that address shoulder strength, range of motion and joint stability to assist in daily live movement. Proper hinges, horizontal rows, split stance movements and loaded carries are all components that prepare us for activities performed on a daily basis. Training to perform these movements efficiently is vital to the future of our clients, reducing or ending their pain in areas affected by limitations and improving their over-all quality of life.
#4 Master Proper Hinging Mechanics and Strength
The average person performs over 100 hinges a day however the majority of them simply “bend over” exposing their lower backs to injury. Proper pick-ups are actions that should be taught, practiced and mastered in the gym with the intention of applying these techniques to daily life activities. It’s our job to educate our clients on the “how’s and whys” of perform a proper pick-up. Having a cognitive understanding of the movement, the risks that accompany poor performance and the great benefit of performing the movement correctly is vital to our clients successfully and to the likelihood of them practicing on a regular basis.
#5 Master Proper Shoulder Retraction Mechanics and Strength
Shoulder blade retraction is one of the key components to proper posture. Sternum and rib-cage placement must be set first to establish a foundation to frame the posture on. After that, the shoulders should be trained to retract down and back. Cues like “blades in your back pockets” or “anti-shrug” are great reminders to establish and maintain a proper posture to work from. With the rib cage set and the shoulder blades retracted the head can be trained to prevent or progressively retract reducing the “forward head” position often found with older adults. Preventing or reducing the “forward head” positioning can decrease neck pain/discomfort and improved posture throughout the aging process.
#6 Develop Over Head “Pulling” Strength Over “Pressing” Strength
Overhead pulls are the first action we teach out older adult clients to establish a overhead movement pattern with them that can be progressed. I like to start with simulated chin-ups with a super band rigged over a pull up bar. This increases overhead range of motion and works on developing scapular retraction strength. Second, we work on deltoid strength development a range of motion with shoulder raises of all different angles and ranges. Third, we will develop over-head pressing range of motion and strength. We do this with our clients unilaterally first in an attempt to establish muscular equality on each side. Then we will up with bilateral pressing our clients if we deem it necessary. However, we rarely do bilateral pressing with our older adult clients as muscular equality, at this point in their lives, typically takes a LONG time to accomplish.
#7 Add Loaded Carries to EVERY Workout
Loaded carries are the “sit-ups” of the 1980’s, the ab-roller of the 1990’s and the trend setting core exercise of the 2000’s as the sports of Crossfit and Strongman have made carrying heavy loads a featured component to workout routine. Loaded carries are a key core development exercise as they improve overall core strength development, they improve posture, allow for loaded gait practices and increased grip strength which is a big indicator of overall body strength. Loaded carries, as a workout component of your blueprint, can be achieved via complexes in which weight is held for long periods of time while performing lunges, split squats, step ups, uphill carries, sled drags, sled pulls (as long as the hands are holding the load and not strapped to the body via a harness) and more.
#8 Gait Strength = Fall Prevention
The majority of older adults, especially those that have limited or no experience with resistance training, share three common limitations. They have poor posture dictated by forward and internally rotated shoulders that impinge their overhead movement. They also have a tucked butt (anterior pelvic tilt) hip position and the dreaded forward head thoracis collapse. These three issues all lead to a slew of physical limitations but none bigger than the limited gait performed by many slow little baby steps. The mindset is that these small slow steps will help protect them from falling down when in reality it makes them MORE susceptible to falling as the base in which their body is trying to coordinate movement and stabilize is really small and they are rather top heavy.
Three key training components that can overcome these limitations and improve their gait control is addressing the strength, stability and mobility of the shoulders, hips and ankles. Implementing a full body resistance training program, with a specific focus on the posterior chain, will greatly aid in improving their posture. Improved posture leads to a more stable and balanced body position in space allowing for a more natural, stable and stronger gait. With a wider base, a longer stride and a balanced core the ability to lose balance and fall is greatly reduced for the older adult.
#9 Power Training is for ALL Ages… Especially Older Adults
Power training is a BIG part of training the older adult, improving their strength and greatly reducing their risk of falling. Our style of power training is programed differently than you might think. Typical power training propels the body into flight via box jumps, depth jumps, broad jumps, skips, bounds and sprints and/or by accelerating a barbell via snatches or clean & jerks. When training the older adult we feature power training by performing slight negative/eccentric body weight movements like drop squats, pop squats or quick switch step ups. Those that do perform these advanced older adult plyometric movements achieve this over months or years of proper progression and are assured of their strength and ability to perform the correctly and safely.
To help bridge the gap between slow, gradual and progressive strength and power training we implement a large variety of release drills with our clients as they get to decelerate, accelerate and fully release an implement (like a between the leg vertical medicine ball toss) maximizing their ability to produce power but not have to deal with the follow through of the movement (like they would performing a snatch or clean and jerk) after its created. Release drills are relatively safe to perform, allow for maximum power to be produced, reduces deceleration stress on the joints and are really fun for clients to perform as throwing and slamming implements is quite enjoyable.
#10 Changes to the Program Design Challenge the Body and the MIND
Creating a blue print program design that is used on daily basis to deliver consistent and reliable programming assists us in delivering a well-rounded workout routine that is specific to our client’s needs. Proper programming includes a blue print that outlines all the components in which the we deem necessary per client. Some of the regular standard blue print components include horizontal pushes, horizontal pulls, vertical pushes, vertical pulls, squats, hinges, split stance, loaded carries and more.
See our Be STRONGER Fitness Blue Print bellow that features the five training components Hinge, Row, Split Stance, Loaded Carries, Over Head Actions and the two training modalities of Fall Prevention and Power Production. To learn more about this please visit www.trainingtheolderadult.com
With a solid blue print program design created, and a consistent delivery process established we can now develop a physically and mentally challenging workout for our older adult clients. These workouts should be progressive in movement patterns and addresses the physical limitations of our clients. Each workout should be “new” and challenging to create a cognitive interaction of “learning” a new daily routine, mastering the movement patterns and safely applying the movements learned to our client’s daily life experiences.
The two most common questions I get from personal trainers and coaches seeking my assistance in learning more about training older adults are:
- What exercises should I prescribe my clients to help improve their limitations and NOT hurt them any further?
- How do I instruct, cue and progress these exercises best to fit the needs of the older adult?
I hope this article answers the two questions above for you and gives you some direction with your clients. It’s the intention of this article to assist you in learning how to work with this demographic safely and efficiently ultimately provide you the opportunity to help more people, build your business, to expand your knowledge base and to improve your ability to successfully train the older adult. If you have questions, please feel free to contact me via the information below.