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What I Have Learned & Observed While Training Older Adults

Just as in in any profession when one is helping others to learn or do better at something – it is a two way street. A teacher that thinks they know everything is not learning any more. As a fitness professional I bring knowledge and experience the the table but my clients always have much to share.

1. They teach me how to be creative.

This crowd walks into the gym with life experiences. These experiences all involve their bodies. They have played sports, still play sports or have led successful lives that were in the office. They have overcome cancer, knee replacements, hip injuries or have no serious joint issues at all. They are living with scoliosis or sciatica pain. They are afraid of dementia, have friends that have issues walking up stairs and have fears of becoming fragile. It can be a multiple choice aspect of what makes up an older adult client. Because of that diversity there is no standard way for them to move.

While training such a wide variety of individuals I am constantly learning new ways to be creative. For instance a client may not be able to perform a standard deadlift with a barbell. At the same time they do pick up things up off the ground and they enjoy gardening.

2. They enjoy the community of a gym.

Diversity in any setting benefits everyone involved. Clients come to recognize and cheer on younger individuals working with their trainer. On the flipside nothing is more inspirational than seeing someone your mothers or grandmas’ age pushing hard at the gym. Of course there is always a nod of recognition and respect between those at the gym with grey hair. They are still there. They are putting in the work and sweating just as much if not more than those half their age. Those younger clients can see that moving well does not have an age limit. Of course my clients will be amazed by impressive feats of strength and power at the gym and at the same time let me know that they do not want to do it. 🙂

3. They like to be challenged just like any one else.

Often at the beginning someone may be apprehensive and be understandably afraid of being hurt. This fear can come from past injuries, bad experiences with fitness professionals or chronic pain. As they begin to see that they are walking into a safe space to be challenged, fail, learn and practice that is where the magic happens. Now they begin to become focused on improving and moving better. The see that progress can be mixed with setbacks but the important part is showing up to learn and practice. They all know that after a period of them being comfortable with a movement that they have have mastered I will through them a “curve ball.” Only with those often subtle “curve balls” can they continue to improve.

What interesting is across the board – balance training is the area more than any where they want to do better. Often they want to do “just one more” or ask for a re-do. You may not be literally measure balance training as there is no number…they are excited when they do better.

4. They can have more determination and grit than individuals half their age.

Often there is very little complaining or saying “I can’t do that.” There is a sense of urgency to do better and improve. I have actually spoken with a client after a session about a movement that she was really struggling with. I felt it was becoming something so challenging that I was considering taking it out if she was literally dreading it every week. The last thing I want is to create that kind of stress in a clients life. Challenging and practicing being better is one thing. But becoming frozen is another. I knew she physically could do it. It was all mental. She told me that she wanted to continue doing it. We did and she improved. She overcame that largely mental barrier and came out on the other side. She gets all the credit for preserving. Never did she say, “I can’t” or “I won’t.”

5. It is really cool to see the lightbulb moments.

When helping someone to move better sometimes it is less of a physical challenge than a mental one. On the other hand it can be the other way around. Either way when a client has been able to put things together to improve a movement it is awesome to witness. To an outside party it may seem nuanced, easy or an accomplishment that is not that challenging. At ground level the client is excited, high fives are warranted and they know there is no turning back. I call that graduation day!

6. Gains/improvements largely have nothing to do about the numbers.

Often in the fitness industry and in things we read volume and doing more is the goal. The higher the poundage or reps can be considered better. Of course there is a place for that. There is benefit to pushing more weight or doing more especially if form does not suffer. On the other hand the ability to do more and do it better in everyday life is what often resonates with older adults more. The ability to pick up a grandchild is priceless. There is no measurement to that. Being able to get in out of a kayak with no assistance means independence. There is no independence scale to step on. At the same time as they become stronger at performing a deadlift, lifting things off of the ground is easier. They may brag about being able to do a 100lb deadlift, but bigger bragging rights are being able to do yard work and move things with little to no help.

7. They remind me about the important things in life.

Clients often share stories about their vacations and trips. They talk about what they were able to physically do. People are able to enjoy their family and friends and make new memories. They love being able to tell others that they don’t need help to physically do something. I as much as anybody get tied up in things that if I stepped back and looked at it are not that important. Technology and society is often in instant gratification mode. Things have to happen now. We don’t have time to wait. We have to get to where we want to go now. As I share my own growth, mistakes and frustrations with my clients they remind me directly or in their own way what is really important.

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