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The Basics of Training Older Adults

The Basics of Training Older Adults | Franklin Antoian | Expert Articles | 9/22/2016

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Have you trained older adults? If not, you may want to reconsider. According to the United States 2010 Census Bureau report, more than 40 million Americans are age 65 or older. And that number is projected to double to more than 80 million by 2050. That’s a huge potential market for your health and fitness services.

Furthermore, training older adults and helping them maintain or regain the ability to be active and independent can be extremely rewarding. Here are some recommended exercises and workouts for older adults, as well as additional factors to be aware of when working with an older population.

Overview

In general, many older adults are inactive, which means their muscles have atrophied, their heart is not as strong as is it could be, their endurance is limited and they are not as mobile or agile as they would like to be. When designing a program for an older adult client, start with basic forms of resistance, cardiovascular endurance and flexibility. Of course, not all older adults have poor fitness levels, and many are very fit, healthy and active. As always, perform a health and exercise history exam before designing and implementing a client’s program.

Modifying Exercises

Many older adults have multiple health issues, so you'll need to know how to modify exercises based on common health issues including, but not limited to: heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, poor vision, general joint pain and more.

Common Exercises to Avoid

All programs should be designed specifically for each client, but it is generally best to avoid moves that are static, require reaching overhead, use excessive weight, or require quick movements or a high degree of balance.

Strength Workouts

It's important to remember that seniors can build and maintain muscle, so basic resistance training should certainly be included in their workouts. For inactive seniors, begin with basic movements. Standard gym machines can help older clients increase their muscle with less chance of injury. Resistance bands are also effective, yet light and easy for seniors to handle.

Cardio Workouts

Increasing the strength and efficiency of the heart and circulatory system has several benefits for older adults, so be sure to include a safe cardio workout into your clients’ programs. As we age, balance deteriorates, so running on the treadmill is not going to be the best routine for most older adults. Machines that support seniors, including recumbent bikes and seated steppers, are a better choice. Often, walking is the best cardiovascular workout for an older adult.

Flexibility Workouts

In addition to poor range of motion, tight muscles, tendons and ligaments can lead to pain, discomfort and even falls for older adults. A simple stretching routine can help counter the effects of years of tight muscles, as well as increase one’s quality of daily life.

Goals

Just like the rest of the fitness population, seniors have health and fitness goals, too. Help your older adult clients identify their goals based on their abilities and current fitness levels. A sample goal for an inactive senior may be to simply walk to the driveway, bend down and pick up the newspaper each day, or to be able to get down on the floor and play with his or her grandchildren. An active senior may want to complete a race or increase the distance of his or her golf drive. 

Interact

When working with your senior clients, be sure to interact with them just as you would with a client who is closer to your age or demographic. Your senior clients deserve just as much attention as your other clients, and maybe more, due to the highly likelihood of multiple health issues. Plus, seniors have a lot of knowledge and life experience that they are often willing to share. Unfortunately, some seniors feel isolated or lonely, and you may be one of the few people they interact with on a daily basis. Always take the opportunity to try and make their day a bit brighter.