When personal trainers work with older adults, there are many things they need to keep in mind when compared to younger clients. Today we’re going to review some of the key areas to focus on so that training older adults is a safe and effective endeavor.
Fall Prevention in Older Adults
Preventing falls as we age is something that everyone should bear in mind. The good news is that as a certified personal trainer, there are strategies you can implement to help decrease the risk of a fall both during your sessions and in your clients’ everyday life.
Falls are a major public health concern, coming in as the second leading cause of unintentional injury death, eclipsed only by road traffic accidents. The risk of falls increases significantly as we hit the age of 65, and goes up again over the age of 80. The older your client is, the more you need to be aware of tailoring their training plan to reduce the chance of a fall occurring. Lack of exercise is a major risk factor for fall prevention alongside any chronic illnesses your client may suffer from.
Physical activity is recommended by WHO Heidelberg Guidelines for virtually all older individuals, providing physical, physiological, and social benefits. Regular physical activity can also reduce the chance of a fall at home or outside of the training session. In order to help your clients protect themselves in and out of the gym, you need to focus on building their lower body strength and balance. The calf muscles often become weaker as we age, so tailoring exercises to focus on this area can help to keep your clients upright in the future. Make sure you add balance and coordination work and assessments into their workouts, and you’ll be on your way to protecting your clients and keeping them safe in their daily lives.
Exercise Considerations when Training Older Adults
When training older adults, you’ll need to think carefully about how you put together their exercise plan. We all know that personal training isn’t a one-size-fits-all task, and this is even more true when working with this age group. Remember, just because someone is over the age of 65, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t looking for a challenge. However, you need to be aware of their limitations before you start training together and ensure you tailor their plan to accommodate any physical limitations or medical conditions they have. The physical effects of aging don’t just apply to the main limbs of the body, as many people find their hearing, memory, and sight deteriorate as they age, which can impact the types of exercise you need to offer.
Cardiovascular exercise is still important for older adults, but keep in mind a safe max heart rate and cardiac output to work with. Take the time to calculate the maximum heart rate of your older clients based on their resting rate. You’ll want to plan your sessions to keep the intensity and chunk time at a safe level, offering your clients a challenge without pushing them too far.
The respiratory system is a key factor to review also, as many older adults struggle with their breathing mechanics when training. Self-pacing and offering them different options can help them to overcome optimally and ensure they feel good at the end of every session. Always offer your clients breather breaks while training in a way that doesn’t require them to fully sit down and recover, but instead keeps them mobile and active throughout your time together. Even just walking it out or marching in place is a good approach.
Top Chronic Conditions in Older Adults
While chronic conditions can impact us at any stage in our life, you’ll find that these often increase in frequency and intensity as we age. Knowing how to train some of the most common chronic conditions can help to set you apart as a personal trainer training older adults and protect your clients when working together.
Dementia is a leading cause of death within Australian women and can be a huge challenge to train clients with. Including functional exercises that are easy to remember and using tactile cues can keep clients with dementia safe at all times.
Arthritis is another condition that’s extremely common as we age, requiring you to plan a progressive strength training program. Using strength training machines is your best bet and you can use adaptive devices to help them progress with their training plan. Clients may experience a flare-up of their conditions at any time, which may require you to adjust the program for that day to avoid further aggravation.
Osteoporosis is very common within the over 75s, impacting women more than men. The severe pain that’s experienced with this condition means you need to avoid jarring movements or anything that may put too much pressure on the joints.
These are just a few of the top conditions to be aware of, but you’ll find many others that you may come across as you start to train more people in this age group.
Dispelling Myths When Training Older Adults
Working with seniors can be just as enjoyable as working with your youngest and most capable athletes, if only you educate yourself on some of the common misconceptions about working with this age group. Older adults who opt to come to your classes or train with you are willing to put in the effort to get the results they want. Most of them truly want to be there training, as opposed to being forced to be there by a doctor or family member. It’s important for you to add elements into your classes that focus on building bone density and protecting your clients from falls, so make sure this is something you keep in mind for every class.
Your older adult clients don’t necessarily need to be wrapped up in cotton wool during your classes. Instead, we encourage you to focus on creating an open dialogue that will allow them to feel comfortable expressing if they feel any pain or discomfort. You will find that even playing a sport such as soccer is perfectly appropriate with this age group, as they can just remove themselves as needed to take a break. Older adults want to relive their youth and continue enjoying their bodies for as long as they can, so keep this in mind when planning your sessions.
By focusing on these four areas when working with older adults, you can create an inclusive and welcoming environment during any training session. You’ll find they are an extremely rewarding group of people to work with, which is why we encourage any personal trainer to welcome clients of all ages to their classes.
PS: If you’d like to specialize in training older adults, check out our Seniors Fitness Certification Course.