Working With Seniors

When you work with seniors, like any other population, you’ve got to keep them interested and motivated. I started teaching senior aerobics several months ago and found that I was getting bored with my routine. I thought that if I’m bored, my class has got to be bored as well. Something needed to change and fast or I knew that I’d soon be the only person showing up for a workout.

I took inventory of what was available for me to use in class. I had dodgeballs, basketballs, hand weights, rubber tubing, and floor mats. That was it. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do that would be different from our typical warm-up, thirty-minutes of cardio, ten minutes of strength training with weights and bands, a cool down and stretching. I wasn’t sure what my class would like or dislike and was nervous to change the routine.

Then one day I was feeling really under the weather. I had no energy and my brain felt like sludge. After our warm-up, I told everyone to choose a partner and I handed them one ball per group. I was really winging it here and was nervous about what they’d think and how they would react. After all, this class was super picky.

I had the seniors throw the balls back and forth, slowly, then quickly. I made them use underhand throws, overhead throws, catch and throw with one arm, balance on one leg, squat before throwing the ball, etc. Before I knew it, the entire class was in hysterics. I was watching women in their 70s and 80s running around chasing after balls just like they were kids again. It was absolutely amazing. When we were done, everyone was glowing. After this class, I knew what the key to success was going to be: variety, unpredictability, and a little bit of imagination.

From that day on, I’ve done everything from your typical low-impact aerobics class, to follow the leader, basically traveling low impact aerobics, and ball weight training in which you use the ball for resistance instead of dumbbells. The seniors never know what to expect next, which is important. Even if I’m doing a regular aerobics class, I no longer stick to a routine. I like to throw random movements in just to make sure that the class is paying attention (just be sure to cue these really well). It’s so fun to hear. This class is so much fun because you never know what’s coming next.

The great thing about combining playing with working out is that most of the time, the seniors will push themselves a little bit harder, will work up more of a sweat, will complain that class is too short, and will always be motivated to return for another workout. Here’s a prime example. The class after the first ball class, a woman came up to me and said she hadn’t had muscle soreness in a very long time, but after that class, she said that there wasn’t a muscle in her body that wasn’t sore. She was excited because for her, sore muscles represent muscles that are going to be stronger the next time she uses them. This is the whole point of working out.

In terms of weight training, you can apply the same principles that I use in my aerobics class, only in most gyms, you have more toys to play with. You can use stability balls, chairs, resistance bands, dumbbells, machines, the pool, basketballs, racketballs, etc. When you use your imagination, the possibilities are endless. Using toys helps you focus on what the senior client can do as opposed to emphasizing what they can no longer do.

Working with seniors is extremely rewarding and it’s something that every fitness professional should know how to do, especially since the senior population is the fastest growing population in the U.S. If you know how to work with seniors, your income potential is amazing.

Amy Giaquinto is an NFPT, ACE, and YMCA Certified Personal Fitness Trainer and Aerobics Instructor currently working in Longmont, CO.

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These resources are for the purpose of personal trainer growth and development through Continuing Education which advances the knowledge of fitness professionals. This article is written for NFPT Certified Personal Trainers to receive Continuing Education Credit (CEC). Please contact NFPT at 800.729.6378 or [email protected] with questions or for more information.