A lot of strength coaches and personal trainers shy away from the older demographic or the Masters athlete. Persons over the age of 60 can be intimidating for trainers. Many of these clients come with aches and pains, complaints of arthritis and perceived limitations as to what they’re bodies are capable of. If trainers do take these clients on, I see many of them using either extremely light weights or machines. Although ANY exercise is better than none, the body is capable of so much! Why limit them!
We are starting to see that the body is capable of incredible things as we age, even into our 70s, 80s and 90s. I have clients who are in their 70s pushing the prowler and doing sleds! With perseverance, proper scaling and progression, and hard work on the part of you and your client, older adults can show great improvements in strength and functional level.
In my practice, I do a mix of small group and personal training on top of my physiotherapy practice. For entry into my Masters and Boomers programs, it is necessary that all new clients do personal training sessions to show safety and competency in the basics. It can be very overwhelming to come into a class where persons have been lifting for over a year. It leads to anxiety, stress and worries that you don’t belong. To harbour a sense of community and set a person up for success I strongly believe that personal training as a transition into group classes is necessary for any client over the age of 60.
When a new client approaches me, I take an extensive medical history and entrance interview. This is more than the PAR-Q and includes medications, beliefs about exercise and past/present aches and pains. I will post my intake questionnaire in a future blog post.
I need to deem a person safe, or can be safe, before I consider a person eligible for group classes. Some aren’t or some aren’t yet and need to reach a certain level before I can deem them safe to enter into classes and that’s an honest conversation you need to have with your client. But if the next step is entry into group classes, then I will begin a series of personal training sessions to teach the fundamentals.
The Fundamental Movements:
Every movement can be scaled and modified to a person’s level. For each person, I begin them on the path to being able to complete an unassisted movement and show them the necessary steps they will take to ultimately reach this goal. Here are the fundamental movements that I incorporate into my sessions.
1. Squats – Limitations in hip and spine mobility and weakness in the stabilizers/primary movers in the lower body can make this movement extremely challenging. Progressing from a box squat above parallel to an independent full depth squat can take a couple of months to achieve. Promoting proper alignment of the low body and teaching a person when they can progress is key to teaching this skill.
2. Deadlifts – VERY often this begins as a simple hip hinge. It may remain a hip hinge for multiple weeks, especially for my older clients with chronic low back pain. Many of my older adults also never deadlift off the floor. Doing a proper assessment of hamstring length is important. Tight hamstrings can prevent proper lumbar stability and therefore, for these individuals, they pull off blocks to raise them off the floor.
3. Split Squats – An important step for getting off the floor. Tightness in the hip flexors is often present that can feel like a pulling at the top of the knee. Being careful for depth as to not aggravate any knee issues
4. Burpees – I get questioned about this one. One of my main objectives is that every client that I have is able to get down and up from the floor safely. This is a huge component of falls prevention and is important for independent living
If your client can master these movements and do so safely, you can be more confident that they will be safe in a small group setting.
Below is a template that I often use for my clients for the sessions leading up to their entry into group classes. There is always going to be modifications within this but my outline always begins with these objectives in mind.
Check it out!