5 Things Personal Trainers Should Know Before Working With the Senior Population
Senior Population Overview
According to the 2011 Canadian Census, people over the age of 65 make up 14.8% (almost 5 million) of the Canadian population. This has increased by 14.1% since 2006. Of all age groups, the 60 to 64 year old group experienced the fastest increase, at 29.1%. This suggests that population aging will accelerate in Canada in the coming years, as the large baby boom generation, those born between 1946 and 1965, reaches 65 years old. The first baby boomers reached 65 years of age in 2011 (1).
What does this mean to you, the Certified Personal Trainer?
If you are a certified personal trainer, you have an opportunity to expand your business by targeting this ever-growing senior population. The question is are you ready? Seniors tend to have balance, coordination, orthopaedic, cardiorespiratory and muscular-skeletal challenges. They require a more knowledgeable and skilled personal trainer capable of safely and effectively working with their special needs. Most seniors are quite aware of the importance and benefits of remaining physically active for both their health and independence. However, most don’t get enough exercise to meet the minimum fitness standards for their age. This is where you come in. Acquiring advanced education and training in senior fitness is critical in order to help them remain functionally independent for as long as possible. You can do this by taking a one-day workshop or full SeniorFit Certification through Infofit.
5 Things you should know before working with the senior population:
- Perform a More In-Depth Health Screening Assessment
In most cases, a basic PAR-Q may be sufficient for a 20- or 30-year-old-client, but for those clients 60 or older you need to obtain a more thorough health history. A Get Active Questionnaire is a more comprehensive health screening assessment tool that will provide you with a greater understanding of your client’s medical issues and needs. It will also help you determine if medical clearance is required prior to beginning physical exercise.
- Learn and Perform More Relevant Functional Assessments
Testing a senior’s 10-Rm bench or leg press is less relevant to the needs of seniors than assessing their balance and fall risk. One of the biggest fears of most seniors is falling and breaking a bone such as their femur (hip) or spine. By performing a more relevant series of tests, such as those included in the Fullerton Advanced Balance Scale, it will provide you with greater insight regarding your client’s fall risk, as well as give you a starting point regarding program design.
- Prioritize Their Needs
If you have performed a thorough battery of health and functional assessments, you should have a more thorough knowledge of your client’s weaknesses, strengths and fears. Is it more important to train your senior client’s push-up strength, balance or gait? Is it more important to focus on alleviating your client’s fear of gaining weight, falling or cardiovascular disease? In most cases, reducing risk of injury from falling, and improving function (e.g. climbing stairs), takes priority over regular gym exercises such as leg curls and lat pulldowns. Also, take into consideration providing exercises that can be done at home as opposed to requiring a gym.
- Avoid training sessions lasting longer than 30-minutes
Let’s face it. Many seniors have a limited amount of energy for, and interest in exercising. Their ability to focus becomes limited. Designing a 30-minute exercise program (as opposed to 60 minutes) will likely appeal more to seniors and improve their chances of completing it on a regular basis.
- Program more complex exercises early in the workout
It is best to perform more neuro-muscularly complex movements involving balance, agility (e.g. ladder, obstacles), gait and multiple joints (e.g. squats, overhead presses) early on in the workout. Leave single-joint exercises (e.g. arm curls), seated movements and “floor-work” near the end.
To learn more about training the aging population and functional exercises that work best, consider taking one of the following upcoming training workshops hosted by Infofit.
written by: Andre Noel Potvin, Msc, B.Ed, ACSM, BCRPA-TFL, ACE