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Blog / 2013 / October / Getting Older, Getting Stronger: Growing...
October 16, 2013

Getting Older, Getting Stronger: Growing Strength in Seniors & Boomers


Client 1 - Jan, a 67-year old woman with osteoarthritis, just had a positive bone density test. Her doctor told her she needs strength training. The fear and frustration is heard clearly in her voice when she asks, "How can I lift weights with arthritis? I don't want to be in pain, but I need to do something!"

Client 2 - Dan, a 72-year old man, is more resigned than hopeful. Still, golf is his passion and he doesn't want to give it up. After a hip replacement 5 years ago, he played well for a time, but now he's losing distance on his drives and he's exhausted toward the end of round. "It's not fun anymore without the strength I used to have; am I just too old or can I get my strength back?"

Fitness professionals who work with baby boomers and seniors listen to these stories every day. People question how they can maintain or increase their strength after joint replacements, heart disease, or even cancer. The answer is that everyone can increase their strength as they age; it just needs to be in a consistent, focused way.

How can fitness professionals encourage seniors to strength train?

Frame strength training as solving a problem.

Identify why the senior needs more strength. In the examples above, Dan doesn't want to give up golf - it's an important part of his life. For Jan, the fitness professional will want to probe further; studies have shown seniors may not be swayed by health problems alone. Does she want to travel? Baby-sit her grandchildren? Linking enjoyable life activities to getting stronger provides the motivation to overcome fear and inertia.

Measure progress in "real life" ways. 

Continually go back to the senior's goals and every day activities. Is it easier to bring in the groceries? Are they navigating stairs better? How's the golf or tennis game? The best part of working with seniors is the rapid gains they make to improve the quality of their lives. They'll share them with you gleefully!
Strength Program Design Tips for Seniors

Keep it simple.

Design strength training programs with just a few exercises for major muscle groups. Explain the exercises fully and why the senior is performing them. For example, explain that a seated row will strengthen their upper back muscles (rhomboids) which will improve their posture and have the added benefit of improving their appearance!

Strength Program Design Tips for Seniors

Take it slow.

Have the senior perform all exercises slowly. Watch their form and make corrections gently and politely ("please and thank you" are appreciated). Give positive feedback for keeping correct form. Use the same exercises for several sessions so your clients understand them well and get a sense of mastery and control.

Keep strength training to 10 - 30 minutes.

Many seniors have fears of being in pain and getting exhausted. You can relieve those fears by explaining to the senior that strength training is not painful but requires focus and precision to get results. Therefore, they'll be performing the exercises for 20 -30 minutes - and they can stop at any time if they feel pain. Develop balance, flexibility and cardiovascular exercises if you need to provide an hour session.

The fitness professional's main goal when working with seniors is to build trust. Trust is extremely important to seniors. They want an expert on making them stronger as well as someone who cares about them and their goals. Celebrate their progress, even small victories, and you'll have a friend for life. Share your experiences or insights from training seniors in the comments below.

Betsy LaMond is an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer and owner of BoomerFit Cape Cod, Fitness Center for Boomers and Seniors located at 947 Main St, Route 6A, Yarmouthport, MA, BoomerFitCapeCod.com. She teaches Mature Adult Fitness at Cape Cod Community College and provides fitness presentations on boomer and senior fitness to senior organizations. She can be contacted at info@boomerfitcapecod.com or 774 313-0784.

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