Senior Fitness

In college, I worked at the Olive Garden and had a variety of people I waited on. My least favorite: “old people.” There are always exceptions, but the majority of people I got seated over the age of 55 were grumpy, unappreciative of my stellar service, and tight with their tipping (at $2.33/hour I kind of lived on tips). Growing up, my grandparents weren’t the most active and watching them age was no fun. With my shallow experience and view of senior citizens, I really held a gloomy idea of growing old and never wanted to do it.

It’s no surprise then,
the last thing I wanted to do was grow old.

That was, until my first professional job in Tomahawk, Wisconsin in 2002. I was hired to be a manager/trainer at a local health club attached to an 18-hole golf course. This was my first encounter with “Snow Birds,” people that left for warmer climates during the harsh Wisconsin winters only to return in the Spring. I was amazed to see so many “old people” coming back with their stories of travel and adventure getting a workout in before hitting the golf course. People 55, 60, 70 years in age traveling the world, living life to its fullest, and staying physically active – I was inspired! From there, my outlook on life began to change; I wasn’t opposed anymore to growing old. No longer do I see it as something you do before you die, but an opportunity to do more while you live!

“We are meant to grow strong and age gracefully.”
Gray Cook

At first, I was giving them exercises the text books in college told me I should: machine-based, low intensity, and for Cripe’s sake – don’t do anything that may make them off-balanced! I quickly realized providing this type of training to my senior clientele was a complete disservice! This population was thirsting for challenging, engaging exercises creating an atmosphere to improve their (real world) strength, mobility, and balance (stability) – more than just standing on one leg! I began introducing a variety of equipment that used to be “off-limits” to them based on what they were previously told: barbells, dumbbells, stability balls, medicine balls, and more! I wish I could say I never made a mistake over 13 years ago, but I would be lying. There were exercises I was asking my 55+ age group to perform then that today I would have slapped my younger self for doing! However, I learned from these mistakes and have grown in knowledge and compassion for training a senior population highly ignored, and if not ignored, under-trained.

3 tips I have found to better train the
Young at Heart clientele:

No Machines – EVER
I’m pretty much against machine-based training in general, but adamantly opposed to it when it comes to senior training! Machine-based training is a method used for bodybuilding, and unless your 60-year old client is training for a competition, give them more practical exercises. I remember what my books used to say about machines and seniors – it is a good method for an older population because they can build strength and not worry about losing their balance. Well, that’s all fine and dandy until they get off of the loss-of-balance-enabling device and do attempt to do something with your new-found strength and WHOOPS fall.

Avoid Single Leg Balance Drills and Exercises
If someone is unable to stand on one foot and balance like a BOSS for 10 seconds – we have no business “training/practicing” any exercise on one leg or single leg balance.  This took me awhile to figure out.  There are bigger issues that need attention at a lower level of “balance.”  Take home point here: if someone looks like a one-legged flamenco dancer while standing on one foot and we ask them to continue doing that crazy dance during a session, all we are doing is reinforcing a VERY bad movement pattern.

Spend More Training Time on the Ground
This is essential. Our senior population needs this the most because for a majority of them – its the one place they don’t want to be. It sounds odd, but if you can get your clients moving better on the ground, it will show more when they are on their feet!

Fast forward today and we are quite enjoying some of our more “young at heart” clients and training them for what life demands: mobility, stability, and strength.  Here is a wonderful testimony by one of our fitness family members, Joan:

Joan with the Kettle Bell Suitcase Carry on a 2×4

At my training today, I was reminded about when I first contacted Fitness Lying Down, I asked, “Do you think I can do this?”

Let me start by saying that I am 66 years young and have exercised daily since the age of 28. I did everything: long distance running, stair stepper, elliptical, step aerobics, aerobic classes, Pilates, yoga, weight machines, free weights, and, of course, the treadmill. I tried all sorts of CD programs, most recently a Beachbody 21 day fit program. Everything but the treadmill (that did aggravate my runner’s knees and shin splints when I tried to do interval training on it) eventually caused me some sort of injury A couple of times, the injury sent me to physical therapy. It wasn’t that I couldn’t do the exercises. It was because I was doing it wrong and there was no one to correct me. Sometimes it was because I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it….of course a lot of times I was exercising with 20 and 30 somethings.
So here I was, 66, doing the treadmill daily and becoming less fit, feeling less strong and more fragile. Then a “suggested” page showed up on Facebook: Fitness Lying Down. I looked into it and became very intrigued (I believe everything happens for a reason…no mere chance here), hence the initial question. I went in for a Functional Movement Screen and signed up for the intro training. I was blown away by what I couldn’t do. Tight joints, bad balance, weak upper body, just to name a few short comings. I was determined to regain all that I had lost over the years. I am determined NOT to become that elderly woman who is hunched over, picking her way gingerly across the parking lot, asking for help to lift things. Fast forward 3 months: my posture is upright and I am not only looking strong, I FEEL strong! I appreciate the fact that they keep a very close eye on my posture/position/alignment during my training. If I say I am feeling something not right, they correct my body positioning to alleviate any chance of injury. I am also very grateful that they started me out at the level I could do and increased my ability at just the right pace…from the floor up!
This workout is not just for young people…women will appreciate that the majority of exercises I am doing is what I was taught to do in some form or another when I went to physical therapy to increase bone density to stave off osteoporosis.

I am so glad I found this fitness is something I can do and feel real results. Good health and fitness are priceless commodities. Once they are lost, it takes effort to get them back. I am grateful that I am on the right track and plan to stay on this track for a long, long time!!!!