Last week, someone on the Defranco Insider Facebook group asked a question that got me thinking:

Any advice on training a 55 yr old inexperienced lifter? I agreed to it and I’m starting to doubt that decision.

While that sounds like an age discrimination case waiting to happen (you shouldn’t apply bias or generalizations to old folks–they’re very sensitive, fragile creatures), it’s a sentiment to which I can reluctantly relate.  First off–addressing this particular case–55 is on the low-end of senior citizen (a 55 year old discount seeker would almost certainly get carded at Denny’s).  Nevertheless, it’s two or three decades older than most personal trainers, and that scares a lot of them.  After all, your biggest concern as a trainer should be your clients’ safety.  You don’t want some old bird dying under your squat bar, right?

Unfortunately, what many new trainers fail to realize is:

  1. How resilient and adaptable the human body is even in its advanced years.
  2. How much of a gold mine a veteran of living can be to their business.

Here are three points to support the latter.

Training seniors makes you a better trainer

Have you heard the expression, “everyone should train like an athlete”?  I challenge you to adopt a new, commutative expression: everyone should train like a senior citizen.

A lot of trainers and coaches would drool over the opportunity to work with a professional or collegiate athlete.  If this is your current reality–congratulations–you have a Ferrari; try not to wreck it.  In my two year stint as a personal trainer (brief, but rich), I’ve grown to appreciate fixing up classics.

To my clients who may read this: the above is just an analogy.  I do not think of you as performance automobiles…you aren’t that cool ;).

When you start with someone who is old enough to be your mother (or mother’s mother), you’re extremely careful, paying special attention to every inch of motion.  You’re keen to any sign of pain; facial wincing, colorful old-timey expressions, or otherwise.  You start from the ground floor of movement and gingerly work your way up, taking special care to ensure they apply proper tension and breathing mechanics to every movement.

This living thing is in your hands.  There are five small children counting on chocolate chip cookies today–don’t kill the source of their warm chewy goodness!

My point in all of this is, whether you’re working with a high octane athlete, or old man jalopy Jones, the anatomy, energy systems and movement patterns all remain the same.  Every one of your clients should get the same ground-up attention and care.  When you’re forced to apply this level of TLC to your older clients, your younger, more spry customers enjoy the same benefit (whether the whippersnappers appreciate it or not).

Training seniors motivates your other clients

I train people in small groups (four or less) almost exclusively, and shared suffering emits an awesome energy; one that allows joy to form in a chrysalis of pain .  Two types of clients keep the energy buzzing: those with positive attitudes, and those who overcome the challenges many able-bodied people take for granted (myself included on occasion).  It’s seniors who often embody both these traits.  Frankly, they’re inspiring.

Imagine yourself as a 30 year-old man in decent shape, trying to push through your fourth triple set, and wanting nothing more than to drop the bar, punch your trainer in the throat, and walk out the door.

What is going to inspire you more?  Your trainer–the one who put this freakin’ bar on your back–screaming at you to drive through your heels for the 8000th time, or the 66 year old woman in front of you, carrying half of her body weight 100 yards up hill for the third time that day (without complaining).

Judy, the woman from the picture above has answered that question for me time and time again.  My younger clients, on several occasions, have gone out their way to tell me that the biggest reason they’re able to press through the crap I put them through is because they see Judy doing it with her head up and her mouth shut.  I admit there has even been an occasion or two when her performance convinced me to complete a workout that I had originally planned on blowing off for the day.  I should be paying her.

Training seniors will almost certainly bring in more business

Older folks (not the crotchety ones) have accumulated a lifetime worth of friends (except the really old ones whose friends are all dead).  I’m riding on the coat tails of the point above, but when friends and family of your senior clients see the transformation that they’ve made in their lives, they want to know how they did it…this is where you get to put on your cape and puff out your chest.

My wife, unbeknownst to me, snapped that picture of Judy carrying a loaded trap bar up our hill, and posted it on Facebook.  Within 15 minutes, I received three private messages from people asking about my rates and services.  Now, you might want to make sure it’s ok with your clients before using their likeness for monetary gain, but legal ramifications aside, it’s a heck of a marketing strategy.

In conclusion, don’t be afraid to train older clients.  Jump at the opportunity!  Be careful, but feel free to train them as you would anyone else.  Just be patient.  You’ll be wealthier and wiser as a result.

Oh, and to show that you the power of patience and thoughtful progression, here’s a copy of Judy’s exercise log from the day the picture was taken:

  • Superset of 3 rounds
    • Close Grip Lat Pulldown (Wide Bar) 3 rounds 2 reps / hold ALAP / 80 lbs
    • Dumbbell Walking Lunges 3 rounds Length of the floor and back / 20 lbs DBs
    • Glute Ham Raise (hands behind head) 3 rounds 15 reps
  • Superset of 3 rounds
    • kettlebell bottom up press 3 rounds 8-10 reps / side / 10-15 lbs
    • Goblet Squat (1.5 reps) 3 rounds 10 reps / 30 lbs
    • Side Plank 3 rounds 30 sec
    • Side Plank 3 rounds 30 sec
    • Elbow Plank 3 rounds 30 sec
  • Perform as a circuit workout of 1 round
  • Sled Push 1 round 60 yards / 200+ lbs
    • Trap Bar Farmer Carry 1 round 2x 100 yard hill carry / 75 lbs
    • Sandbag carry 1 round 1x 100 yard hill carry / 65 lbs