Updated: This post was originally published on February 9, 2015 and has been refreshed as of February 19, 2020.
When it comes to training Baby Boomer clients, accommodating their physical needs may first inspire you to change your programming by toning down vigorous, high cardio classes and offer sessions filled with gentle stretching and light weights. However, you might be surprised at how your senior members can perform when it comes to high intensity, low impact boot camp classes. Instead, focus on developing smarter functional fitness programs that effectively mix elevated cardiovascular with balance safety and recovery so that your active aging members will experience a healthier, more well-rounded workout.
Check out these tips for structuring fitness programs tailored for mature members.
Tapping Into the 55+ Fitness Market
In today’s fitness market, your 55 and up members make up over 20% of your total membership pool—that’s a market segment that’s continually growing and should not be ignored. Urge your active aging members to join in on a small group training session like an active aging boot camp! Organizations like the Functional Aging Institute, the fitness industry’s “go-to” center for mature adult programming and workout techniques, serve trainers and fitness facilities across the country with appropriate class programming that challenges and engages active aging clients.
Led by Dan Ritchie, PhD and Cody Sipe, PhD, these seasoned trainers used their experience with clients and science-based training initiatives to develop effective training programs that benefit personal trainers and facilities without a lot of experience with older clients. Dan Ritchie, Co-Founder and President of the FAI, shares some valuable training advice for personal trainers interested in better serving older clientele.
Determining Past Workout History Lends a Clear Training Future
When it comes to the initial meeting with a new client, trainers should gather as much background information as possible concerning past injuries, fitness history, and current pain points. “A better, consistent health history—joint pain, any sort of underlying issue—should be heard before starting a program,” Ritchie advises. Listening and observing how a client moves should also be top priorities for trainers meeting mature clients for the first time.
Ritchie notes that traditional functional fitness tests, including the 1 rep max with squats and bench presses, should be skipped when evaluating active aging members for physical strength limits. Because their personal goals tend to be lifestyle-oriented rather than body-oriented, Ritchie urges trainers to create programming that will boost energy and endurance as well as retain muscle mass.
Low-Impact, High-Intensity Workouts Are a Winning Combination
Boot camp for active aging members can combine all of the elements needed to reach achievable fitness goals. Traditional programming, which focuses on easy, gentle, and light workouts, operates on the incorrect notion that mature members cannot handle increased cardio or quick movements. While these ideas are not based on scientific research, Ritchie does note that some considerations need to be taken into account before hosting your first mature group training session.
“Limit high-impact movements that will cause excess stress on joints through modification,” Ritchie says, adding, “coach personal trainers to curb the yelling and screaming in the class setting, cut out the loud, blaring music and shorten the rep count when it comes to circuit training.” With these modifications, Ritchie advises, your mature members will be comfortable training and more engaged with the workout program.
For basic active aging boot camp training, Ritchie stresses that trainers should “challenge seniors in all 3 planes of motion and avoid too much focus on floor exercises.” By adding moves that force members to go up and down while utilizing body weight, the workout targets all major muscle groups without undue stress. Avoiding ballistic impact should be a standard all trainers follow with mature clients.
Cardiovascular Health Is Important at Any Age
Your older members are focusing on muscle retention and healthy heart levels like your younger members and can benefit from full body functional movements, like jumping jacks and burpees, that eliminate the high-impact force. As you design specific programming for your active aging audience, remember that strength training and intense cardio are important components of any senior health plan.
Modify Movement for Maximized Training Results
Modification is key when it comes to moves used in boot camp programming: Jumping jacks become step jacks with overhead arm movement; jump squats can be substituted with total body extensions. You can even include burpees in your routine if you take out the jump forward movement following the push up and instead instruct clients to step forward. These movements will successfully elevate the heart rate without sacrificing balance or safety.
Effective Equipment to Challenge Clients
When looking for equipment to use in your active aging boot camps, don’t put your battling ropes or kettlebells aside. Incorporate medicine balls with handles, step risers, core balls and resistance bands into boot camp to further challenge members while increasing the strength-training component. Ritchie adds that the FAI teaches anchor point training as another exercise method in senior programming.
Program Modifications for Seniors
The biggest equipment modification concerning mature boot camp classes will be the number of reps per move—make sure to keep the rep count lower than you would with a younger boot camp class.
“We don’t train individuals based on chronological age,” Ritchie says, summing up the Functional Aging Institute’s overall philosophy. “We train based on physical ability to move. We have high expectations for our clients (even in their 80s), so we train relative to each person’s ability.”
To be best prepared to train active aging clients, remember to listen carefully about past fitness history and injuries before creating any programming. Balancing healthy lifestyle goals with physical capability is crucial when it comes to training mature members, but don’t assume that light, gentle movements are the best tactic for complete health.
Have you created a boot camp for active aging members before? Share your experience with us in the comments!
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