Perhaps it was when a 74 year old woman approached me and said "I want to get fit" and weeks later, she was speed walking on the treadmill, working with light weights, balance boards and Swiss balls and making great progress. Maybe it was when a 68 year old man came to me and said "how long should we be holding a plank position for because I'm holding one every morning now for 8 minutes". Perhaps it was me, qualifying as a Personal Trainer aged 42, a couple of stones overweight, not particularly fit but three years down the line, two stones lighter, fit and strong. Any one of these scenarios tells me one thing. It is NEVER too late to review a diet and exercise regime and improve, big style!
Barriers to fitness? There are many and age is just one. It is a thought to get a tired, inflexible and perhaps overweight body to move. It is far easier for people to believe that the potential for change has passed. It is up to us to inspire, motivate and encourage in as many ways as we can.
Over the course of each week, I see around 60 female clients through a mixture of one-to-one PT, group PT and classes. They fall into two categories; 40 – 60yrs and 65yrs and over.
Let’s take the first category. With no wish or intention of putting everybody in the same basket, having worked with this age group for some time, there are a number of things that I see and hear on a regular basis. Many women neglect their fitness after having children, not through choice, more through lack of time and a change of priorities. Stepping back into an exercise environment after several years is brave. I acknowledge this and spend time making sure every client builds self-belief and regains confidence in the fact that they’ve made a really positive decision for themselves and will benefit greatly over time, both physically and mentally.
Secondly, people have busy and often stressful lives. Exercise is an effort so it needs to be enjoyed. Most women in this age bracket are not looking for a GI Jane style of instructor. Some are, in which case they will enjoy Bootcamp, Metafit or Insanity but a more gentle approach works with my clients and I have great rates of retention. I create an environment where we can all laugh at ourselves. A loud ‘harumph’ by one lady ten seconds into holding a plank allows everyone to relax and have a giggle, despite the fact that others may be holding their plank position for two minutes. I make sure that we are all supportive and encouraging towards each other and this allows me to provide adaptations easily, without causing embarrassment or making anybody feel less able. One of my clients said to me recently, “I work hard all day and despite the fact that exercise is good for me, I would not be rushing home, sorting the children and rushing back out to your class unless I was going to have a laugh.” It has to be fun and the sociable element is paramount whether it is one client or a class full.
Thirdly, I find that a combination style of class works really well. I do an aerobics style warm-up followed by several upper body routines using weights (0.5kg – 4kg). We then do some floor work followed by balance – lots of exercises on one leg requiring slow movement and focus. This is very challenging for lots of people but it is a vital component and I make sure everyone knows why. We then do a short burst of HIIT using Tabata plus a little strength training with the heavier weights and we end up with a substantial stretch routine, which is a bit of relaxation time. I choreograph all my routines to music and put a lot of effort into making this age appropriate – nothing beats a class full of 80’s music and it is often commented on!
With my second category of clients, there are lots of individual issues and it is imperative to spend time with each client prior to allowing them to embark on exercise. My advice is that if you are remotely unsure of a medical condition preventing exercise, ask your client to get permission from their GP. My own rule of thumb with this age group is that I set my class limit at ten per class. I have to issue constant adaptations but again, create a friendly environment where all the women are happy to laugh about their various creaks and groans. At this age, the sociable element of the class is particularly important, so we take regular breaks and enjoy a good blether and a laugh.
My ‘Fit4Seniors’ never fail to impress me and I do challenge them. We use light weights, Swiss balls and again, do a huge variety of exercises with a very big focus on balance. For those unable to stand on one leg, I ask them to exercise by the studio wall so that they still benefit from weight bearing on one leg and over time, gain confidence to do this without support. I find that there is a steely determination amongst this age group as they understand the consequences of falling, or letting themselves become unfit and stiff, so they rise to new exercise challenges very willingly and with great humour. Again, I choreograph all routines to music but this time, we may be working to John Denver or The Beatles – this might seem like such a minor element but it makes a massive difference to the atmosphere of the class - a great routine to “These boots were made for walking” will have everybody smiling and singing!
Our job as Personal Trainers working with more mature clients is to work that line between providing exercises sufficient to help people see and feel changes but to do this in an enjoyable way. I used to take Spinning classes in a gym and it was far less personal. People streamed in, mounted the bikes, music on, off we went and a class full of very hot and sweaty people staggered back out. Working with my current clientele, my approach has to be far more personal and attentive. I need to take time to listen, and I do. It is incredibly rewarding to work with people who set out with little confidence and blossom over time, gaining fitness, strength, better posture, balance and a more positive sense of overall well being.
About the Author:
Fiona Pagett qualified as a Level 3 Personal Trainer in 2011, aged 42, after a career in media and communications. Fiona loves to work with clients at all ages and stages through individual and group PT and a variety of classes. A Mum of two teenagers and owner of two lively spaniels, Fiona and her family live in a small village outside Edinburgh.