At Sand & Steel, the majority of my clients are in their 50s, 60s, and 70s. Most people start feeling the effects of aging in their mid-thirties, but by age 50 they really start to notice a change. It becomes harder to lose weight, injuries heal slower, and energy levels generally decline. If you are going to be working with clients in this age population, you’ll need to know how to perform a senior fitness assessment. Here’s how it should be done.
Assessing Senior Fitness Levels to Determine Age Appropriate Senior Exercises
Senior Fitness Assessments: Exercise Choice
For clients in their 50s, we are still focused on the assessment of peak power and peak speed. These properties are important for improving muscularity and athletism. While we are certainly looking for problems with biomechanics, we are still trying to help clients in their 50s perform better.
At 60 and 70, mobility becomes a bigger issue. Mobility is more than being able to run and go up and down stairs. It affects your ability to tie your shoes, to put on your pants, even to get out of a car easily. While I can’t necessarily build as much strength for someone who is 70 (as compared to someone is 50), I can drastically improve their mobility. Improving their mobility improves their quality of life.
So when choosing exercises for an older adult, I focus on guided stretching and Mobility WOD. I also teach my senior clients private yoga lessons. Yes, we are going to lift weights, but there is a balance between mobility and strength training.
You can Improve Mobility at any Age — it Doesn’t Matter. I’ve helped seniors regain their mobility when they have never touched their toes in their life. With the right programming, you can help them gain back this mobility and their freedom.
- Twist and Rotation
- Spinal Flexion and Extension
You need to test these patterns differently. You need to provide an assessment that’s meaningful to them, safe for their health, and informative to you as their coach.
Building a Program for Senior Fitness and Senior Exercises
With all new clients, you need to sit down with your clients and find what their goals really are. Make sure that you are a writing a program for their goals. A program that is optimized to improve their mobility and strength. It’s your job to help them move better. Keep in mind that their past will always affect their movement. Injuries leave fingerprints on movement problems.
Analytics: make sure you keep analytics on how your clients are progressing and at what speed. We track every client’s improvement in mobility via the FMS and Y balance test. We track improvement in composition with the InBody scan. Yes, there are other tools and techniques you can use, but make sure you have a program in place to track progress or lack thereof. How can you improve as a coach, if you don’t measure the improvement of your clients?
Make sure you have a system in place to update their training program. Our training programs tend to last 8-12 weeks. At such time, we re-assess their movement patterns and build them a new training program as needed.
Understanding Goals for Senior Fitness and Senior Exercises for People in their 50s, 60s, and 70s
The first thing to realize when training seniors is that the goals that people have in their 50s, 60s, and 70s are all very different. Because their goals are different, and their bodies are very different, you need a completely different training program to help seniors train effectively. That’s why I build out 9 specific programs to train people in their 50s, 60s, and 70s. Each age group having three separate program tracks depending on fitness ability, current mobility, and fitness goals.
Age 50-59: Senior Fitness and Senior Exercises
Men and Women aged 50-59 are still concerned about body composition. Increasing strength is important to both women and men. Older adults still play sports and want to play sports safely. Some clients in the 50-59 age demographic start to have trouble with functional movement (e.g. getting off the floor.) Properly assessing their goals and providing them will a clear to improve these patterns is essential to properly supporting your senior client.
Body Composition Goals for Men and Women in their 50s
For example, older adults in their 50s (especially men) are still concerned about body composition. Body composition goals senior men still include increasing the amount muscle mass they have. And for most men in their 50s increasing muscle mass is still attainable. Especially with the advent of testoterone testing and hormone replacement therapy, increase muscle-mass is quite possible. Whereas women in the 50s tend to be more focused on toning and maintaining a youthful figure. There are many women in their 50s who still want to turn heads in a bikini (even it is just their husband.)
Strength Goals for Senior Men and Women in their 50s
Strength is super important for senior men in their 50s. Men might be hitting a peak in their career and having a strong body directly impacts self-confidence. As a personal trainer, if you can help your client find self-confidence in their 50s, that is a client you will retain for a long time.
Women’s Strength goals are just as important. Increased strength helps maintain their independence. Increased muscle mass helps prevent the onset of osteroporous.
Preparing your Clients to Play Sports in their 50s
As a general rule, I don’t recommend clients in their 50s begin new sports. The risks of injury are generally too high. Of course, not all sports of the same. I much more confident with a senior starting cycling than I am soccer.
What about Clients who Continue to Play High-Risk Sports in their 50s?
Sports like basketball, soccer, skiing, etc. are high risk for clients in their 50s. But let me give the future personal trainers of the world some sage advice … you aren’t going to convince someone who has been playing soccer for 30 years to quit. I use the functional movement screen to show their risk of injury from a statistical perspective. Whatismore, I employ a correctional exercise strategy to help improve their scores on the functional movement screen. I give them information to make their own decision, but regardless of what that is, it’s my job to support them in that endeavour.
Helping Seniors in their 50s Move Better
Even if you aren’t FMS certified, you can still support your senior clients by helping them do the basics better. Primary movements like the lunge, overhead squat, and step-up are essential to moving well in all sports. Yoga provides us with Surya Namaskar A and B (Sun Salutations). This essential flow will help you move better and play nearly all sports better and more safely.
Get a Full Fitness Intake Form for Older Adults
Keep in mind that your clients in their 50 and 60 still play golf, and they still go skiing. Gaining the strength and flexibility to do these sports better and more safely is very important to your senior clients.
Appreciating the Physical Challenges of Travelling
Being fit at 50 is about independence and the freedom to travel, play the sports you choose, and shovel snow without being sore the next day. How does the gym play into where you go for your Thanksgiving getaway? What does it mean to make your body useful? Think about it: traveling isn’t just getting on a plane and going somewhere. To travel, you need to be able to lug around suitcases and handle sitting/standing for long periods of time while you’re in the airport and on the plane.
Senior Fitness and Senior Exercises at 60
When you start to work with clients in their 60 quality of movement becomes the major issue. More frequently than not, clients in their 60s have had surgical repair of joints like knee, shoulders, or hips. Men particularly will have flexibility problems and women often see a decrease in strength. The amount of sports senior play tends to go down as the older adults begin to realize that a severe injury can drastically affect their quality of life. Nonetheless, seniors in their 60s want to be able to go on vacation with their grandkids, comfortably walk into town, etc.
The name of the game with clients between the ages 60-69 is functional movement training.
Preparing them to move themselves and objects safely. We are trying to fix existing mobility issues such as loss of flexibility. Helping clients in their sixties also involves helping them fix injuries they have. As a movement coach and personal trainer, your job becomes helping your older adult clients get back to doing the activities they used to enjoy.
Senior Fitness and Senior Exercises at 70
At 70 years old, we start to see a different kind of client. The vast majority of clients in their 70s are looking to improve biomechanical strength and mobility. Most of the clients you’ll work in their 70s aren’t looking to run marathons (though I have helped a handful of clients run a half-marathon). They are looking to improve on the basics (or at least they should.) Many of the clients you’ll work in their seventies have chronic body pain. They have knee pain from traversing stairs. Back pain from carrying groceries. Even neck pain from computer use. What most of these clients fail to realize (and you as the personal trainer need to address) is most of these problems can be address through mobility training, increasing strength, and improving flexibility. Here’s an Example:
Mandy has chronic knee pain. Upon performing your assessment with her you learn she had a surgical repair of her knee in her forties from skiing. You also learn that she lives in a third-floor walk-up with no elevator. So you test her ability to lunge and perform step ups. You find that she doesn’t have enough strength to step up without compensating. You inspect the fascia in her quadriceps and the fascia is super tight. This is a client who believes she’ll always be in pain, but with the right M|WOD exercises, yoga, and strength training, you can literally turn back the clock on her body.
Improving Balance at 70 Years Old
Nearly all clients in their 70s need balance training. Few realize how much balance they have lost, and fewer still believe it can be restored. Improving balance is often a question of strengthening the intrinsic muscles in their feet, strengthening their core, and mobilizing their hips. You’ll need specialty equipment to help train seniors in balance training, but a Surge, Airex, and ToePro are great equipment for most senior. The Surge is filled with what and moving water forces shoulders and hips to stabilize. The Airex is tool to build one leg balance. The ToePro is great for building muscles in the feet and calves. For these reasons, specific muscle testing of muscles in the lower legs like the gastrocs, soleus, peroneals, etc. become very important.
I will warn you, convincing senior clients to take off their shoes can be challenging. I start most of my senior clients with yoga to get them comfortable with the notion of training barefoot. I coach barefoot and make it clear to my senior clients when they sign-up that they’ll need to train barefoot.
Senior Exercises at 50, 60 and 70 years Old
Clients in their 50s can still do most exercises safely (provided they have proper coaching.) However, I generally remove exercises like Plyometrics and Olympic Lifting because these techniques have a higher risk to injury ratio. Barbell snatches and jump squats, while effective and fun, aren’t necessary for improving strength or motion.
Clients in their 60s need to be careful about injuries from overtraining. Nearly every client who is 60 years old has some deterioration in their spine. So I usually remove heavy powerlifting and excessively heavy weights. With clients who are over 60, your focus is generally on having your clients train with weights that mimick weights they’ll encounter in real life (a 40-pound suitcase, a 30-pound backpack, etc.) We aren’t doing 300-pound deadlifts and 70-pound kettlebell swings. It just isn’t necessary for their goals. Unless you are training a senior athlete for a competition, the risk-reward ratio just isn’t there.
Bodyweight training at 60 needs to be carefully controlled. A deconditioned person in their sixties can seriously hurt their shoulder from just one improper pushup. You will likely have a lifetime of bad technique to fix, muscle imbalances to repair, and strength to rebuild. Safe and consistent improvement takes time. Go slow but be relentless with forcing you older clients to build strength safely. Movements like handstands and pull-ups are really hard at any age, so I don’t test them with clients over 50.