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Senior Moments

by Ken Alan on Feb 01, 2005

Bring balance to your cooldowns.

The cooldown should be like frosting—sweet, smooth and so delicious that students want to stay until they finish the very last section of cake—err, I mean, class. In older-adult classes, the cooldown should also balance the mental-energy requirements of the session. “Mental energy” refers to the alertness, concentration and attentiveness needed to perform an exercise. The amount of brainpower participants must exert is strongly influenced by class components. The following two examples show how you can craft a complementary cooldown that will balance the session as a whole and facilitate a positive experience for older-adult participants.

Easy Does It

Type of Class: functional fitness focus

Level of Mental Energy Required: high

Strength and balance exercises demand high levels of concentration. Learning new movement skills requires extensive observation and listening. Participants must follow cues and focus on technique, alignment or body awareness. Mentally demanding exercise leaves little room for socializing or playful interaction.

Type of Cooldown: no-brainer

Balance this workout with a light, nondemanding cooldown. Reebok master trainer Joy Prouty, who lives in Palm Beach, Florida, works extensively with older adults and agrees that a “don’t-have-to-think-about-it cooldown” is the antidote for a challenging workout. “The no-brainer has four characteristics,” explains Prouty. “First, it’s easy to do, so second, it must be easy to follow. Third, it’s relaxing. And last, students always feel successful when they leave.”

Here are some examples, all of which relax the mind and body:

  • Walk around the room in a big circle (easy to do; participants don’t have to observe you).
  • Perform step-touch variations for the entire cooldown (easy to follow; can be done with partners).
  • Do standing partner stretches for the calves and hamstrings (allows opportunity to socialize).
  • Perform passive stretches for the chest, shoulders and upper back at the wall (requires instruction, but also promotes interaction).

Engage the Mind

Type of Class: fun fitness focus

Level of Mental Energy Required: low

This class incorporates fun, playful activities to create enjoyable experiences for older adults. In this type of class, you might repeat simple routines over and over to ensure successful performance. You might also use props for variety and diversion. Group activities and games encourage rapport and interaction.

Type of Cooldown: internal focus

Since the class components aren’t mentally taxing, now is the time to engage students’ minds. Cue them to tune into their bodies, avoid external distractions and be aware of how they feel in the moment. One of the best internal-focus cooldowns is complete relaxation lying supine on the floor. Here are a few more examples of how to engage the mind:

  • Cue deep breathing, which is an easy way to help people become mindfully focused. Ask participants to pay attention to the breath, slowing it a bit more than normal. Tell them to concentrate and be aware of each inhalation and each exhalation.
  • Practice progressive relaxation, which involves tightening one body part or muscle group and then releasing the contraction (e.g., make a fist, and then relax; contract the biceps, and then relax it; and so on.)
  • Use imagery to transport the mind and body to another place or time. This can stimulate an appropriate quality or intensity of movement (e.g., “Slowly melt your back into the floor one vertebra at a time, from the top of your spine to the bottom, like a thermometer dropping one degree at a time”).

These are just two examples of endings that demonstrate the pivotal role a cooldown plays in creating a harmonious exercise experience.

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About the Author

Ken Alan

Ken Alan IDEA Author/Presenter

Ken Alan and Shannon Fable co-authored Class Design and Delivery in "ACSM's Resources for the Group Exercise Instructor". Chapter author: AFAA's "Fitness: Theory & Practice", Human Kinetics' "Physical Activity Instruction of Older Adults", ACE's "Fitness for Travelers". Certifications: ACE, ACSM, AFAA. Co-star: Time-Life Medical Patient Education Media video series. Program design and choreography for seven Richard Simmons videos. Reebok University development team member. Power Bar Team Elite member. National trainer for BeamFit and Nordic Walking. Lecturer, Department of Kinesiology at Cal State Fullerton. Member, ACE Personal Trainer and Group Fitness certification exam committees.