Working With Masters Athletes

by Pete McCall, MS on Dec 13, 2013

Speak with enough personal trainers at the start of their careers and you’ll quickly notice a common aspiration: They want to train professional athletes. Of course it’s fine to dream big, but it’s important to remember that professional athletes are extremely rare individuals.

In fact, fewer than 5,000 athletes play big-league professional sports in the United States, and most of them are men. On the other hand, U.S. Census Bureau data shows that tens of millions of 35-and-older adults—everyday adult athletes—participate in specific recreational activities. So it’s easy to see where most opportunities lie for trainers.

Getting Started With Masters Athletes

Historically, masters athletes have been people 35 and older who compete in organized sports (particularly track-and-field events), but for our purposes it’s useful to apply the title to all 35-and-up athletes. Clients do not need a contract with a pro team to train like athletes. They just have to be working on their athleticism. Vern Gambetta, an authority on performance training, defines athleticism as “the ability to execute a series of movements at optimum speed with precision, style and grace” (Gambetta 2001). Some potential masters clients will already be competitive athletes, but many will be recreational exercisers, and others will be getting into structured exercise for the first time. With clients who are just starting out, the challenge is to determine which of their activities of daily living (ADLs) fit into Gambetta’s definition of athleticism and then figure out how to help enhance their performance in those activities.

For example, let’s say a personal trainer is working with an over-50 executive who lacks the free time for recreational sports and who exercises primarily to maintain good health. The trainer asks about his ADLs and learns that the executive travels often for his job: This activity becomes the “sport” to guide the client’s exercise program. Our executive frequently dashes through airports dragging a rolling suitcase and hauling a computer bag—a feat of strength, speed, agility and quickness. Helping this client is not quite the same as getting a running back strong enough to hit a hole in an offensive line, but it’s in the ballpark.

Encouraging Competition

Another consideration for working with currently noncompetitive masters athletes is that amateur sporting events provide an excellent motivational tool. With the right exercise program, sedentary adults can train to compete in fundraising walks, runs, obstacle-course races or even triathlons.

Entering a race or participating in a charity event provides a specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound training goal that can motivate clients to start (and stick with) a workout program. Think how good it will feel to inspire them to set a challenging goal and then help them train to achieve it. (Helping people train and prepare for an annual competition, like a 10K or marathon, can also become an effective marketing technique.)

Evaluating the Needs of the Sport

If a masters athlete is training for a specific sport or recreational activity, as a trainer you should know what it takes to succeed in that activity. Conducting a movement analysis will help you identify patterns the client needs to perform.

For specific exercise guidelines and much more on training masters athletes, please see “Performance Training for Athletes” in the online IDEA Library or in the November–December 2013 issue of IDEA Fitness Journal. If you do not receive IDEA Fitness Journal and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at (800) 999-4332 for more information.

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About the Author

Pete McCall, MS

Pete McCall, MS IDEA Author/Presenter

Fitness is all about having the energy and vitality to do what you want to do when you want to do it. Whether you want to add lean muscle mass, compete in an obstacle course race, earn that next pro contract or play with your kids (or grandkids) exercise can help you enjoy your life to the fullest and my role as a personal trainer is to help you achieve that potential. Host of the All About Fitness podcast, blogger (for a variety of fitness companies), public speaker and author. For the past number of years I've been an educator working for the largest personal training certifications: the American Council on Exercise (ACE) where I helped create a wide variety of education to support how fitness professionals work with their clients, and the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) where I teach online courses for people preparing for the NASM personal trainer certification exam. I've had the opportunity to teach workshops to personal trainers around the world and have been quoted in numerous publications (NY Times, LA Times, Washington Post, Shape, SELF, etc...) but the bottom line is that I enjoy helping people change their lives and achieve their maximum potential through exercise. If your goal is to use exercise to enhance your life and you're in the San Diego area, then please contact me to learn how I can help support that objective.