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Strength & Conditioning . . . for Seniors?

The influence of the Baby Boomer generation on fitness cannot be overstated: 76 million strong and ranging from their early 50s to their early 70s, this group, if only by their vast number, is redefining the entire concept of personal training. Why? Because the Boomers never quite believed they would grow old, and now that the evidence is irrefutable that they are not immune to the laws of biology (or gravity!), they are pushing back against the aging process with all their might.

Many aging Boomers don’t mind getting older, but they fully expect to be as active and independent in old age as they were in their youth, and as a result fitness professionals must reinvent the concept of senior fitness. Sitting in a chair while hitting balloons, or clapping their hands to Big Band tunes is not going to cut it for active, aging Boomers. This is why an emerging trend in personal fitness is strength and conditioning programs for older adults.

The term “strength and conditioning” conjures up images of elite athletes and power lifters, notions that are at odds with the stereotypical idea of an older adult. But think about it: Most traditional strength and conditioning programs include drills to improve strength, power, agility and quickness, and aging Boomers who want to maintain their vitality and live independently until their last breath need to be strong, powerful, agile and fast.

This is why it’s time to retire the old strength training model of utilizing light weights and high reps for older adults, especially the Boomers. Do your Boomer clients want to maintain their independence? Then they need to be able to do certain functional chores like getting groceries into the house and putting the garbage out. They need to get wet clothing out of the washer and into the dryer. They need to pick up that crying grandchild, walk that rambunctious dog and carry that 25-pound bucket of kitty litter into the house.

Given the level of function Boomers must maintain to retain their independence, working with trainers who move them from machine to machine, or hand them 3-pound hand weights, is not going to significantly improve their performance. To maximize a Boomer’s training time, here are some suggestions for strength and conditioning programs for seniors.

Resisted, vertical core training: Planks and bridges are fine, albeit nonfunctional, but your senior clients need to train their core to keep them upright while they are moving and carrying things. Good options include medicine ball drills, resisted walking and shuttle walks. Remember that a strong core is the best defense against a life-altering (or life-threatening) fall.

Lower-body strength training: Research shows us that strong quads and hamstrings are the best defense against a fall. Senior conditioning programs should include dead lifts, squats and lunges, which integrate lower-body and core strength.

Upper-body strengthening: Integrating upper-body strength activities that encompass pushing and pulling movements in all three planes ensure a higher level of strength and function.

Agility and speed training: Having your client maneuver through an obstacle course (or just take a walk!) while carrying a kettlebell or a bucket of water integrates movement with core strengthening. Add speed training to your agility drills and don’t forget to teach deceleration; many older people can generate a whole lot of speed but problems arise when they try to stop.

Your aging Boomers are probably stronger than they (and maybe you) realize. Integrating strength and conditioning routines into their training program will make them stronger, more functional and more independent.

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