We all know that with age comes many pros and cons. Unfortunately, time and age are something that we have zero control over. For hundreds of years, explorers and scientists have been looking for the fountain of youth. Whether that fountain of youth is a physical spring of life-enhancing water or a medicated/chemically-induced age preservation, there has yet to be a “cure” found. The best thing that one can do is to manage the symptoms to make the process of aging more enjoyable. Due to this need to improve quality of life, there has been an increasing focus on geriatric Personal Fitness Training.
As people get older, there are few glaring issues that tend to present themselves. Two of these issues that can be aided by proper Personal Fitness Training are: balance and frail bones.
Balance is one of the most common things that a lot of trainers, who are “experts,” start to “fix.” The way a lot of trainers will rectify these balance issues is by having the client perform balance exercises. This seems like an obvious fix but, in reality, it is not the best route for Personal Fitness Training geriatric clients with balance problems. What some of these “experts,” and less experienced trainers, are missing, is the knowledge of what is causing these balance issues. As individuals get older, they tend to lose muscle mass. This is a natural process called sarcopenia. So, as muscle mass is lost in the aging population, these individuals will also lose strength– the basic strength needed to walk down the sidewalk or climb stairs without missing a step and, subsequently, falling. Many trainers want to use showy balance exercises, such as putting a client on a BOSU to “improve their balance.”
The problem with these balance exercises boils back down to the most basic of principles of risk vs. reward. Putting a client, who may not even be able to support themselves in their day-to-day functions, on an extremely unstable surface is irresponsible. These clients don’t need to be standing on an upside down BOSU rubbing their belly and tapping their head to improve their balance; they just need to get stronger! The best way to gain strength is basic time-tested resistance training. This doesn’t mean we are going to try and turn granny into a bodybuilder, or make grandpa squat 500 pounds, but we will use basic, fundamental lifts, with added resistance, to create a response that will help strengthen and grow muscle. Just by getting the individual to a state where they can appropriately support their own body weight, you will have already created better balance. Then, and only then, can you start to follow the normal rules of progression, by adding in single-leg exercises and some more difficult “balance” exercises.
Proper weight training is also one of the solutions to the other issue, aforementioned, that is associated with aging. Not only do older individuals worry about their lack of balance, but they are also very concerned with the results of those falls: broken bones. As people get older, they start to lose bone mass, a process known as osteopenia. When osteopenia has progressed to a certain level of severity, it develops into osteoporosis.
There are a few things that can provide a solution. First is the proper supplementation of calcium and vitamin D. It is crucial to make sure an individual is consuming an appropriate amount of calcium to help repair and slow down the effects of the natural leaching of calcium from the bones. Bone tissue, although rigid, is also a living tissue that can grow and get stronger a lot like muscle tissue. It has been proven that resistance training, and adding load to the body, can help increase bone density. Lifting weights will make the bones stronger and more resistant to falls, which will, in turn, help slow down the negative effects of osteopenia and osteoporosis.
The real answer on how to train geriatric clients is simple: proper weight training. The benefits of resistance training have been coming to light more and more in the past few years. It is commonly recognized that one of the best ways to burn fat is to build muscle, and this is just another component of why resistance training is so beneficial. So, until the actual fountain of youth is discovered…. Keep lifting, Grandma.
Daniel Fischman is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association and head Personal Trainer at Horizon Personal Training Centers of CT. Personal Trainer serving West Hartford CT & surrounding towns. He has over 10 years experience training everyone from athletes to general population. He specializes in injury prevention and pre/post rehab modalities as well as tactical strength and conditioning. whatever your goal is Dan has the safest, most effective, and most efficient answer for you!