Benefits of Personal Trainers for Older Adults

August 18, 2010

By Jenefer Curtis

When I was thirty two, I hired a personal trainer because I wanted to be, well, sculpted, I guess. I was in good shape (I had been active as a teenager and into my twenties), but I wanted my body – my small chest notwithstanding – to turn heads.

My trainer was a built, tanned male from my local YMCA who would have probably preferred to teach with his shirt off, he had such in-your face confidence.  His goals for me – faster, higher, stronger.  We had a plan and I promised I would stick to it, come travel or rain or PMS.

I did become stronger and a little faster on the rowing machine. And I did take my exercise rope on trips. I learned about the machines and about my muscles and, a key point, about the importance of exercising in a way that you like.

Today I am hovering around 50 and my exercise goals have changed. I know I can’t look 20 again but I can prevent the decrease in muscular strength that usually accompanies aging. The same applies to my friends, some who are hovering around 60. Revisiting the idea of a personal trainer was an eye-opening experience for me. Here is what I found:

The Benefits of Hiring a Personal Trainer

Personal trainer helping woman lift weights “The number one benefit is accountability,” says Ian Suski, manager of personal training at one Goodlife Fitness location in Ottawa, and a certified personal trainer.  “Most people want to make changes, but cannot really commit to it. A trainer means they are committed to showing up. A trainer keeps them on track.”

Suski also says that for older adults, preventing injury is another key benefit. “Sometimes people don’t know when what they are doing is negatively affecting them, especially older adults who may not to be as body-aware as younger ones.”

Other benefits of training with a personal trainer include:

  • H/she can objectively assess your fitness needs:  Is it your flexibility, cardiovascular fitness or strength that requires improvement? Do you need to lose weight? Is your current workout the right one for you?
  • H/she has the professional education to assess your body, your experience, your limitations and your goals.
  • H/she can administer a range of fitness tests including calculating your Body Mass Index (BMI) to accurately measuring your heart rate.
  • H/she can motivate you; that is why personality and finding someone you really like is important.

How Often Should You Work Out with a Personal Trainer?

The consensus seems to be that, while fitness training always varies from person to person, three times a week is a recommended minimum. “A day off between workouts is recommended,” says Ken Grant, an Ottawa-based certified personal trainer who specializes in fitness for older adults.

If the cost of a personal trainer is prohibitive, hire one for a few sessions to evaluate your current fitness level and set you up with an exercise plan that you can follow yourself. Find an exercise buddy to keep you accountable and get a new exercise plan approximately every 6 weeks so you are continually challenging your body.

Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Personal Trainer

Trainers stress that a fit between personalities is a huge factor in the success of your training program. “So ask them whatever you want,” suggests Grant. “They will need to ask you some personal questions, so you should feel Ok asking them, for example, what their hobbies are or, what they like about their jobs. Do they have a sense of humour?”

Suski says that his trainers are often asked if they can consult other clients of the trainer and he encourages this. “The best measure of a trainer’s success is his former or current students. If the trainer won’t come forth with names, you should think twice about hiring him or her.”

Before formally signing on with a personal trainer, you should be very clear about:

  • the fee and how often it is paid;
  • the frequency of meetings;
  • the location of the meetings (If they are in a home does anyone need to provide towels or refreshments?)
  • cancellation fees (How much advance notice do you need to give to avoid a fee)

Finding the Right Personal Trainer For You

An informal poll of active older adults among my friends suggests that a personal trainer who is a little older offers a bit more of a comfort zone than a younger one.

“Part of it is just dumb things like a young person seeing you in your skimpy clothes,” says Susan* 62, who attends classes at an Ottawa retirement home and consults with the home’s personal trainer on the side.
* name changed to protect privacy

“I can really communicate with my trainer,” she says, “and that is almost as, if not more, important than the technical exercise stuff. And that I trust him with my concerns and my information.”

So, while a trainer needs to know whether its flexibility, cardiovascular fitness or strength that should be focused on, Grant says that his trainees look to him for inspiration. “My job is mostly to motivate these people and help them see beyond their limitations. Some of them suffer from arthritis or hip problems or something. They need someone who understands bodies and fitness enough to understand what kind of exercise they need.  Remember, for many older adults, the “gym” was unheard of when they were young. ‘The gym’ is a term and a culture that has come into our conversations just over the last twenty years or so.”

He thinks the age of a personal trainer does not matter. “Some younger people are inspiring for older adults and they have a grasp of the newest techniques.”

He stresses also that an older adult’s personal trainer is no substitute for a medical doctor. “It is important that they don’t see me as a medical doctor and that they understand the difference.”

“We approach our older clients in a holistic way,” says Suski. “Fitness is not just staying fit or looking good, it is part of a much larger picture of being healthy and happy. And we try to have fun – this makes it all easier.”

Maybe I’ll get a sculpted body, maybe not. But now with the information I’ve gathered, I am on the look out now for a trainer with enthusiasm so my workouts can be inspired, informed and, yes, fun.

About the Author: Jenefer Curtis lives in Ottawa, Canada and has written for many Canadian magazines and newspapers over the last 20 years.

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