By Karyn Gallivan, MS, ATC, CSCS, NSCA-CPT, NASM-CPT
Contributor, Sports+Fitness Network
I have written about this topic previously, and will probably do so again, but we all know that the elderly (the older adult –which is a wide age range) can benefit from training in the same ways that younger folks can. Of course, typical precautions should be heeded with regard to bone density, the presence of disease (or multiple diseases), and past injuries.
In particular, two of the most prominent physical weaknesses in the older adult are the need for longer recovery times between workouts because their ability to repair muscle, bones, and connective tissues from the stresses of a workout. This is all the more reason to be somewhat conservative with your exercise programming, because recovery times are already longer, just imagine the challenges (and dangers) that would be present if an older client sustained an injury during training? To avoid this, and because my goal is to only make forward progress, I tend to err on the conservative side. This way, I can plan appropriate recovery periods and still schedule several sessions for each client each week.
First, though, it is important to get a thorough health history and an “okay” from your older client’s primary care physician. If they have an active disease process (cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension) or injury (knee replacement), being in communication with these physicians and physical therapists is also a good idea.
A recent discussion with a group of students led to the topic of competitive sports and/or popular fitness programs like Crossfit. And whether it is Crossfit, or running a marathon, climbing Mt. Washington, or participating in a 3-day walk to benefit cancer research, I believe that this practical advice and can be applied in all situations:
If someone is asking me about Crossfit or other activities that may not yet be appropriate for them, I don’t tell them “no“, but, rather “not yet“. It takes a while to undo the effects of deconditioning and poor biomechanics, especially when we are talking about someone in their 40’s, 50’s, and beyond. And, often, these folks have an accumulation of health and injury issues that need to be addressed first. It is during this training, which can range from months to years that their goals might change. I do know this however –they will be healthier and fitter as a result of your partnership. And, that is why we do what we do.