4 Personal Trainer Mindset Missteps For Baby Boomer Fitness

The following are excepts from Not Another Fitness Book: A Memoir. A Manual. A Message for 49 Million Baby Boomers by Steve Head. There are no affiliate links here.

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1 – Not Thinking Outside the Box (the big box gym, that is)

 If exercise isn’t enjoyable for us, or at least rewarding, gratifying, if it doesn’t serve a higher purpose, if it’s viewed as only as a necessary chore, something only done in the gym on ‘fancy’ equipment, it may not take root.   So, formal exercise should be seen as a part of an overall approach that blends physical activity  (e.g. taking the stairs instead of the elevator for less than a 3 or 4-floor trip; carrying groceries to the car versus pulling the car around), hopefully a recreational pursuit as well (e.g. hiking, biking outdoors), and lastly one that includes alternate venues for formal exercise. 

You could easily have a ‘home ‘gym’ that requires minimal space and equipment.   Office building stairwells, as climbing stairs is such great way to get cardiovascular conditioning, develop leg and hip strength (especially 2 steps at a time) and burn lots of calories. You get all that without the impact of running.  You can visit a nearby playground with a couple resistance bands and get a great workout.  An agility ladder, something you might think only athletes employ, can be as much fun as playing hopscotch was when you were a kid.

(Note from Nick: I discussed some of the science on agility ladders and clarified some common misconceptions about using ladders for fitness and conditioning HERE.)

2 – Rage Against The Machines…sort of*

There are 2 common scenarios – one in which the member will ask the trainer to show him or her how to use the machines. Chances are they’ve heard or otherwise believe machines to be safer than free weights. The other is in which the orientation is little more than showing someone how to use the machines. 

Whichever the case, I feel the member is either doing, or being done, a disservice.  I ask folks to think about it this way, if your strength training routine consists entirely of going from one seated exercise machine to another seated exercise machine, all of which are performed in one plane of motion  (the hip abduction/adduction machine being the only likely exception), where virtually all demands for stability, balance and proprioception have been eliminated, then are we really getting the most from our time and effort? More than any other demographic, boomers need to be confident and stable on their feet.  They stand to lose the most if & when they fall.  Our time would be much better spent learning to move better. 

Now, recent research has shown machine training to offer more functional, transferable strength than previously thought or assumed.  So, yes they are of some use. It doesn’t have to be, nor should it be, an either or proposition.

*Nick Tumminello, another one of our industry’s most brilliant minds has convinced me to soften my militant stance against machines.  He has distinguished himself as a champion of critical thinking, a challenger of  ‘sacred cows’ and for coaxing the wild pendulum swings of popular sentiment back to a more moderate middle ground.  Two of those pendulum swings have been the demonizing of machines and the dismissing of isolation exercises. Nick’s dispassionate use of research and reason has done much to up the professionalism and down the dogma in this field.

(Note from Nick: Thanks, Steve! Check is in the mail for that one. Ha!)

Dan Ritchie, PhD and Cody Sipe, PhD, co-founders of the Functional Aging Institute, in their book, Never Grow Old suggest  exercises be considered relative to where they might fall on a  “functional continuum.” I believe for the vast majority of folks, especially us baby boomers, it’s critical that we expand our repertoire beyond the machines.  My aim is to get clients to see the value of body weight mastery and to make that a priority. The beauty of having a repertoire of bodyweight exercises is your ‘equipment’ goes with you everywhere.  I also want to show them how they can use resistance bands, free weights (e.g. kettlebells, dumbbells), medicine balls, and sandbags- tools that are inexpensive and take up little space.   This approach also makes supplementing one’s training in alternate settings outside the gym easier and far more likely.

3 – Consistency & Variety

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” –- Ralph Waldo Emerson

“No man ever steps into the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he is not the same man.” — Heraclitus

Consistency and variety are both important.  Balancing the two is part of the artistry.  Early on in one’s training, consistency, or more specifically routine, is essential. Too much variety is actually not a good thing.  It takes time to learn and get proficient at what may become your core or foundational exercises, those that most likely will be part of your program for life.  I tell my yoga students depending on who you ask, there are anywhere from 84 to 8400+ yoga poses, but a basic core of a dozen or so can keep you challenged for at least this lifetime.

The same holds true for strength training.  Don’t fall prey to Emerson’s hobgoblin, though. As I mentioned earlier, with the numerous training variables and a little creativity we can easily avoid doing the exact same thing over and over.

“The root cause of boredom is to be found in the obsessive search for novelty. Satisfaction lies in mindful repetition, the discovery of endless richness in subtle variations on familiar themes.” –- George Leonard, from the book, Mastery

 Consistency, as in regularity of training, is also key in the early going to ensure results, and results are powerful motivators.   When you’ve been training a couple years consistently, missing or taking off a couple weeks isn’t nearly as critical as it is in the first 6 months.  That said, missing a workout here and there is inevitable.  Perhaps the second most important thing I can tell you about program design is one  (you and it) must be ‘flexible.’ Life happens, there are inevitable, unavoidable ‘curve balls’ that it throws at you.  Too much insistence on adhering to a ridged schedule is a recipe for failure.  Again, commitment to the big picture, the long haul will help you stay on your feet.  You will falter on occasion. However there’s no need for self-recrimination, you just pick yourself back up and carry on.

With a foundation well established, variety can be pursued a little more.  My own strength training,  (as distinct from other aspects of my training) which must prepare me for the demands of baseball, isn’t all that extensive.  I do many of the same exercises every week, yet I rarely do the same workout twice in the same week- subtle variations on familiar themes. There’s an analogy about the goal of digging a well to find water- better to dig one well 100 feet deep than to dig 10 wells 10 feet deep.  Don’t be a program hopper, stay with a basic, foundational approach.

Over time you can build your repertoire of exercises. You’ll want enough routine to create consistency, and a repertoire big enough to allow for variety.  Then your workouts can become less routine, and more intrinsically driven creations. 

4 – Thinking Power Training is Just For Athletes

As important as strength training is for us boomers to ensure our independence and optimize our health, power training may be as important, possibly more so.  Research has shown it may have a greater impact on the ability to perform ADL’s (activities of daily living) as we advance in age and a bigger role in fall prevention.     And yet, it is another commonly overlooked component of fitness programing, Put simply, power is work  (force X distance) divided by time.  Our basic strength work is done slowly but power training exercises are performed fast. When was the last time you saw someone older move quickly, powerfully?

The loss of strength, (particularly the decrease in the muscle fiber type responsible for quick, powerful contractions) combined with deteriorating nervous system efficiency is a one-two punch that robs us of the ability to move quickly, to produce force rapidly.   The good news is it can be trained safely once a solid strength base has been developed, and it can be a lot of fun!  Jumping, hopping, bounding, tossing and slamming medicine balls, my older clients find this stuff   exhilarating and… well, empowering.  I’ve had clients in their 60’s and 70’s who hadn’t jumped in 40 years or so work their way up to box jumps.   They found the experience to be a tremendous confidence booster.  I have a 62 year old ‘housewife’ for a client who when she started with me a few years back hadn’t ever lifted weights. Just this week I watched her doing kettlebell swings (an awesome exercise for power and work capacity) and realized she performs them better than I do! For some, power training might mean just pedaling an exercise bike at a challenging RPM for short intervals. For others it might be box jumps or swinging a 20-kilo kettlebell.

Author Bio:

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Steven Head, CSCS began working in the fitness industry in 1978 while still serving in the United States Air Force.  After earning a Bachelors in Physical Fitness Management (1985) from Marymount University, he began personal training and continues to this day.  He’s worked in physical therapy clinics, small personal training boutiques, big box gyms and independently.  Steven has developed a wide-ranging skill set, earning certifications in massage therapy and yoga, through mentorships with EXOS, Mike Boyle Strength & Conditioning and Cressey Sports Performance. He works with members of Washington DC’s A-List, with high school, college and recreational athletes, and is now in his 15th year as a Master Trainer for one the country’s largest health club companies, US Fitness.  His HeadStrong Fitness & Performance specializes in the mindset support that ensures  fitness success.

You can contact and follow him on his Facebook page.

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