Three years ago at the age of 61, I walked into a gym and asked for a trainer. I hadn’t done any formal exercise in more than 20 years and I was 193 lbs. with no endurance or flexibility. I don’t know what moved me to walk in to the gym, maybe a recognition of my age and mortality or maybe just a desire to feel healthier and stronger.
After three years of hitting the gym 2-3 times a week with a personal trainer and moderately changing my diet to reduce carb intake, I feel stronger and healthier than I have in years and am down to a stable weight of 175. I can’t say I enjoy exercises, I hate running, despise cardio machines and without my trainer appointments would probably skip hitting the gym for any excuse.
But having a trainer with a regular schedule works for me and is a great investment in my health. I have only had two trainers, one for a short period at the start who understood my limitations and worked to gradually get me in shape. And for the last two years, my trainer Johnny Gillespie, has guided me through endurance, conditioning and strength workouts with the great wisdom of a 28-year old who enjoys the intricacies of the health and fitness world.
So here are the three big benefits that us over 60 boomers can get from a personal trainer that won’t come from self-directed exercise programs.
1. Muscle Awareness- Proprioception.
Here is a new word for us boomers, “proprioception
“. It means to have an awareness of ones own body position. I translate that to be muscle awareness. The most important lessons I learn from my trainer is to become more aware of the specific muscles I use in daily life and learning how to focus on specific muscles during exercise to realize fitness gains.Thanks to my trainer, I have discovered muscles that I didn’t know I had. With every exercise he is saying “where do you feel that?
” And then he adjusts my form to be sure I am working the right muscle or muscle group.
The best example of my proprioception comes from strength training focused on the back between the shoulder blades, the rhomboids. This area should be important to all of us boomers because strength in the upper back helps us stand up straight and not develop what I call the “the old person slouch” or a drooping head and bent forward posture.
There are several weight exercises that help build upper back strength. When these exercises are not done with the right muscle focus and positioning, you will work arms (triceps) instead of the back muscles, so having a trainer help with muscle awareness is critical.
Another area where I find muscle awareness difficult is activating my glute (but) muscles and not my lower back muscles to do squats and deadlifts. Why is this so important? Well if you are an older guy like me you have probably suffered from lower back pain at some point or chronically. And if you are like me you never really thought about what glutes do for you and just bend over and sit and stand with little or no proprioception. But I now I know the importance of strong glutes in sitting, standing walking and many everyday tasks.
Doing squats, kettle bell swings and deadlifts with no mental focus on your glutes will probably cause you to use your lower back muscles instead. With my weak lower back and lack of flexibility that was my big challenge, using my glutes to stand up with the weight and not using my lower back. With help from my trainer and focus I can now move that motion to the glutes where more strength will help with everyday movements.
2. Functional Strength.
The second benefit of personal training is to help you focus on functional strength or your “core” For those of us over 60, we all want to maintain the strength we need for everyday activities, for simply handling walking, stairs or just standing at a party for an hour without fatigue. We also want to be able to sit and stand without effort, to carry groceries or do fun activities like hiking or biking or for the lucky, playing with grandchildren.The best way to maintain functional strength is to build your core muscles. Here is a good definition
I found for the core:
Your core is a complex series of muscles, extending far beyond your abs, including everything besides your arms and legs. It is incorporated in almost every movement of the human body.
My trainer gets me to focus on the “posterior chain” of muscles that are critical for good posture and movement. Most of us boomers have the tendency to be “forward” or internally rotated. Strengthening the weaknesses of the posterior chain, your back, glutes,hamstrings, calfs, will help achieve structural balance to improve strength, flexibility and posture.
So how can a personal trainer help? My trainer is always giving me new exercise challenges to build the core and the posterior chain. That keeps me focused on getting stronger and better. Like with these wall walk-ups!
The third and maybe the most important benefit of personal training for us Boomers is improving flexibility.
For most of my 63 years, I was never concerned about flexibility, I never stretched or even gave that much thought. But as I hit 60 I noticed how stiff I was in everyday movements, bending, sitting and reaching. And the first thing my trainer did was evaluate my flexibility, which sucked.
No way could I bend over and touch my toes, no way could I extend my arms straight up over my head, and no way could I squat down and sit without support from my arms. So stretching is a key part of the exercise routine I go through before workouts, with my trainer and after workouts. I should do stretches everyday but I have still failed to build that habit.
But now after working at it for three years I can touch my toes with a slight knee bend, my shoulders will let me raise my arms and I can do squats with an OK form. But I still suffer from occasional muscle pulls, I have strained my Achilles, my abductor, my elbow and my shoulder all from flexibility problems. But with my trainers help, I keep working through the strains and keep working on better flexibility.
Here are my tools for flexibility, a band for leg stretches and Lacrosse balls for rolling.
Get a “Trainer” Not a Workout Coach.The word “train” is in the term personal trainer for a reason. I expect my trainer to be more than a workout coach who gives me workouts and encouragement. I want someone who can “train” me in exercise science. Why am I doing these exercises? What is the correct form for the best results? If I hurt, what can I do to correct it?To achieve these three benefits and to make sure you get your money’s worth from personal training find a trainer that is educated about exercise science, muscles and technique. Fortunately, I have a trainer who is a “trainer” who can educate me with exercises that will make me stronger and healthier. That is why I think personal training is a great investment for Boomers.