Training The Senior Athlete
I've been working in a corporate gym setting for only a month or so, but I can't tell you the relief I felt when the first person to sign up for training was an athlete. Being someone who thoroughly enjoys sport specific training, and working with athletes, this put me a little as ease with my new position. But there is something different about this athlete that I've been training: she's 78 years old!
Jane Doe (I'm protecting my clients' real names obviously) showed up at the front desk asking for a membership and to talk to a personal trainer. I talked with her for all of two minutes before she told me that she was a golfer, and wanted to get back in shape for the North Carolina Women's Amateur Championships in three months.
Now, many considerations have to be taken into training any athlete for any sport: physiological demands, style of play, duration of play, sport rules, etc. But how does training a young athlete (middle school to college age) differ from training someone who was born right after the Great Depression? The answer is tricky, because the training is very different, yet very similar.
The first thing I had to look at, was the demands of golf. A logical reason that golf is a common sport among retirees and the senior population is due to the actual lack of physical demand. To recreationally play golf well, you simply (I will use this term lightly) have to have some technical proficiency in swing mechanics and club selection. To be competitive though, one must also possess the power aspect of the game, through increased rotational velocity at the hips in order to increase the speed of the club head.
The second thing I had to consider, is the fact that a 78 year old athlete is still 78 years old, and therefore has similar needs of others her age. Now, training implements such as agility and power development should still be utilized to enhance performance, but they take a back seat to basic strength development and motor control. Simply put, you can't rotate your hips at a high speed if you have no hip, knee, and ankle stability.
To get Jane Doe going in the direction of ensuring balance, we started every workout from the center of the body and worked outward. Not necessarily utilizing the most muscle groups, but focusing on the very basics at each joint. For example, a lower body workout followed this type of flow:
Glute Bridge (Warmup)
Assisted Squat (Usually TRX)
Assisted Split Squat (Holding onto a rig)
Assisted Side Lunge (TRX or holding onto rig)
"Box" Step Up (From the side, movement focus at the knee)
Calf Raises (Hands hovering a bar just in case balance was lost)
This pattern was also used for upper body stability, mainly using resistance bands, but starting at the shoulder, then to the elbow, then the wrist.
After 10 hour long sessions, these same exercises were able to be utilized but with added resistance, or minimizing the use of resistance. A TRX system or using a rig for assistance was no longer needed. At this stage (which we are now in the midst of), we are able to implement basic power and agility drills with minor modifications. Agility ladders for increasing the speed at which the hips move, and ball slams for increasing the power of the hips. A main modification that we make to any movements utilizing medballs, is the elimination of a "catch". For a vertical ball slam (with 4-8lb medball), this means that we use a slightly forward bounce in order for me to catch the ball in f
ront of her (Jane Doe), and then hand the ball back to her. For lateral ball slams (for rotational power), I have her throw the ball at me since the amount of power isn't that great, and then I roll the ball back to her.
The last consideration I make that I normally don't with younger athletes, is that I allow the older athlete to pick and choose whether or not they do an exercise. This is largely due to a concept from a quote by a nutrition professor regarding geriatric diets, "I don't bother telling 90 year olds to not eat bacon. They're close enough to the end of life that eating bacon won't kill them that much sooner." I use this concept to allow training to be a little more fun. If Jane doesn't like an exercise, we finish the first set, and then I come up with a different exercise that has a similar stimulus.
In the end, however, I must admit that I've come to enjoy working with athletes who have committed to playing until they no longer can, because they put into perspective how crucial an active life is to stay young.