Fitness & the Aging Population – Risks & Rewards

seniors-stretching-on-beachFitness & the Aging Population – Risks & Rewards

The reality is that most Americans are unprepared physically and mentally for old age. To the population at large the future looks like a partnership with the medical community – and drugs – as inevitable. I disagree. The health issue is the precursor to the fitness issue and the two are linked closely to the future of all those who are currently “behind the curve” when it comes to preparing for our “declining years”. The fitness industry is going to play a critical role in how well we age in this country in the years ahead – and the impact we have on the lives of those we are fortunate enough to train. If we don’t change the “culture of avoidance” we are experiencing in this country today in really short order, the cost of our failure will be enormous. The point I am making is that to turn this ship around we need to find a way to tap into the “emotional content” of people of all ages and help THEM find their OWN path to “feeling” the NEED to train and FINALLY enjoy being active (just like me when I was a boy on Maui). What do we do?

The training process is very consequential to the outcome I envision – meaning that it is “one step at a time” so that lessons can “sink in” and be internalized by the client. Trainers with limited experience often miss this step in their assessments of potential clients and unknowingly set up failure as the outcome of their best efforts. Finding the “hot buttons” for clients takes the art of listening to a higher level where we listen with BOTH our ears and our hearts to what people are saying to us. As we age and find obstacles appearing in our path to new ideas (like living a new life through fitness and training), fear can take over and rule our ability to hear what is being said to us. It is through “hearing” what people are saying – nonverbally – that will enable and empower us to make a REAL difference in their lives. If I had to pick the MOST important skill in establishing a relationship with a potential client I would pick the listening skill. What do we study most to become a trainer? It is NOT listening!

The first step in the process of working with people who ARE afraid is NOT in “telling” them anything – it is in the process of asking the “right” questions and providing COMFORT and SUPPORT along the way that establishes the importance of the dialogue – and open (and honest) communication. It is in open and honest communications that we can “build the bridge to another soul” and create the “link” that will ALLOW us to serve people of ALL ages in critical areas of their lives. Taking “baby steps” and learning how to “master the basics” (my primary message), is the way to encourage and prepare the client for what is to come. Fear DISAPPEARs with knowledge and support – and no “preconceived notions” about another person’s needs, allowing us to establish a foundation of mutual trust and respect – the key to developing a long and lasting relationship.

Preparing a clearly defined plan highlighting the “points of success” and “milestones” of accomplishment is a MAJOR element in helping clients adhere to and comply with their programs. I like the KISS approach to planning – “keep it simple stupid”. Explain the elements of the plan to the client in plain English and help them understand their role in the process. Let them know that they ARE beginning at step one and that it is only the FIRST step in a process and that you will be there for the ‘long haul’ to help them reach their goals. As a result of this careful process of planning they WILL greet each new session as an opportunity to discover something new about themselves leaving them stronger mentally, physically and emotionally – and ready for whatever comes their way!

Fear is an inherent part of the aging process – fear of the unknown and fear of not knowing all I need to know to face the challenges before me. This of course applies to the majority of the population, doesn’t it? “Assuming” always gets us in trouble with people and so I always affirm in the beginning that we will “be learning together” and what we need to learn in the process, we will learn TOGETHER – tying me to the partnership. Getting beyond these barriers requires building mutual respect and trust and this requires EMPATHY – being able to put yourself in another person’s shoes and trying to “feel how they might be feeling” about their situation. While we explain the trainer’s responsibilities to our clients, we MUST also understand the role the client will play in the training relationship so that both people are prepared for the unknown and unexpected twists and turns that inevitably “pop up” in the course of implementing the plan. (Life has a way of surprising even the most prepared professional!)

Older people know a lot about life but where they can fall short is in their OWN understanding of how their bodies work and why they have stopped working like they used to when they were younger.  The opportunity to educate and inform – and inspire – people is always available to us and how we choose to welcome this moment into our lives is up to each of us. I CAN say that if we don’t make a conscious effort to “reach out” to people we WILL lose our chance to make a difference in their lives. They WILL NOT reach out to us! It is NOT about “selling” ourselves but finding the “connection” to another soul ‘unlike’ ours – and yet very much like our own. With aging people becoming the new “reality” of the future, the fitness profession will have to adapt to this reality by learning that we “don’t know it all” and “partnering” with clients will be THE KEY to success in helping them address the many challenges they will be leaving on our “doorstep”. This partnership will help ease the “age difference” that many trainers will face with clients in the future and allow them to establish their credibility in the relationship. To serve clients with distinction and professionalism AND that is appreciated and rewarded by the client with friendship and mutual trust and respect is reward in itself for a job well done!

Author Profile: Nick Prukop

Website:      Email: [email protected] Nick is an author, teacher, and speaker and has been a certified personal trainer and lifestyle and weight management consultant since 1992. He is currently recognized as a master trainer by the IDEA International Health and Fitness Association. He has been a runner since 1964 and has accumulated over 60,000 miles in that time.

Disclaimer: The views of the author are his or her own, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Ask The Trainer.
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