Personal Trainers and Seniors
The Older, the Better
A Real Alternative to Back and Body Pain, with a Sample Training Routine
It happened suddenly: Common exercises and activities, like vacuum cleaning, wracked my back with pain. I hardly believed the X-rays showing my lower spine deeply curved to the left -- lordosis -- and disks in the upper back going bad. How had that happened?
"It's aging," the doctor said, and added that I could blame the lordosis on office work and sitting. He said to take Advil.
Because of back pain I quit: ballet lessons, Zumba, canoeing (friends went without me), bicycling (hard on my disks), step aerobics (hurt my knees), going out to dance, lawn mowing, and cleaning (I had to hire people). I went to the gym less often, and had to quit basic exercises I'd done for 30 years: barbell squats, overhead presses. I took a trip earlier than planned, worried that if I waited I might not be able to hoist luggage. I took lumbar pillows to the movies. Back soreness kept me awake nights; I couldn't get comfortable.
Was this what becoming a "senior" meant? How awful! I was not ready to accept all those limitations. Desperate, with my world getting smaller every day, after hearing "Accept it" from doctors and the chiropractor, I finally called my gym's personal trainer, who turned out to be a middle-aged man with all sorts of certifications and a specialist in "corrective exercise," which sounded like what I needed.
Expensive? Oh yes. One hour twice a week for four weeks: $480. That money restored my life. It was the best money I have ever spent. No one can fix my spine, but the trainer helped me develop specific muscle groups to support it and compensate for it, and a strong core for good posture to prevent further damage. Now I belong to two hiking clubs!
Most fitness facilities (91 percent) have reputable personal trainers on staff or on call. Start by asking at your nearest fitness facility. It costs nothing to ask, and many trainers, like mine, offer a tryout session free. Most trainers are freelancers and will travel to your favorite gym or to your home if you have a home gym.
Tips for Seniors Seeking Personal Training
1. Get an older trainer. My trainer, a very fit man with gray in his beard, understood aging bodies the way a young person cannot. Four or five years ago I'd tried out a 20-something trainer who worked me like a Marine and seemed embarrassed to hear I'd had a mastectomy. Mature ones know better. AARP and the NY Times report that there are more older trainers now than ever.
2. Be certain you can communicate with your trainer. "Communication between you and me is the key," was one of the first things my trainer said. He told me I must speak up if something hurt, or was too hard or too easy, or if I had any questions. He gave me his phone number and email address, and was unfailingly polite.
3. Have a goal. On the first day we took half an hour to catalog my complaints and pinpoint my aches and pains. He measured my height, weight, waistline and body fat (30 percent). We discussed fees and he drew up a contract and an exercise plan and had me start a food diary. Over the course of our sessions I learned that my diet was very good, but my extra treats, like cookies and martinis, explained the eight extra pounds I'd gained in a year. My goal, however, wasn't a Barbie body; it was to treat my aching back.
4. Be honest. I kept an honest food diary and showed it to him at every session. When I came in for a session with my back sizzling with pain, I told him that, and also that I'd do my best. I hate to admit I'm not perfect, but it was part of our open communication.
5. Ask for credentials or references. "Personal training" is a field with a lot of fakes and wanna-bes. My trainer had been working as a trainer since 2006. He has certifications from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), American Heart Association, several others I can't remember, and certification in CPR.
6. Make sure he or she is all about wellness. That includes knowledge about nutrition, digestion, body mechanics, sports equipment, ergonomics, illnesses such as arthritis or high blood pressure and their treatment, realistic goals, and positive thinking.
7. Be sure he or she is healthy and a pro. Don't hire fat slobs, hollow-eyed anorectics or sadists like Jillian. My trainer was fit and wide awake, always dressed in clean, non-smelly, non-revealing athletic clothing and shoes. He still competed in master's-level (over-40) athletics. He was always on time, very professional, always at my side to watch me exercise and correct my form, and earned his $60 an hour.
8. Remember the exercises for later. I couldn't keep paying my trainer forever, although I wished I could. I wrote down his advice (for example, "When you eat a carbohydrate, always eat protein with it") and made notes about the exercises he had me do. I then repeated the workouts on my own. He had given me a key to my own health.
9. Fork it over. "Personal training" sounds so wasteful, so jet-set and twee. I'm as old and cheap as you are, and I thought so, too. And cringed at the price! But I found that my improved health and mobility came fast and was worth every penny.
Why not physical therapy instead? Because without a prescription it's far more expensive than personal training. Why not chiropractic? I love my chiropractor, but although she un-kinks my neck and makes my back feel better, it didn't heal and I couldn't learn to do it for myself. Why didn't I try a sports-medicine facility? They treat mostly dedicated athletes recovering from acute injuries such as ankle sprains or torn rotator cuffs. Not ordinary geezers.
We all agree that health is the most important thing. Get the right personal trainer and you will be glad you spent that money on your health.
"Bird Dog," Ilustrated
A Sample of My Personal-Training Routine
Not all my trainer's exercises included weights. Here's an hour of training, after I'd built up to it over four weeks. My trainer insisted on perfect form.
1. "Suitcase squats" with a 15-pound dumbbell in each hand, 3 sets of 10 reps each.
2. Resistance band around thighs, bend knees, step from side to side, 3 sets of 15 reps each.
3. Pelvic tilts with heels on a riser and arms out, 3 sets of 15 reps each.
4. One-armed cable pulls, 25 pounds, 3 sets of 12 reps each arm. (At home I use elastic resistance bands bought for a quarter at a yard sale.)
5. Rear-deltoid dumbbell flys, 2 sets of 10 reps each with 2-pound weights.
6. "Bird dog" pose (pictured), 3 sets of 15 reps each.
7. "Dead bug," 3 sets of 15 reps each.
8. Side planks, 1 plank each side, 30-60 seconds. I built up to that from 0.