Aging Amazingly

Fitness for the “over-sixty” crowd

As someone in the fitness industry who has worked with “mature” clients over the years, there is nothing more maddening than some of the marketing directed to this amazing audience. I just saw an image in a 55+ community brochure that has a healthy woman in her early sixties sitting in a chair with a 5-pound dumbbell while being “assisted” by a younger trainer.

Give me a break! We work with dozens of clients in their sixties and seventies and they are strong, determined people who find those images insulting. They aren’t frail, yet the prevailing strategy for some training the over 60 population seems to include exercises like slowly walking on a treadmill, or lifting very light weights.

They don’t want to be babied. They want to be challenged. They want to be strong! They want to train like their 40-year-old counterparts. They like the music pumping and their heart rate elevated. The one prevailing attitude of my “mature” clients seems to be “There isn’t any quit in me!”

I recently asked some of these clients how utilizing the functional strength and conditioning model has added value and vitality to their lives, and here’s what they had to say!

  •       “It stimulates my brain and motivates my body!”
  •       “I love seeing my 5 p.m. crew! They have helped me develop friendships and increase my accountability and consistency. If I miss a session, they ask, where were you were yesterday?”
  •       “Training gives me confidence and lessens my anxiety”
  •       “I feel stronger doing yard work or moving furniture around the house.”
  •       “I can outwork my buddies at church setting up tables and chairs.”
  •       “My wife and I pulled a stump out the ground on our property and afterwards we joked that we are ‘Next Level Strong!’”
  •       “My energy is much higher than my more sedentary peers.”
  •       They chuckle when they often hear this excuse from friends: “I can’t exercise because my knees hurt”…because when you’re over 60, a lot of stuff hurts.
  •       “I’m living proof that you can improve your balance and flexibility which has really helped my golf game.”
  •       “I’m glad I finally found a gym where I’m not treated like a senior citizen!”
  •       My favorite quote might be “Training is the most fun I have all day!”

So what is functional fitness and why is it right for people of all ages, especially the over 60 crowd?

Functional fitness, by definition, includes exercises that train your muscles to work together and prepare them for daily tasks by simulating common movements you might do at home, at work or in sports. While using various muscles in the upper and lower body at the same time, functional fitness exercises also emphasize core stability.

When we improve our strength and our conditioning in basic functional movement patterns we perform better – whether at simple daily tasks like bending and reaching, or more complete movements like running. And when we improve our core stability we decrease our risk of falling and getting injured.

So how does the functional fitness work and how can I become more functionally fit? There are 5 key components of setting up a good functional fitness program. Each session should take no more than an hour and should be done two to four times per week, depending on your goals and your starting fitness level.

  1. Soft tissue or body work: In our younger days, our muscle tissue was more supple but as you age it becomes less pliable. Using a foam roller or massage stick 5-10 minutes per day to soften muscles and prepare them for your training makes a huge difference.
  2. Mobility and flexibility: Exercises that focus on hip flexor mobility, or groin mobility exercises should be a cornerstone. They can either be done at the beginning of training or mixed into the strength component as active rest.
  3. Explosive or plyometric work: Not a ton of sets and reps are needed, but turning on the nervous system is vital. I always say, “we never fall slowly” so we must be prepared to catch ourselves or move quickly at times. Medicine ball throws are my favorite way to add this component to the program.
  4. Strength circuits: Keep it simple. Do three rounds of 8-10 repetitions with functional strength movements that incorporate these movements: push, pull, squat, hip hinge and carrying something heavy.
  5. Conditioning or fitness: Battling rope drills are fairly low impact, and sled pushes or medicine ball exercises help keep the impact low and the fun high!

Of course, no great results in this program can happen without a good nutrition program. So keep the protein high to help build and maintain muscle mass, and keep the carbs low unless weight gain is the goal. Eat clean-utilizing whole foods and cook at home as much as possible.

It doesn’t have to be complicated, but if you want to “age amazingly” it‘s imperative you not only stay active, but also focus on building strength and never give up on making your health a priority! Before you begin your program check with your doctor, then seek the help of a professional who can provide you an easy-to-follow program.

My longtime client and great friend, Sam Mitchell, looked me in the eye recently and said  “Age is just a number. There’s no better investment you can make than in your health.” Sam celebrates his 75th birthday next month and still trains with me three days a week!


Colby Schreckengost
About Colby Schreckengost 5 Articles
Colby Schreckengost is owner/director of training at Next Level Fitness & Performance in Haymarket, VA. Colby holds a BS and MS and is a former strength and conditioning coach at the University of Tulsa. He is a certified personal trainer and Sports Nutritionist.

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