Athletes come in all shapes, sizes and ages. While it is common to think of athletes being different shapes and sizes, from figure skaters to sumo wrestlers; perhaps it is not common place to consider athletes across the lifespan, specifically the second half of the lifespan. However, to overlook these individuals would be a mistake. Whether it was Satchel Paige playing professional baseball at 59 years of age, Gary Player golfing at age 73, or Stanislaw Kowalski competing in the 100 meters, shot put, and discus at the age of 105, these individuals prove that age is nothing more than a number.

NOT ALWAYS ABOUT BREAKING RECORDS…Similar to other athletes, individuals competing and performing at an advanced age will have specific goals, which Personal Trainers can help them to achieve. Common goals for this population not only lend towards improved athletic performance, but also to maintaining and improving quality of life and performance of activities of daily living. These goals commonly include maintaining or improving strength and flexibility, fall prevention, and continued injury or surgical rehabilitation. Due to the nature of these goals, workouts for this population may look different than what is offered in a typical gym. At MERGE Performance Institute in Dubuque, Iowa this is a concept that we understand and embrace on a daily basis. At MERGE, we understand that our “Veteran Athletes” may not be interested in breaking their personal record for a one repetition maximum for back squat or bench press, but that they would rather improve their dynamic stability and flexibility while improving their overall strength in an attempt to shoot their age in a round golf. To this extent, we offer 100% individualized programs to accommodate each individual’s goals and physical activity status.

INDIVIDUAL PROGRAMMING…When building an individual program for our “experienced” clients there are general guidelines that should be considered in conjunction with the considerations with which each individual presents. For the majority of the population, it is important to remember that activity status is more important than the type of activity and amount of work being performed; furthermore, these factors are dose dependent and must be accounted for when creating a program. By staying active, “Veteran Athletes” can help to ward off the physical, mental, and emotional ailments which commonly present in the second half of the lifespan. To this extent, the number of sets and repetitions of an exercise and the amount of weight moved during a specific exercise is not as important as the successful completion of the exercise. Therefore, generally speaking, 2 sets of 6-10 repetitions is sufficient for the population to see results and accomplish their goals; however, more ambitious athletes can follow the same goal dependent set and repetition guidelines for muscular strength and power, muscular hypertrophy, and muscular endurance, that athletes across the lifespan follow.

No matter the sets and repetitions being performed, individual considerations must be made for each athlete and involve the presence of pre-existing and concurrent medical conditions or injuries, current medications which contraindicate exercise, and medical clearance for physical activity. These considerations are important as they will help clinicians to build the individualized program that each athlete needs and deserves. Based on these factors, and many more, the clinician may decide to start the program off with body weight and dumbbell exercises before progressing to barbell and machine exercises, or to begin with static exercises before progressing to dynamic exercises. As a clinician, clear and concise instruction and spotting are vitally important for all clients, but especially so for this population. These two factors will help to prevent confusion and/or poor technique that could lead to injury and prevent the individual from achieving their goals. However, when communicated, demonstrated, and spotted appropriately, resistance training can be a phenomenal tool utilized in the fight against the aging process.

PSYCHOLOGICAL BENEFITS MATTER…While it is important to remember that these athletes come to you to exercise and improve their physical status, it is important to also remember the psychological benefits that are derived from exercise and interpersonal interactions. For a significant portion of the population, the moments spent in the clinic exercising with their Personal Trainer, amongst other clinicians and clients, may also provide them valuable interaction time with other individuals that they may not otherwise get on a daily basis. Therefore, their time spent in the clinic can provide for stimulating conversations and thoughts that can help to prevent cognitive decline in addition to physical decline.

As a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, the majority of my profession revolves around individuals slightly younger than Gary Player and Stanislaw Kowalski; however, it’s the athletes that break the trends of monotony that are fun, interesting, and perhaps the most enjoyable with which to work. These athletes allow you to not only teach but to learn, about strength training and about life.

-Jeremy Clausen, ATC, CSCS