15 Dec Strength Training For Older Adults (A Trainer’s Guide For Success)

A brief background on exercise and agingWe know that there is substantial evidence from numerous studies that demonstrate the positive association between increased levels of exercise and physical activity with improved health. If there was ever a ‘magic bullet’ to improve health in the aging human body, exercise would be it. What is consistent in the research is that there are clear indicators that physical inactivity is a major contributor to mortality. It has been reported that approximately 3.2 million deaths each year are attributable to physical inactivity. There have been large scale published studies that have also associated the loss of muscular strength to increased mortality. This should be very alarming to those who do not train for strength.

Fitness programs for older adults continue to be one of the top trends year after year according to a major annual worldwide survey. Exercise with the older client can truly be life-changing and transformational. Coaches and trainers have the ability to make a massive impact in a market segment that needs our help. Strength training for the older adult matters. With these understandings, it is an honor to share this article.

This is a guest post written by Jim Hatcher. This information offers much needed and valuable perspective when working with – and training – older clients.

In many aspects of our respective lives, we often set “goals” that we hope to achieve.  Often they are personal and achievable with reasonable and consistent effort. 

In the fitness industry, the goals of the client are often to lose weight, to trim inches, to get stronger or to look better (in or out of their clothes). These goals, or some combination, are the “Why” we, as clients, have come to your gym and it is the “Why” we look to you as our trainers to help us.

How do you help us to be realistic in our expectations and how do we measure responsible progress?

The answers to these and other questions help establish the “symbiotic” relationship that serves as the basis for the future of the student/teacher collaboration. It is a mutual understanding relationship. As a trainer, you know what I’m hoping to achieve and I understand the “why” and the “how” of what you are asking me to do. 

And importantly, this is critical in our committing mentally to a long term relationship.

But, here’s a personal observation.

My hope is that it might help you relate more effectively with your older clients with a better understanding for charting a future direction for success.


As a 75 year old who has trained mostly on my own by reading magazines and articles by the late Dr. Fred Hatfield and others, I have identified my own training goals.

You see, I was a “big goal” guy. 

I wanted PR’s in each powerlifting competition and I wanted to do things that others were less likely to be able to do (the SFG 1, for example).

I would go after these big goals with a commitment and passion. I would seek out a trainer who would push me in achieving these big goals.

These goals all had a certain common denominator – they all had a ‘specific deadline’ or a specific date to accomplish the goal.

When was the next meet?

What was the next certification? 

How and where could I push the next limit? And you know what, I was reasonably successful with this approach.

While it was decent at the time, the major downside is that I never learned how to have more responsible goals for living a healthy life.

As I age and can no longer seek the big ‘date certain’ achievements, the habit of thinking “big” and doing “big” doesn’t want to go away. There is a transition missing.

I know what my “goals” should be. I have been saying that they should be to eat better, sleep better, feel better and have more energy to enjoy my avocations and my family.

The absence of a “date certain” is what’s different.

That point where I knew if I had succeeded – or failed – for the moment. (Actually, there is a date certain for me; I just don’t want to know when it is.)

As with any athlete or client, it’s important to understand their past so you know how to best serve them today.


As a trainer, it seems to me that you (the coach or trainer) have the education, the talent and the opportunity to guide many of your clients in their goal selection. This is powerful. You can guide their lifestyle decisions and recognize the ever-changing aspects of their choices and the implications for their future.

For many of your clients, the identification and acceptance of more age appropriate goals should provide for a more satisfactory and rewarding way of living. 

Programming and training sessions that recognize and reward sufficient recovery time brings the older person back to the gym. Your clients will look forward to the next session rather than feel fatigued and lack the enthusiasm to continue.

Avoidance of injuries allows for consistency and decreases the odds that the older client will not return. Accepting the occasional “bad day” with empathy and understanding goes a long way to cementing a more permanent client.

This is key.

Yes, we are a bit different as we age and we have earned the right to be treated a little different. We are fighting an uphill battle and we know it. For us, remediating our health is difficult. Preventing, or at least postponing, ill health is a much better option.


Bringing value to your older clients is not only about “inches and pounds.” It’s more than that. It’s about encouraging good decisions and behaviors with the longer view in mind.

Not having coaching in that regard is a huge void for me. 

You have a unique and rewarding opportunity to help your clients successfully pass through multiple transitions of their lives. Those transitions are shifts in goals and challenges of the aging process.

What greater calling can there be and what greater satisfaction can you have than the opportunity to impact the direction, health and happiness of your long-term clients? This is a great power and a massive impact.


1- A well established relationship with an older client is both mutually rewarding and it’s good for your business. Older clients make great references and are a wealth of referral potential. (We have many friends who need you as much – or more – than we do). This is a huge opportunity for today’s trainer.

Build your relationship and build your base of clients.

2- Take a big picture view and understand where your individual client is coming from. Age appropriate goals that are directed towards a healthy lifestyle are critical factors in working with the older client today.

Encourage decisions and behavior that improve overall levels of health.

3- Applying the education, skills and experience of your craft to the older client will bring out the very best in you. And, that is truly the “Art of Coaching.

Apply the “art of coachingto each individual for the greatest impact.

Please share this article on twitter, facebook, or anywhere you like.

Rdella Training is about “we” not “me.” Together, we can educate, inspire, and make a difference. If you have something great to share and are interested in contributing, please go to RdellaTraining.com/submissions to learn more.
Jim Hatcher is a retired businessman and educator. He earned bachelor and master’s degrees from Ball State University and a doctorate from Indiana University. What started out to be a career in health and physical education became a partial career as a university administrator followed by the balance of his working days as president of a not for profit corporation in Chicago. In 1985, he placed third in the 181 lbs. class AMDFPA National Masters Powerlifting Association Championships and in 2014 at the age of 72 successfully completed the StrongFirst SFG level 1 CertificationHe retired in 2001 and is now on a personal mission to help get older people into regular health and fitness programs.
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