Balance Training in the Senior Community

Natalie Davis | 18 Jul 2017

The senior community is often forgotten in the world of fitness. The baby boomers are getting older and medical science is providing more opportunities for a longer life span- the senior community is more active than ever. Some of the people in this population have artificial joints, which are more stable and stronger than their other joints. Seniors are ambulating more, living independently, and some are still working.

The problem arises when the natural progression of losing balance, memory, and coordination happens while a senior is still living a fulfilling life. The most important care they could receive is overlooked, despite medical improvements like artificial joints and access to pharmaceuticals.  Seniors are not being shown how to develop their strength or balance. One day, it becomes too late, and these active seniors are now injured, depressed, and with less ability to heal.

We, as trainers, should see this as an opportunity to use our knowledge of functional exercise to help these seniors be able to maintain their active lifestyles and independence without injury. The goal is to remain independent!

A key element of training seniors is balance. Understanding the stability profile of your senior clients will allow you to provide a safe environment for all their other exercises. Follow this simple small-group format to create a safe balance program for your seniors:

Gather Participants

Line the participants up in front of you, standing behind chairs with and without armrests. If they are very unsteady on their feet, make a note that you may want to have an assistant walk around to assist them. Stand in front of the class in order see everyone. No one should be out of your direct sight.

Balance Assessments

Begin with exercises that everyone can do, especially with the support of a chair, wheelchair, or walker. Intermediate exercises would have them unsupported or staggering their foot stance. More advanced exercises would be for them to close their eyes and do static balance exercises (no movement on the balance leg), then dynamic balance (movement of the balance leg, such as a single-leg squat).

Tip: you may want to think of a beginners class and an advanced class if the population is large.

Gait Training

Gait would be next to address because this takes a keen skill of knowledge to know what happens when the foot hits the ground, normally and abnormally. Abnormal gait patterns are common in the older populations, which can be a result of degenerative osteology, artificial joints, poor body mechanics, and other medical conditions. Once again, an assistant may need to be there to help.

Strength and Stability Training

Full body strength is important, using dumbbells, bands, to incorporate upper body strength. Then, if available, sitting on stability balls are great to incorporate core strength. Have them sit on stability ball and lift one knee up at a time, torso rotations, and dumbbell exercises are great choices to perform.  If sitting on a stability ball is too challenging, have them sit in a char to perform their exercises.

Stretching. Stretching would be the grand finale and should address hamstrings, pectorals, and hip flexors due to them sitting for longer periods. More than likely they will have a combination of upper cross syndrome (i.e. rounded shoulder and forward head posture), poor circulation, stiff joints, and possibly pain. Be gentle with stretching. One may not ever achieve full range of motion, nor should it be a goal.

Let’s review

Senior Fitness Best Practices:

  1. Arrange Class for safety. Have chairs set up, and an assistant if needed
  2. Start with balance holding onto a stable chair, wheelchair, or walker
  3. Gait Training- pick 2 or 3 exercises
  4. Total body strength, stability Ball- pick 2 or 3 exercises
  5. Stretching

A class should not last more than 30-45 mins. Extreme fatigue can be a result of training for this population due to medications and general poor physical conditioning. Because of this:

  1. Place an emphasis on education and just getting them to move, not muscular exhaustion.
  2. Choose exercises to help improve stability and control in an environment they feel comfortable with.
  3. Give them the option to rest whenever they want.

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Natalie Davis

About the author: Natalie Davis

An elite personal trainer and business owner, Natalie embodies the term fitness. She owns Embody Pure Fitness in Washington D.C which specializes in post-rehabilitation training and wellness for all ages and fitness levels. She has been known to have "magical hands".

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Comments (1)

Enella, Joan | 30 Jul 2017, 13:57 PM

I teach balance and strength for seniors and love to get as much information from professionals as possible so Thank you for your information!