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10 Tips for Leading Highly Engaging Senior Fitness Classes, part 2

Fitness classes and programs that encourage consistent visits to a fitness center are an effective way to pull people together and encourage seniors to care for their physical, mental and social health. 

 So how can fitness instructors create the best possible classes for seniors?

In a previous post, we covered 5 valuable tips for creating engaging senior fitness classes. In this post, we offer 5 additional ways that trainers can create classes seniors want to come back to over and over again.

6. Identify their big WHY.

Dawn Mans, the Wellness Connection Coordinator at Three Pillars Senior Living in Wisconsin, shared a great example during a HUR Hero Interview of how helping the seniors in her community find their BIG WHY boosted participation in their fitness program to a whopping 79%.

“Their reason for not working out isn’t because they didn’t know exercise is good for them. It’s that they haven’t connected exercise to their ability to live their life as they want to live it.” – Dawn Mans  

To maximize motivation for anything – including group fitness classes - it’s important to connect deeply to a reason for being there and putting in the effort.

Ask questions like,

  • What do you want to get out of this class?
  • What is your goal for this year of exercise class?
  • What fun exciting plans do you have coming up?

 Then use those responses to build a deeper connection. For example... 

  • I’ve always had a garden and I want to continue to be able to do the work of gardening. (How big is your garden? What are you planting?)
  • I want to keep living on my own, in my house. (Tell me about your home? How are your neighbors?)
  • I’ve just booked a trip to Panama with my daughter and need to be able to keep up with her! (Why did the two of you choose to go to Panama? What do you plan to do there?)
  • My doctor told me I’m headed for a knee replacement and want to see if I can avoid it, or at least recover quickly. (Tell me more about the pain you’re experiencing in your knees? What is it preventing you from doing?) 

Not everyone will engage with you right away when you start asking them questions designed to identify their BIG WHY. That’s ok. Just do what you can to encourage them to think about what’s most important to them and what they want to still be able to do in the future.

Some of them will resist because they don’t want to acknowledge that their health isn’t what it used to be. Try anyway. Making plans for the future is key to summoning motivation in the present.

 7. Focus on Functional Training

A key part of a senior fitness instructor’s job is to help seniors maintain or improve mobility, strength, balance, and flexibility so they can do the things they want to do. For the most part, the reasons seniors show up to a fitness class are practical and vital to their health, longevity and quality of life.

This is why functional training is so important – it’s about building strength and mobility through exercises that use movements similar to those required in our day to day life.

For fitness instructors who are also creating personal training plans for their clients, the HUR FreeTrainer makes it easy to combine in-class and out-of-class functional training exercises in a fitness plan while tracking progress across all activities.

Trainers can put in as much instruction for each exercise as they want alongside pictures that demonstrate how to perform the movement. Even better, the pictures can be taken with the same equipment and inside the same facility that their resident’s use.

Just like HUR SmartTouch technology, the FreeTrainer tracks each user’s progress, so trainers can make consistent changes to each resident’s routine AND fine tune functional training in class exercises.

8. Slow it down. Use repetition. Simplify. Break it down.

 This is where your knowledge and training as a fitness instructor is important. When someone in your class is not executing a move correctly, it may indicate a misunderstanding, or a physical impairment or injury. It’s imperative that the instructor notice these discrepancies and have the skills and expertise to understand the root of the issue.

Is there something you need to explain better? Do you need to clarify the cues your giving? Do you need to spend some time one-on-one with a participant to identify out potential physical challenges that need to be addressed?

Problems with technique may be a symptom of an issue. Just as likely, the technique may be exacerbating an issue.

  • Ask questions. Ask participants where they are feeling the exercise and if they are experiencing pain or discomfort.
  • This is probably the most important piece. For instructors with a wealth of knowledge and experience, it’s so easy to assess a problem too quickly and come up with an answer that does not match the participant’s experience of their own body. This can cause you to miss important signals that might lead to an injury.
  • Ask Permission. If someone doesn’t want your help, they aren’t likely to implement your suggestions. Coaching only works if the other person wants input and assistance.
  • Use your knowledge. Incrementally break down the movement based on their answers, and suggest small corrections and encouragements. Don’t overwhelm them too much information at once or a complete overhaul of their fitness plan.

8. Acknowledge & Celebrate with authentic enthusiasm.

 Appreciate their accomplishment and efforts, all the time – even when they’re not quite getting it. “Good work!” “We’ll get there!” “Look at how much you’ve improved!” Reassuring acknowledgements and encouragement should be a consistent part of class communication.

 9. Fine tune your cues & music – and don’t hesitate to mix it up!

The type of music you select is incredibly important to the tone and energy of the class. The volume should be low enough that most participants can also hear your verbal cues. As much as you can, remove background noises. In most cases, a microphone is essential. Seniors with hearing impairment will rely heavily on your visual cues, so make sure to also use bold, clear movements to communicate instructions.

Whenever possible, demonstrate by being a full-on participant. You’ve probably already notice that when the instructor stops a movement, participants will often follow suit and just stop in their tracks. For many, the visual cues are their primary connection to what is being taught.

Don’t hesitate to mix up the music!

Just because seniors enjoy music from their younger years, doesn’t mean they don’t also enjoy current music. Changing up the music and including a mix that spans several decades is especially important for those seniors who attend several classes a week. Dance tunes from any generation are always good, and you might be surprised at how up-to-date their musical tastes and knowledge are!   

10. Anticipate bumps in the road

Even if you are completely and totally prepared, the best laid plans do not always adhere perfectly to plan. Anticipate challenges and potential pitfalls, and do your best to know how to handle tricky situations before they arise. In the end, trust your ability to handle situations where things don’t quite go the way you were expecting them to go.

For example, if you’re playing music from your iPad, stash an extra charger in your bag. Pre-plan exercise modifications in case an injured participant shows up for the first time.

Most importantly - Have Fun!

 There are many training programs that will prepare you for teaching but the most important quality to bring to class is enjoying and loving this people in your class. For those of us who are drawn to working with seniors, the best thing you can do is to never lose your connection to all the reasons you find them interesting, fascinating, and inspiring.