Activity, movement, and fitness are crucial in this new age of social distancing. Not only do we need the physical benefits, but the escapism this provides from the stress, isolation, and boredom that many of us are feeling is also invaluable. While virtual fitness has become the hero for fitness professionals unable to work in their usual environments, and a training method that’s been quickly embraced by the generations who have either grown up with, or adopted, social media as a means of connecting with other people, other generations could potentially be missing out. What about the older generations of exercisers who aren’t digital natives and who didn’t grow up in the device age? Those who may not be familiar with Instagram Live or Zoom? How do we ensure that all populations are staying connected to fitness during this time?
How to help older adults get connected?
Millennials (born between 1980 and 1995) and Gen Z (born between 1995 and 2012) tend to utilise social media as a personal branding tool and as a key way to communicate, valuing online communities. They often follow accounts of celebrities, industry influencers, and those they admire, which means they’re easily accessible to those sharing content. On the other hand, Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) generally don’t spend as much time on social media; in most cases, using it as an interpersonal tool to connect with friends and family. Therefore, they are less likely to follow influencers and are not exposed to as much digital content, including virtual workouts. So, how can we get them involved?
To reach any group of people – online or offline – we can’t wait for them to come to us. We know that older populations using social media are more likely to follow an individual or business they personally know or visit. This means they are more likely to see a workout posted by their own gym than by a ‘fitluencer’ on Instagram. They are more likely to follow a local instructor than an international presenter. And they are more likely to see a link shared by a family member than a large company. Therefore, if our goal is to reach Baby Boomers, then we must try to think and act locally. Consider posting details about virtual classes on local community groups and fitness pages. See if local publications would be willing to help spread the word on their websites and social channels. Contact other local businesses to explore teaming up. Perhaps there are opportunities for some cross-promotion?
But that’s not all; it’s also important to understand the most effective channels to target these older adults. You may already know that Baby Boomers prefer Facebook and Linkedin over Instagram and Twitter, but did you know that YouTube is their preferred social media platform? Baby Boomers still enjoy watching TV (unlike Millennials who prefer consuming the majority of their content on their phone), but YouTube is a close second.
Baby Boomers prefer many of the features YouTube has to offer, including the options to easily pause, save, and rewatch a video. These features are either unavailable or much more challenging on other platforms, such as Instagram Live, which could make them seem more intimidating. So, to reach and engage this particular demographic, it’s essential to choose the right distribution channels.
What workouts should virtual PTs offer to this group?
One of the many concerns in this new world of online workout content is the difficulty evaluating a participant’s current state of health and fitness or, in other words, their preparedness for the session. At a time when many PTs are offering free workout classes via Instagram Live and similar platforms, subsequently reaching new audiences and providing a service to people they’ve never even met – it’s almost impossible to know if the workout protocols are safe for those following along. Not having medical history, liability waivers or knowledge of existing or past injuries is a concern, even more so with older adults. With that said, unless you are providing private or individual online workouts – meaning you know more about the individual participants – it’s essential to design workouts that are easy to follow, avoid unsafe movements, and provide multiple options, not only for progression but also regression. For an older population, those options might include bodyweight-only exercises, holding onto a chair or wall, or performing movements while seated. Also, consider minimising the need to get up and down from the floor and too much weight bearing on smaller joints such as wrists and shoulders.
Try to include a combination of balance, coordination, and strength work in every session. All populations, but especially older groups, benefit from a strong base of stabilisation and strength endurance. By including exercises on unstable surfaces, we build balance, coordination, and postural endurance. These exercises can be performed with any number of fitness tools, such as a stability ball or BOSU. Still, they can also be achieved without equipment, for example by standing on one leg, standing on a folded-over towel or pillow, or simply seated with feet off the floor. Of course, safety is of utmost concern, so I’d recommend that participants perform unstable exercises in a safe location in which they have something close by to stabilise them if needed, such as the back of a heavy chair or stair railing.
Power training is also great for this age group, introducing the factor of speed into strength training. As we age, muscular power decreases more rapidly than strength, and we lose our ability to react quickly to unexpected stimuli, leading to an increased risk of falls. When an older adult, or any human for that matter, is in the first stages of falling, they must quickly react before they are even able to regain their balance. No amount of balance training will help if they don’t have the power of speed. Therefore, power training can hugely benefit all populations, both young and old. While something like plyometrics may not be appropriate for this age group – especially considering that you won’t be in the same room with that person to evaluate form – speed can be introduced in other ways to benefit this group.
You could start with a rotational movement, such as a chop. Once they have mastered the form in a slow and controlled manner, consider integrating speed and shifting weight from right to left foot to stimulate neuromuscular coordination and reaction time. Or begin with a slow squat, offering the option of getting up and down from a chair or holding on to a stair bannister. Once the movement pattern has been established, you could ask participants to increase their pace for five reps, then slow down for five, then speed up for five – repeating this pattern for 30 seconds.
Accessibility of equipment
A final point to consider is the accessibility of equipment. We do not want to pressure anyone, especially older populations, into trying or purchasing any equipment straight away. And we don’t want anyone to feel as though they cannot participate because they do not have the appropriate tools. For this reason, it is our job to get creative! You could prescribe bodyweight exercises using books or water bottles as weights, or ask participants to perform step-ups on actual steps or press-ups with hands on the kitchen counter. You’ll be surprised at just how many household items can be used for working out! Plus, it could lead to some entertaining and engaging content for your social channels to help promote your classes. Weight training with wine bottles, anyone?
At a time when the world’s motto is “in this together,” we, as fitness professionals, have a responsibility to help people of all ages, abilities, and fitness levels to stay active. When it comes to older adults, we must remember to think and act locally, utilise Facebook and YouTube predominantly to reach and engage this demographic, and find ways to make the workouts we prescribe more accessible and adaptable to their needs. So, let’s get started and help to create a healthier, happier nation across all age groups, both in lockdown and beyond.
Article By Jill Drummond, Global Education Manager for Freemotion Fitness
For more information about Freemotion Fitness, visit: www.freemotionfitness.com