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For the past 25 years of my fitness career, I have been blessed to train older athletes. After years of research and hundreds of clients, I have developed a functional aging training model that I believe works well for clients. Here are what I believe are 7 key elements for any program, whether 1-1 training, small group or large group fitness:
  1. Focus on functional tasks your clients need to do on a daily or weekly basis. For example, movements could include tasks like carrying groceries, laundry or household items; shoveling snow; raking the yard; picking up items; climbing stairs; putting something on a shelf; or looking under the couch for the darn remote.
  2. Focus on balance challenges your client might face on a weekly or monthly basis. This could include activities like navigating a parking lot, stepping over a parking block, stepping up or down a curb, changing terrains from grass to dirt to pavement, etc. Tasks inside could include climbing stairs at home, stepping over pets, navigating from hardwood floors to carpet or catching your foot on something.
  3. Think about what your client can do and less about what they can’t do. What are their strengths and abilities? Don’t just focus on their limitations. Celebrate the small wins and build on what they can do well. Design your sessions for success!
  4. Be sure your session has some fun activities; make sure everyone at some point has a reason to smile. Exercise should be enjoyed! Include an obstacle course or balance game. Maybe play red light/green light or get out the agility ladder. You could set up a pretend creek with various colored stones to get across without getting wet. Play with balloons or nerf balls. The possibilities are endless!
  5. Do get down on the floor. Whether it’s for push-ups, bird-dogs or planks, be sure to incorporate some floor training. Modified burpees, get-ups and mountain climbers are all great options, too.
  6. Remember to think about all 6 Domains of Human Function from the Functional Aging Training Model: Musculoskeletal, Cardiovascular, Balance, Mobility, NeuroMuscular and Cognitive/Emotional.
  7. Lastly and most importantly, care about your clients: call them by name, ask them about their lives, give them high fives and hugs… you might be the absolute best part of their day. Enjoy being with your clients and appreciate them… you might be the only one that does all day.
Dr. Dan Ritchie is the president and co-founder of the Functional Aging Institute. Dan also owns and operates Miracles Fitness in West Lafayette, Indiana, where they have trained over 2,500 clients since 2007. Dan was the 2014 PFP Trainer of the Year and is a sought-after expert and speaker at national and international events on topics like balance for older adults, fitness business development, the global aging phenomenon, and functional aging training models. Learn more at