Which Type of Personal Trainer Will Help You Most?
A guide to the best certifications if you're over 50
From ACE to NASM, the alphabet soup of personal training credentials can be daunting to decipher.
What exactly do they mean and which one represents the best qualifications for working with someone over 50?
Fitness needs and health concerns of boomers differ greatly from those of 20- or 30-year olds. In midlife, working out is less about trying to outshine your competitors and more about helping slow aging changes and their associated health risks.
Increasing muscle strength and bone mineral density among menopausal women are particularly important.
“Not all certifications address the issues many boomers face,” says Irv Rubenstein, Ph.D., a founder of the S.T.E.P.S. fitness center in Nashville, Tenn. “Since many boomers are not training for competition sports, safety and gentle progress towards a healthier self in mind and body are predominant goals."
(MORE: The Fiftysomething Workout: What Your Gym Can Do for You Now)
What The Acronyms Mean
The major certifications are from: The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), the American Council on Exercise (ACE) and the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM).
To make matters more confusing, specialties exist within each of the major certifications.
For example, the Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) is only one certification given out by NSCA. Those in the know recognize that a CSCS is one of the most difficult certificates to earn, requiring a four-year college degree.
Other specialties geared toward those over 50 that you may want to look for include:
- ACSM’s Health Fitness Specialist (HFS) and Clinical Exercise Specialist (CES)
- NSCA’s Certified Special Populations Specialist (CSPS)
- ACE’s Advanced Health & Fitness Specialist (AHFS), Senior Fitness Specialist (SFS) and Therapeutic Exercise Specialist (TES)
- NASM’s Senior Fitness Specialist (SFS)
What Extra Training Provides
A trainer who holds a senior specialty certification is qualified to safely train men and women over the age of 55. Trainers know how to incorporate appropriate modifications and techniques to prevent muscle loss, improve bone strength and quality of life. A senior specialist can also design programs to combat the effects of osteoporosis, arthritis and age-specific conditions.
(MORE: Can't Do Certain Exercises Anymore? Then Swap 'Em!)
A qualified trainer does not necessarily have to possess a specialized certification to work effectively with boomers, however.
“Whether potential clients are younger or older than 50, the most credible personal training certifications are still the same,” says Mike Giliotti, a New York City-based private trainer.
“Each of the top certifications are nationally recognized and generally accepted with accreditation from any health club,” he says. “They require extensive knowledge of fitness and science to be able to pass the testing process.”
Beyond the Letters
In addition to a respected certification, consider the trainer’s experience. “It’s important for a trainer to be able to apply the principles to truly be able to understand how to help a client safely and effectively,” says Giliotti.
Ideally, look for a trainer closer to your age, since he or she may be better able to relate to your fitness needs.
“Between 2012 and 2013 alone, NASM saw a nearly 10 percent increase in certified personal trainers over the age of 40, likely due to the increased number of baby boomer generation clients looking to work with a trainer closer to their own age,” says Kayla Weimer, an NASM spokeswoman.
Choosing a gym or fitness center that caters to boomers can also help accommodate specific over-50 needs. For example, a chain of gyms in the West and South called Nifty After Fifty, founded by Dr. Sheldon Zinberg in 2006, provides a less intimidating workout atmosphere for those 50-plus. Group classes offered include yoga, Zumba, kettlebell and cane fu, a self-defense class in which participants use a cane. Exercise experts and physical therapists on staff develop programs focusing on increasing strength, balance and aerobic capacity. Another fitness chain also specializing in boomers called Welcyon is cropping up in Minnesota and North Dakota.
(MORE: Senior Self-Defense: Is There a Black Belt in Your Future?)
In addition to checking for a qualified certification, before you sign on with a trainer ask how much experience he or she has had with someone of your fitness background and your health issues.
Certain medical conditions, such a high blood pressure and osteoporosis, require a trainer familiar with exercises that may be prohibited or require modification. (Those with osteoporosis of the spine should practice planks for core strength instead of crunches, which increase the risk of injury. Downward facing positions can increase the risk of stroke in people with hypertension and should be avoided.)
“In general, ACSM and the NSCA, along with ACE, have a broader array of certifications, one of which may suit a boomer with medical or health issues better than other certifications,” says Rubenstein.