When they hired a fitness coach, Ventura, Calif., baby boomers Lisa and Ron Greenwood wanted an older trainer who had walked a mile in their sneakers.
“I was badly wounded in Vietnam,” said Ron, 63. “My left arm won’t move all the way, I lost my left kidney and my spleen. If I go in and get some young trainer, I realized, I could get hurt.”
Lisa, 56, fractured her shoulder in three places at one time, leading to some atrophy. On top of that, the Greenwoods both have to consider the limitations that can accompany the aging process, so they wanted a trainer who could relate.
The couple chose personal trainers Rob Yontz, 49, and his wife, Shannon Yontz, 46, of Ventura. Both are trained fitness professionals and both are in the trenches with their own aging process.
“We understand their bodies because of our own bodies,” Shannon said.
The demand for older personal trainers is on the rise, according to the IDEA Health & Fitness Association, which reported that 41 per cent of the participants at its 2010 Personal Trainer Institute were between the ages of 45 and 64, an increase from 35 per cent for that age range in 2004. IDEA Health & Fitness is a trade institute for fitness professionals.
A 2011 survey taken of IDEA trainers showed that 60 per cent of them were between the ages of 45 and 64.
Of the 678 trainers surveyed, 241 — or more than 35 per cent — fell between the ages of 45 and 54 and more than 25 per cent fell between the ages of 55 to 64.
“Often clients will want to train with someone they feel understands some of their concerns, challenges or hesitations,” said Jessica Matthews, certification director and exercise scientist at the American Council on Exercise (ACE). “They may be more inclined to train with someone closer to their age rather than someone in their mid-20s.”
Baby boomers, the economy and the maturing of the fitness industry as a whole may be behind the older-trainer trend, Matthews said.
The tide of aging baby boomers can explain the surge in both the supply and demand, she said. This massive demographic surge of people born between 1946 and 1964 tend to be health-conscious, and have more disposable income to afford a personal trainer.
Audrey Byers, 69, of Thousand Oaks, Calif., hired Oak Park personal trainer Geri Arnais, 61, because she knows she needs to keep moving, and move smart, as she has had a half-knee replacement.
“When I was younger, I didn’t exercise much,” Byers said. “I raised two kids on my own and worked for about 10 years.”
Arnais believes her own maturing body makes her alert to the nuances of training older clients.
“The boomers have boomed out and it’s all about the joints now,” Arnais said. “A lot of the younger trainers, as bushy-tailed and motivated as they may be, may not have the experience and tricks in their bag to accommodate the spinal and joint problems.”
As fit as she is, Arnais said there are some things any older woman should be careful about. It was something she was made aware of when she was taking a gymnastics course from a male trainer in his late 20s.
“He starts me jumping. I’m 61 years old and he’s got me jumping, jumping, jumping,” Arnais said. “He doesn’t now about (stress) incontinence or women who have had four kids who may have incontinence.”
Another factor driving the older-trainer trend may be the economy, Matthews said. Older fitness buffs who have been downsized out of a job may see this as an opportunity to reinvent themselves.
“We’re seeing a lot of career-changers,” Matthews said. “People who have always had a love for fitness are now seeing they can actually make a career out of that.”
Fitness is a second career for the Yontzes.
Rob used to be an electrical engineer and spent time in the Navy. He and Shannon opened True North Fitness and Health in 2003 because both felt it was time to reinvent themselves, even though Shannon was on the fast track to upper management in the hospitality industry.
Age changes priorities, and both wanted a career in physical fitness.
The Greenwoods say they like the fact that both Yontzes see their fitness careers as a full-time job.
“This is not a 24-year-old working in a club as a summer job,” Lisa said.
Lisa Greenwood said she had a bad experience with a younger trainer at a club, a man who appeared to be in his 20s.
“I said, ‘Can you tell me about your training?’ And he said, ‘I played football,’ ” Lisa said.
There are certainly younger trainers who are trained, qualified and sensitive to the needs of the older client, Matthews said, but sometimes it’s just a matter of preference for the older client.
“For example, when we choose doctors, I might be more inclined to go with a woman,” Matthews said. “The male doctor gets the same training, but I’m going to think ‘because she’s a woman, she gets me.’ ”
Matthews believes another reason fitness trainers are skewing into older demographics is because the industry is maturing and so is America.
“Some people have been certified since the ‘80s,” she said. “ACE has been around since 1985. Many people I speak to on a regular basis got started in their 20s.”
There is no age limit on qualifying to become a personal trainer and sitting for the ACE national certification boards, said Matthews.
“You can hit your 80s,” she said. “It’s a profession that doesn’t discriminate.”