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Using HIIT with Older Clients

Using HIIT with Older Clients



Many older (40+) people join gyms for the same reasons as younger people, they want to lose fat and get in better shape. In addition to that they may also want to feel better and be able to play with their grandkids and stay active. However many times they join the local bootcamp only to wind up getting injured or they quit because they find it too hard and can’t keep up with the younger crowd… Or they get tired of being yelled at if they have to stop and rest during an interval.


When you are doing group training and have a wide range of ages in your groups it can be tough to administer the right dose of work to rest. The younger group can generally handle more volume and need less recovery between exercises and sets, even if they aren’t in great shape. Your older clients typically don’t recover as quickly between exercises and sets and may need to take several days off in between HIIT sessions rather than one day (I don’t recommend anyone doing daily HIIT workouts – you need recovery time).


So how do we balance the work: rest ratio to make sure all of our clients are getting the right amount of work and enough rest to be ready for the next round?


Most of the time body weight exercises are self-limiting. Your younger clients may get 18 squats in 20 seconds where the older people might only get 12 to 15. As long as they are working to their best effort it’s ok. The rest period however may not be adequate for them.  Letting them start an interval a little late is ok in my book. I’d rather they go when ready vs. not being able to finish or losing their form. Now this isn’t to say they should rest an extra 10 seconds on a 20 second interval!


You could also wave the rest. For example if you are doing 30 seconds of work you might start with 15 seconds of rest but as you see the recovery slowing down you could bump the rest to 20, 25 or even 30 seconds. I do this a lot. Sometimes I program it in deliberately other times I go by the client’s faces and posture. If I see a lot of tired faces, bad posture or lack of breath recovery I increase the rest period slightly.


It really isn’t that big of deal to go from 15 seconds of rest to 20 or even thirty, especially if you are prepared for it.


Too many trainers want all their clients to go balls-to-the-wall every time and get in a client’s face when they can’t keep up. That may work in the military (not really), most people are turned off by that, especially older clientele. In the grand scheme of things going from 20:10 to 20:15 or 20:20 doesn’t make any difference, especially if they can’t hang at 20:10.


When using kettlebells, dumbbells etc., it is even more important to watch your clients both during an exercise and between them. If they aren’t maintaining good form make them go lighter or increase the rest period.


I also try to keep the resistance exercises basic when coaching a HIIT sessions. Keeping to the basics reduces chance of injury due to sloppy technique as a client gets fatigued. I might program kb swings or variations but not kb cleans and certainly not complicated combos or complexes if I’m running a particularly tough HIIT session.


There are exceptions to this of course but you have to know how your clients deal with fatigue and their “training age”. I have some clients who have been with me for 10 years, they know how to do kb snatches, jerks etc. In their case I wouldn’t hesitate to run them through a HIIT circuit with those lifts or other technically demanding lifts. They know how to do them and have been practicing them for a long time. So even though they maybe in their 50s or 60s I know they can handle the work and have good recovery too.


Other options for programming when working with baby boomers include using low-level movements in between the high intensity exercises. Exercises like Bird dogs, leg lowering, I’s, T’s Y’s, planks etc. are great fillers and allow the heart rate and breathing to come down.


Some gyms use heart rate monitors and use the HR to gauge when to start another round. I think would be great in a small group that were all similar in fitness levels but might not work so well in a large (more than 20) group.


Make sure you have regressions for all your exercises and use them (progressions too). A client may start out ok doing swings but may loose form as they get fatigued; If so pull the bell and have them do the unloaded hip hinge movement. I put regressions on my board next to the normal exercise for almost all exercises which makes it easy for you and them to know what to do if they can’t handle the main exercise


Make sure your older clients are getting rest between training days too. They need to be doing easy stuff such as taking a nice moderate hike/walk, bike, swim, or light yoga/stretching. Even just chilling out and reading a book works.
If you see they aren’t able to do HIIT every other day tell them so and have them come less often or give them so really low level exercises, working the basics, while not exciting will be more beneficial to them than making do another bout of HIIT when they aren’t recovered from the last one.



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