CARLA’S STORY: Getting started as a trainer later in life and coaching women over 50
by Carla DeSimone
I was late to the exercise game. I wasn’t an athlete as a child: sure, I was on the town swim team as a teenager, but wasn’t exactly competitive. At the age of 30, married already for ten years, living in Suburbia as a stay-at-home mom with three young children, one day I decided to join a gym and start exercising. And after one Step class, I was addicted! I became one of the proverbial gym rats and was at the gym every day taking step, spin class, and lifting heavy weights with a bunch of burly NYC cops. After a few months, I was really feeling (and looking) amazing.
Fast forward eleven years to when my last child was starting middle school, and it was time for me to go back to work. The thought of returning to my pre-children career as a Dental Hygienist was just not appealing anymore, so I decided to become a Personal Trainer. How hard could it be? I was already at the gym six days a week. I knew everything (so I told myself)! I enrolled in a Personal Training course at Hofstra University (The Academy of Applied Personal Training Education, or AAPTE).
Cue the reality check.
Challenge #1: at the time, I was 41 and everyone else in the class was in their 20’s. I was kind of freaked out but I had already paid for the program, so there I was going to stay. I also hadn’t been in school since attending college nearly 20 years prior.
Challenge #2: The actual science behind personal training was nothing that I knew anything about. Luckily, though, I was enthralled.
I loved the anatomy, biomechanics, physiology, program design and nutrition. I loved our time in the hands-on labs, where we could put all we learned in theory into practical application on actual people. The biggest thing I learned early on was how much went into training and the deep responsibility the trainer had for his or her client. I thought about myself and the workouts I did with the beefy cops: as I got older, I was really starting to feel them. Everything hurt after my training sessions: shoulders, hips, knees and wrists. Once I learned about how anatomy dictates the body and the proper biomechanics, I started to adjust my workouts and immediately started to feel so much better.
After I finished the course, I was extremely fortunate to get a training job with the director of the AAPTE. He ran a studio in an upscale Long Island neighborhood that trained mostly the over-40 crowd. I was immediately up to my ears in training! I trained four days a week from 8am-3pm and never even had a free half hour. That major client load, while challenging, truly cemented proper biomechanics and form into my brain. Over the years, I have undergone many other certifications that have really added to my knowledge base.
In 2013, my husband and I decided to move into NYC, a dream of ours for many years, and the time was right. We sold our beloved home in the ‘burbs and moved into our apartment on the Upper East Side. I had such a connection with my original clients that I continued to travel to Long Island for four years training them until I finally made the break and started training full-time at Uplift. After my first interview there, I felt that this is where I belonged, even though I was a little nervous that I wouldn’t be accepted since I was old enough to be just about everyone’s mother but I have never felt anything but entirely at home here.
COACHING WOMEN over 50
When I was a new trainer at the age of 41, the majority of my clients were in their 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s. I will admit that initially, I didn’t want to train people over 50. I didn’t really take them seriously. What could they possibly expect to get out of training and why would they want to even come to the gym? I wanted to train women like me: in their early 40’s, and wanting to look good and stay strong. Looking back, boy do I realize how wrong I was about that.
As my schedule got more and more filled up with these “older” women, I came to realize that they were vibrant, focused, and smart. They had fitness goals that were different from the women in their 40’s or younger. Of course, some of them were at the studio looking for a trainer because they had gotten a warning from their physician about things like osteopenia, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and/or elevated blood sugar. Others came because they had knee and hip replacements and their physical therapy was over but they felt like they needed something more to stay mobile.
Mainly, though, I saw women with goals of staying strong, working on balance, increasing their endurance, and making sure they had the ability to get down on the floor to play with their grandchildren. Their primary goals didn’t usually include losing weight or changing their outward appearance, but this was a nice by product—as it is for many people—of being fundamentally fit and strong. As I continued to train this population, I really got an education on life over 50: the challenges and complexities but also the joys and triumphs that women face in their families, personal lives, and careers. I gained a lot of respect for my clients and built long-lasting relationships with them.
Of course as time passed, I became one of those ladies over 50! One of the many things I’ve learned is that as we grow older, it’s vitally important to strength-train to protect our bones and keep our metabolic rate high, work on core stability to help us with just about everything, and do some type of cardiovascular exercise to help us stay in good heart health.
The most important thing I’ve learned about about working with the over-50 population is training them appropriately. From all the continuing education courses I have taken and all the training sessions I have given in 17 years, I’ve learned that the workout has to be safe, appropriate and effective and it has to be designed to accommodate the client’s structure, function, ability and goals. Some clients are fitter than ever and can do incredibly challenging workouts. On the other hand, some can do squats with only a modified range of motion. (And, for the record, modifying doesn’t mean the workout won’t be challenging, it just means your joints won’t be compromised). Like all different types of women, an extra dose of responsible training is what this population requires.
Women in their 50’s and older are so very determined to take care of themselves, and are dedicated, committed, and fierce. Many have taken care of children, spouses, bosses, and parents and now they’re, as the saying goes, reclaiming their time.