Training Special Populations - Older Adults

May 17, 2019

By Tim Saye

The next article of our qualification series is about training special populations. We had already tapped into the field with the pre and postnatal course list last week. However, other populations are generally not covered with a standard personal trainer certificate, whichever part of the world you live. These are:

- Older adults
- People living with medical conditions
- The young ones, aged 16 and below

Today we'll dig into the courses you can take to gain the knowledge and experience on how to approach clients that are past 60yrs old, have at least one medical condition, and are at higher risk of falls and other age-related injuries. But let's start by discussing why you'd even want to pursue training older adults.

The Benefits of Working with the Elderly

Many trainers think training older adults won't be as satisfying as getting astonishing body transformation results for younger adults who are focused on vanity and willing to do whatever it takes to look and feel better.

While it's true that most people beyond 60 won't be much bothered about having six-pack abs, a Kardashian's bottom or wanting to lift three times their body weight, they have other things that full-time working adults on a hectic schedule, especially with kids don't: plenty of time and disposable income.

Their kids already have likely left the nest, likely have their own family already, and they are retired and have plenty of time on their hands. Those that have worked their whole life will also have a fair amount of money to spend Their biggest goal is to stay functionally independent for as long as they can, so they can look after their grandchildren, travel, enjoy life and grow old gracefully. Fitness and health is massively important for the over 60's and comes in high up their priority list.

In the over 60's market, you will also likely find long-term clients who stay with you. Not because they must but because they want to, so long you provide them with a service they enjoy. Training older adults is about the small wins, the everyday successes, like being able to carry more shopping, being able to climb stairs without getting out of breath, preventing falls or being able to get up quickly unassisted. They are even more critical a success for them as the low body fat percentage goals of younger adults.

What Knowledge Do You Need to Train the Elderly?

As you probably suspect already, training people beyond 60 needs a different approach that combines flexibility in session planning, consideration, careful programming, and understanding the specific aspects of their body. They also need more prolonged recovery, and progressive overload is a must.

For that reason, fitness course providers around the globe offer specific courses for trainers who work with the ageing population, so they are equipped with the knowledge and understand the specifics from a biomechanics, health and well-being point too. Let's see where you can go if you'd like to venture into training older adults.

United States

The leading personal training certificate providers will have specialist courses in almost all fields. It's no different when it comes to training the elderly.


ACE Fitness has a host of resources and courses to help you learn more about active ageing. From shorter online courses to specialist courses, you can pick the option that best fits your needs, goals and budget. Check out their website for the full list.


The NSCA (National Strength and Conditioning Association) has a Certified Special Population Specialist certificate applicants can acquire upon completing the required exams, providing evidence they have worked a minimum of 250 hours in the field and meeting other prerequisite criteria.

The prerequisites include either a BSc in sports and exercise science, physical therapy or similar subject, OR a current NSCA certification, OR a current licence in physical therapy, registered dietitian or athletic trainer. You also need to have a current CPR/AED certification.


In the United Kingdom, there is more than one path to gain knowledge in training special populations, we will discuss three here, but feel free to search for the course you'd like to attend, there will be plenty of options from a variety of course providers.

Middlesex University London - Sport, Exercise and Physical Activity for Special Populations MSc

That's right. If you already have an undergraduate degree in a related field, you can opt for a master’s in training special populations. It's a comprehensive 1-year (full-time, or 2yrs part-time) course that will educate you on the definition of health and the 18 most common conditions relevant in the UK: depression, eating disorders, obesity, pregnancy, elderly, remedial exercise, cognitive dysfunction (Alzheimers/Parkinsons), injury and inflammation, CVD, arthritis, osteoporosis, asthma, diabetes, hypertension, stroke/thrombosis and cancer. You will also explore applied psychology methods, including CBT, Motivational Interviewing and NLP.

CPD Courses

The majority of fitness course providers, just like in the US, have some course or diploma option for trainers that want to venture into training special populations.

HFE (Health and Fitness Education)

HFE provides both comprehensive diplomas that include more than one segment of the special populations or you can pick which L3 course you'd like to complete. They offer a Level 3 Exercise for Older Adults course if that's the only one you are interested in.

YMCA fit

The YMCA fit Exercise for Older Adults course sounds very similar to the one HFE offers and will give you the same amount of REPs CPD points is that's something you consider important.

Strong Ageing

The Strong Ageing online course is created by Greg Mikolap, who is a UK based physiotherapist and personal trainer who has developed the course material as a result of years of research and hands-on experience training seniors for nearly a decade. You can have a peek into some of the modules for free before you decide to purchase the full course that includes video and text resources and quizzes to assess what you learnt.


Lucky for me, researching fitness instructor courses available down under is made easy by the extensive database Fitness Australia has collated. When you choose "older adults" as a speciality, you will be given 3+ pages long list of different courses that help trainers develop skills or learn a new method that will help their elderly clients. These include general qualifications on exercise for older adults, specific practices like Thai Chi or Nordic Walking, both of which are great activities for seniors and other specialities like strength training or yoga for the elderly.

Wrapping Up

If you are interested in exploring an area that is growing, but there still aren't enough fitness professionals for the demand, then go ahead, check your area for the best course for your needs and give it a try. Many trainers take huge joy from training older clients so you may find a niche you really enjoy working with.