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… but were too afraid to ask

Aislinn Kelly chats to Arkansas-based leading authority and FitPro LIVE presenter Cody Sipe on exercise and ageing.

Aislinn Kelly: What’s your fitness philosophy?

Cody Sipe: As I hit my mid-30s, my philosophy changed and now my training is based on movement longevity: living better instead of looking better. Yes, I still want to do some strength training to maintain muscle mass but I’m really focused on movement.

AK: What developments have you noticed in the industry since you started?

CS: Our focus towards movement quality, as opposed to just working hard or getting buff, is very positive. I think it’s a reflection of our ageing population as well. Also, the move for fitness professionals to specialise, instead of trying to be everything to everyone. Find your niche: Where’s the value I can provide? Who are the clients I love to work with? Through specialising, clients can find professionals who are focused on their specific needs, so they can get a better experience.

Fitness professionals are very creative, so we see a lot of blending. For example, take a bit from Pilates and a bit from yoga and make it PiYo, right? And I like that – it’s good stuff. The negative comes when this fusion approach becomes messy. It doesn’t have a clear framework, so it becomes more about the method than the outcomes. Related to that is all the equipment we have available – it’s positive that we have more options but I also see it as a negative because trainers love to play with stuff! They love to find out what’s new and start using it, so it’s more about the fun new toy than getting to a specific outcome with the client.

AK: So where do you think the industry should be heading in the future?

CS: We need more people who can train the older population – the numbers are staggering relating to how quickly the population is ageing. These older adults are looking for professionals to give them a good workout without injury and who understand that their goals and values are not the same as a 25 year old. When you look at other industries and how they’ve seen this age wave coming, the fitness industry has been very slow to respond and adapt.

AK: If you could go back in time and have a chat with yourself at the start of your career, what would you say?

CS: I would say get started earlier in the fitness industry. When I was going through my master’s and PhD, I was more focused on the clinical and academic side, so I didn’t get involved in the fitness industry until later. I could have made my shift so much earlier and had much more of an impact. There are some awesome people in this industry and I wish I’d jumped in earlier.

AK: And how do you keep on top of your own learning?

CS: One, I read a lot. Two, I stay on top of new research because people depend on me to trawl through it and give them the results. Three, because I’m speaking at many different events, I’m making an effort to go to other people’s sessions. There’s a lot of good stuff out there that I want to keep educating myself about because it’s not my area of expertise.

AK: Speaking of events, you’ve just presented at FitPro LIVE London. What topics did you cover?

CS: I based my pre-con workshop on content from our functional ageing specialist certification programme, which we’re launching in partnership with FitPro in the UK. During FitPro LIVE I presented on how to adapt for lower function versus higher function to meet older adults’ needs, and on marketing and sales. I hit on some of the mindset changes that have occurred in the older demographic and the specific marketing approaches that meet the values of this population.

AK: The two widely publicised health issues of today – obesity and type II diabetes – obviously affect people of all ages. What can we do to make a difference?

CS: There is still too big a gap between the medical and fitness communities. Physicians are jammed for time – they don’t know what resources are in their community, so we need to be doing more to break through those walls. There have been some good advances but we’re still not close to where we need to be.

AK: Finally, can you share an interesting client story with us?

CS: This story demonstrates how ‘old’ age is not an excuse to get fit and ‘young’ age is not an excuse to be unfit. I had a 79-year-old client. He wanted to hike the world’s longest cave – Hang Son Doong – in Vietnam with his 40-something-year-old son-in-law and teenage grandson. The cave is incredibly beautiful. So, the client is already relatively fit – he’s done cardiovascular and basic strength training and you’d never think he was 79 – but he wanted to train because, on the first day of the trip, you have to hike six miles through the jungle to reach the cave. It’s very strenuous and, if you don’t do well, you’re not allowed in the cave. As he was 79, they were concerned about his ability and he had to jump through extra hoops to get approval for the trip. Each person had to pay over $3,000 to go, plus the airfare and everything else, so we’re talking about an expensive bucket list trip! So, he starts training and he’s pretty fit, but then we start to do dynamic agility movements like the karaoke and it blows his mind! He can’t even get the foot pattern down. I thought, obviously this is something we have to work on! Then I did the tick tock test – you basically walk forwards in a straight line and, when you step with your right foot, you turn your head to two o’clock and, when you step with your left foot, you turn your head to 10 o’clock. Your foot and head movements should be synced and you should walk straight. But his head and feet went in different directions and it was a mess!

So my training focused on agility and head movement because, alright, he’s strong and fit cardiovascular-wise but, when he walks through that cave, he’s going to be looking around at the amazing beauty, turning his head while stepping over rocks and down slippery slopes. Based on his current capabilities, I thought, this guy’s not going to be able to survive this cave! Anyway, he gets a whole lot better in training and goes on his trip. He does a great job on the hike and is approved to move on. Unfortunately, his 40-something-year-old son-in-law didn’t do so well on the hike and was not allowed in the cave, so all three of them couldn’t go. It’s sad but it drives home the point of how the 79 year old was capable and his much younger son-in-law wasn’t. They did some other things in Vietnam so they still had a great trip – but imagine the plane ride home!

Functional Ageing Specialist workshop

The population of older adults is exploding and these potential clients want to continue to work, travel and play for as long as possible. Traditional ‘senior’ exercise programmes are somewhat beneficial but they do not maximise functional ability, which is so crucial in later life. In this workshop, delivered by FitPro and the Functional Aging Institute (FAI), which was co-founded by Cody Sipe, you will learn innovative exercise strategies, techniques and movements for clients over the age of 50 that have been shown to be critical to functional ageing. Through lecture and hands-on learning you will develop the knowledge and skills to perform functional fitness assessments and create functional exercise programmes for a wide variety of older clients. Become the ‘go to’ expert in your community for training mature adults. The workshop will benefit certified small group and one-to-one personal trainers, group exercise instructors, physical therapists, physical therapy assistants and boot camp leaders.

Dates: Saturday 25 June, London and Saturday 2 July, Edinburgh

Book your place:


About the Author

Dr Cody Sipe

Functional Ageing Specialist

Cody Sipe, PhD, is a respected authority on fitness for older adults with 25 years in the industry. He is a professor, researcher, international educator and co-founder of the Functional Aging Institute. Cody is currently an associate professor and director of clinical research in the doctoral physical therapy program at Harding University. He was recognized as the IDEA Program Director of the Year in 2005 and was a finalist for the IDEA Fitness Innovator of the Year award in 2019.

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