Some professions don’t lend themselves to late retirement. Dancer is one of them.
But what’s a person to do who ages out of a job and isn’t ready to retire? These days, one answer is as close as your nearest gym.
Take Yvonne Puckett. As a professional dancer, Puckett boogied in Elvis Presley movies, danced jazz style on the grand stages of Las Vegas, and pranced, jitterbugged and waltzed in big musicals like “Oklahoma.”
Now, at 75, Yvonne is 10 years into a career as a fitness trainer; her stages, the gyms and community centers around Manhattan.
“Retirement is not in my vocabulary,” Puckett says.
Her aha moment came while she was taking a high energy, high impact Zumba class. At 65, she decided to audition for the position of fitness instructor, and she got it. Now she travels around town, leading classes at 10 gyms, health clubs and senior community centers. “This is where the jobs are. They’re in fitness,” she says.
Puckett is part of a growing field of older adults who’ve discovered that a career as fitness trainer offers a perfect combination of money, meaning and flexible hours. On top of that, by leading classes, these seniors are maintaining their own health and vitality, as well as improving the lives of others.
A Third – or Fourth – Act With Flexibility
“We consistently see a number of older adults who are making their second, third and even fourth careers in fitness,” says Todd Galati, Director of Credentialing for the American Council on Exercise, or ACE. “It’s a wonderful career, because people can specialize based on their athletic ability.”
A smorgasbord of certificate programs and specializations is available, with new types of exercise being added all the time. Some classes are high energy and high impact, while others are gentler mind-body classes, or based on strength, balance or flexibility. There are certificate programs related to weight management, sports conditioning and orthopedic exercises. And there are the trendy danced based classes like Nia, or non-impact fitness classes like Aquatics, which are popular across the generations.
A Growing Demand
It’s no coincidence that the growing interest in fitness among baby boomers and seniors has led to an increase in the number of older adults becoming certified trainers. It’s supply and demand in an expanding, wide-open industry. In fact, ACE recently added more than four specialty classes for senior fitness. “There are 40 million people over 65,” Galati says. “If you want to attract those clients, you have to have programming for them.”
Caroline Kohles is Senior Director of Health and Wellness at the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan, where she oversees a multi-generational health club program with 110 group fitness classes per week. She believes that older instructors are important models for the JCC membership and has hired eight group fitness instructors in their 60s and 70s to lead senior fitness classes. She also hopes to bring in an expert presenter on yoga who is in her 90s. None of the JCC instructors have “aged out,” although some have switched to a lower impact or less stressed class – from vigorous Zumba, for example, to its more understated sister, Zumba Gold.
Not surprisingly, many seniors prefer older instructors. You know the person leading your workout is more likely to relate to you and look out for you if he’s 70 rather than 30. And there can be a closer relationship.
Puckett says she enjoys all of her classes, but some, more geared to her peers like her new arthritis exercise class or Zumba Gold at the Stanley M. Isaacs Neighborhood Center, have a special place in her heart.
“They come in with smiles on their faces,” says Yvonne of her students. “They applaud after they’ve done a song. At the end I get hugs; people wrap their arms around me. It’s very gratifying.”
Puckett’s 4 Steps (it ain’t quick) to Becoming a Fitness Instructor
- Get certified in CPR. It is a must.
- Ask yourself: What classes have you taken, which do you love to do?
- Get certified in that particular discipline (yoga, Nia, Zumba, Pilates, swim, cycling?)
- Find out the hiring policy of local clubs or centers. You’ll probably have to audition. Smile!
- Make a two- to –three-minute video and go for it.
In addition, the JCC’s Kohles suggests organizing a class as a volunteer at a local community center, recreation center, senior center or religious organization in order to gain experience, and including communication and functional anatomy courses in your study.
Have you ever thought of becoming a fitness instructor – or are there any other later-life careers that you’ve been exploring? Share in the comments below.