The Aging Indoor Cyclist, Part 1: Getting to Know Their Needs

How many of your students are over age 50? How about over age 60? This demographic is growing every year, so it’s likely you encounter older students in your classes. Have you thought about how their needs might be different from your younger students?

Indoor cycling is a perfect exercise for older adults for so very many reasons. It’s great cardiorespiratory exercise. It builds strength. It’s safe when done properly. It is social. It is fun. Young and old can work out together.  

It is sometimes said that genetics determine your life potential but that lifestyle determines what you become. You can be an immense help to your older students as they adopt and embrace a lifestyle that will support the longevity and quality of their lives.

But your older students do have particular needs and they will love you even more if you show that you understand them. In this series on aging students, I will be addressing some of those special needs and how you can assist with them.

There are 35 million persons over age 65 in the U.S. today. [note]Gist, Yvonne J. “We the People: Aging in the United States.” U.S. Census Bureau, December 2004. National Academy of Sports Medicine, Senior Fitness Specialist Manual, p. 2[/note] They represent 12.5% of our population. This number is expected to double by 2050 when one of every four of us will be more than 65.[note]US Department of Health and Human Services, “A Statistical Profile of Older Americans Aged 65+.” 8 August 2011. National Academy of Sports Medicine, Senior Fitness Specialist Manual, p. 3[/note] Gyms, fitness clubs, studios, and instructors neglect this segment at their own peril.

These are not necessarily inactive or frail people. The AARP says that 39% of older people are in very good or excellent health.

Still, there are inevitable changes we need to understand in order to make our classes safe and effective for people in this important demographic. More than 85% of persons over age 65 have at least one chronic health condition. They all are dealing with the inevitable physiological changes that come with aging.

We will discuss specific changes in subsequent articles but generally our performance decreases as we age and our risk of injury increases. Those changes can be slowed or minimized but they can’t be ignored.

From a social or policy perspective, older Americans are especially important. While they represent 12.5% of the U.S. population, they account for 57% of the nation’s health-care costs ($12,566/person).[note]US Department of Health and Human Services, “A Statistical Profile of Older Americans Aged 65+.” 8 August 2011. National Academy of Sports Medicine, Senior Fitness Specialist Manual, p. 3[/note] The growing number of older people will increase the escalating cost of their medical care. At the same time, there will be a smaller workforce to support those costs. Similar trends are evident in other countries around the world.

The answer is to commit to healthier lifestyles. While many physical changes are inevitable, habitual physical activity and exercise can prevent and reduce the effect of these changes as well as prevent a large number of expensive health problems.

So what will adapting to the needs of older students mean to you as an instructor? It’s not that you must teach classes that much differently. Almost all seniors are able to operate within the guidelines that you already give your classes, especially with your permission to modify drills as they see fit.

But I hope this series will give you some special skills and sensitivities for your older students, and enhance how you regard them and relate to them. Our goal is to help you increase your sensitivity to some of their special concerns.

In particular, most older students have four sensory impairments to which you should be sensitive:

In part 2 of this series, we will discuss what is happening at the cellular level as we age. We bet you’ll be surprised to know that about 70% of aging is a matter of choice, not inevitable decline!

Bill Roach, a regular ICA contributor, just signed up for Medicare. In addition to his indoor cycle instruction, he is a personal trainer specializing in working with older adults. The Des Moines, Iowa, YMCA Healthy Living Center, where he works, is a unique quasi-medical facility that specializes in using exercise to combat disease conditions. He is certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM-CPT) and has speciality certifications as a Corrective Exercise Specialist (NASM-CES), Functional Movement System Professional (FMSC), and as a Senior Fitness Specialist (NASM-SFS).

Other articles in this series:

The Aging Indoor Cyclist, Part 2: Younger Next Year

The Aging Indoor Cyclist, Part 3: The Psychosocial Aspects of Aging

The Aging Indoor Cyclist, Part 4: The Benefit of Indoor Cycling on the Aging Nervous System


  1. I realize that this was a recent topic on ICA, but I would like to add the importance of an adequate warm-up when working with a more mature audience. At 60 I find it just takes me longer to get where I need to be to experience a great workout. I look forward to more articles like this. Thank you.

    1. So true Cynthia. I have always needed a longer warm up than most people I know. Now that I’m in my mid-50s, I need even more!

  2. Great stuff here, Bill. Thanks so much!

    1. Author

      Thank you Carol. Isn’t ICA great for this kind of discussion a s support?

  3. Thank you for the article. It is helpful and come in handy. I use lots 60 and Motown music and they just loving it.

    1. Author

      Thank you, Ellen. I am pleased you found the article helpful. Motown is great for a lot of reasons and I do use more of it with my senior classes. Sometimes, its also fun to dual up something unexpected. I hope your classes continue to go well.

  4. There’s also the issue of music :). I’m 64 and ride at home and in class. I like riding at home because I can pick the music. It’s very important to me and I really hate the rap music a lot of the instructors play. When I ride to on-line classes I look for 80’s or rock.

    1. Author

      Thanks, Jill. I agree that music should fit the class. I would say: 1. Nothing offensive. 2. Variety is good. 3. If your class leans to a particular type than try to cater to that but not exclusively. I use a lot of 60’s and 70’s in my classes with many older riders but I also try to surprise them with something unexpected. Thanks for obviously caring about your riders.

  5. I am so excited that ICA is presenting a series about “senior” riders. Spinning offers a continuing education course about the special needs of seniors, but I’ve not found other sources of information on the topic specific to indoor cycling. I am 68, and while I currently do not have any health issues, I know that many senior riders do have medical conditions and everyone “over a certain age” needs to be aware of how aging affects the body. Understanding how to help our seniors have a positive experience is a topic that has long needed more attention. Thanks so much for taking this on, Bill!
    P.S. May we copy and share this informational series with our directors? And please do not assume that all facilities have or use mics in their classes. I hope the increased need for using a mic when seniors are in class will be stressed if you have a way to incorporate that in your articles. Thank you!

    1. Melinda, yes, you may copy it and give it to your directors.

      Good point about the mic, thanks!

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