Personal training clients are way older than you think

Posted on April 22, 2019

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(Last Updated On: April 22, 2019)

“You act like everyone is beat up.”

is a consistent criticism I’ve received.

I’ve written a lot about exercising clients who have an injury history or current musculoskeletal problems. For some, this gets attached to me as overly conservative.

-> This always cracks me considering I got into exercise science due to playing football, one of the more violent sports and is known for how aggressive players are in the weight-room.

This will often revolve around exercises like deadlifting, where I’ve violated someone’s religion by suggesting it’s a bad exercise for the average gym goer.

For some reason the idea 80% of people will suffer lower back pain -thus maybe we should avoid exercises known to piss off the lower back- doesn’t get the message across. So let’s try looking at this more broadly.

What’s the biggest risk factor for virtually every ailment?

Age.

As a person gets older, you have to worry more about, well, everything. When you’re in a profession that moves people -personal training- that means you need to be more worried about movement problems, meaning the musculoskeletal system. The longer your life history, the more likely an injury is included in it.

First reality check

The average American is 38 years old.

-> I will be using average when often I should be saying median. I’m aware the difference, but don’t know if most are, and it will simplify life to just say average.

That’s right. In 2018, the average American is on the cusp of middle aged.

Think about sports. 38 years old? You’re washed up. You are well into physical decline.

-> And mental. Chess players peak in their early 30s!

All those articles or methods you’re delving into about maximizing human performance? Irrelevant for a 38 year old. They can’t maximize performance anymore.

-> On an absolute basis. On a relative basis, sure, a 38 year old can maximize their performance. But that’s not what’s talked about. If it were, you wouldn’t see endless research reviews on 21 year olds. (And please don’t tell me we should train middle aged people like college aged people.)

Bigger reality check: the average personal training client is way older

You’re not going to be training kids, are you? Basically nobody is training people under 14 years old. All these people,

From Wikipedia, which uses the CIA World Factbook

We shouldn’t be counting them in our average personal training client age. Approximately, that pink box consists of,

  • 21 million 10-14 year olds
  • 20 million 5-9 year olds
  • 20 million 0-4 year olds

– > A little easier to see visualization for counting each age group.

That’s 61 million people below the age of 38, meaning that’s 61 million, out of 330 million, nearly 20% of the population, who are bringing the average downwho we should not be counting towards the average personal training client’s age.

Without doing the math, you can easily grasp the average personal training client’s age is, at least, well into the 40s.

Being a strength coach for a high school or college team, being a trainer for a few professional athletes, that’s not what we mean by personal training either. That’s sports performance training, which is fine, but not what we’re talking about.

This matters because if you’re a regular personal trainer, you are not going to be training many young adults, because they don’t have the money OR the health concerns to hire you.

The fact is 18, 20, 25, even 30 year olds, do not think “I should hire a trainer to get started taking care of my health.” They do rec sports or they go on Reddit, get some 5×5 program, random advice from a forum like T-nation, and try to go it alone. Nor do they have hundreds of dollars a month to spend on a trainer. If it’s alcohol or personal training, alcohol wins.

-> Please don’t be an ass and say “I’ve trained a person in their 20s before.” Yes, so have I. Often their parents pay for it, and they’re so rare we don’t need to bother counting them.

-> The other exception here is online clients. They are much younger. So few trainers do this it is immaterial for this conversation. Still, my guess is they are on average 30-35. They got gray in their hair. And they are usually very well off. Engineers are by far my most common online clientele.

Therefore, another

  • 21 million 15-19 year olds
  • 21 million 20-24 year olds
  • 22 million 25-29 year olds

Should not be counted either.

(Frankly, I’m pushing it by including 30-34 year olds too. The financial concern is still there, perhaps even more acutely due to the likelihood of having two young kids. A time period where many parents consider getting into the shower to be an achievement, never mind the gym.)

Let’s try to get a new average then.***

  • Let’s say for every one million, we have one person in that age group.
  • We’ll use the middle number for each age group

Thus, 22 million 30-34 year olds becomes 22 people at 32 years old. Continuing on,

  • 22 people at 32 years old
  • 21 people at 37 years old
  • 20 people at 42 years old
  • 21 people at 47 years old
  • 21 people at 52 years old
  • 22 people at 57 years old
  • 20 people at 62 years old
  • 17 people at 67 years old
  • 13 people at 72 years old
  • 9 people at 77 years old

I’m not going to go into the 80s, because

  1. While I have trained people that old
  2. Money again becomes quite restrictive. At a point, older people don’t have much to pay for trainers either.

-> If you pressed me on this, that say after age 70 we shouldn’t be counting people either, I wouldn’t argue much. Though

1. the average 75 year old is much more likely to spend money on training than the average 20 year old and

2. there aren’t that many 70-79 year olds to begin with. Excluding them would only bring the average down a couple years.

Throw all those numbers in a spreadsheet, use the average function, and you get an average age of 52 years old.

This jives exactly with my experience. I was stunned when I first started training people and how old they were. Never mind the physical aspect, but I was 23 years old. I basically went from college to talking to people my parents’ age, all day.

As a personal trainer, starting from the default of “this client is probably beat up, on meds, stressed from work / kids / marriage / finances,” is not extra conservative. It’s prudent.

***I’m aware this isn’t the most rigorous way to get the numbers, but it is good enough.

The actual number of 36 years olds, 37 year olds, etc. is not readily available. From what I’ve seen, it’s always in groups like above, not broken down by each year.

Ideally, we’d know the propensity to purchase personal training by age. I doubt that data exists. Anecdotally, 40s to 60s are the most likely. (Again, call it average age of 50.) These are the people old enough to have health problems, young enough to be inclined to do something about them, with money to spend on them. Not coincidentally, 50 years old is roughly when we peak in how much money we make.

I’m also aware the spreadsheet could be more aesthetically pleasing for some. I tried to use it in a way most with not much math / data experience can resonate with.

Plus, I’ve found inputting data helps grasp the data. I provided a way to do this without having to input millions of numbers.

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