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Like so much else that's morphing in response to the swelling tide of aging baby boomers, the fitness

industry is changing, too.

For starters, the average age of a personal trainer today is 42, according to the American Council on Exercise. Fitness instructors are aging along with the classes they teach, says Anthony Wall, ACE director of professional education.

"There is a shift," Wall says. "The aging population is growing, and we launched a senior fitness certification last November. We like to say that you don't stop exercising because you get old; you get old because you stop exercising."

Unlike their younger peers, who typically get certified as personal trainers and fitness professionals after graduating from college, the older fitness professionals often come from the group Wall describes as "the front-row members." They tend to be the health club members who religiously show up for class, and grab spots closest to the instructor.


"In the group fitness world, there are the back-of-the-class members, who are brand-new or unconfident," Wall says.

"Then there are the middle-row members, the people who've gravitated forward as they become more comfortable. And then, when you really know what you're doing, you move to the front row. A lot of those front-row people say, 'I really enjoy doing this! How do I become a fitness instructor myself?' And that's where we're finding a lot of people who get into fitness as a career change."

Philippe Ray, president of the National Personal Trainers Institute of Colorado, has examples.

There's Billy Hume, who graduated from NPTI on his 60th birthday and won a plank competition, beating his 25-year-old classmates. Another student is 71.

In Boulder, Gary Sobol, 73, teaches a class designed for people diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease, a condition that also affects Sobol.

His thrice-weekly class at the Boulder Mapleton YMCA is so popular, routinely drawing 30 to 50 people, that Sobol is working with the YMCA to teach other instructors how to lead Parkinson's Boot Camp classes.

Those instructors are seasoned fitness professionals who are required to complete a course taught at Arizona's Parkinson's Wellness Recovery. Then they apprentice under Sobol for four to six weeks before starting their own classes at other facilities.

"It's important to me that the instructors get the training," Sobol says.

"I get calls from someone in another city who wants a list of the exercises I do in the boot camp. They tell me they can figure out the class themselves. I tell them, 'I'm not giving you anything! You need the training!' That course in Arizona is a huge help because it explains not just the exercise, but the research data behind it."

Claire Martin

Browse photography at Denver.Gallery.