Mobility training expert helps seniors move better, lead better lives

Personal trainer who trains seniors._03/11/2023/ S.S.KANESAN/THE STAR

Personal trainer Ken-G travels to his client appointments with just three pieces of equipment in his car: A golf ball, a tennis ball and ankle weights. Sometimes, he brings along a stool.

Training does not involve dumbbells (though there are exceptions), barbells or kettlebells.

The hour-long sessions often start with loosening the tightness of muscles and stretching, before he gets to the strength portion of the training.

Coach Ken, as he is known, is a senior citizens’ mobility expert who trains those aged 60 and above, often with some degree of mobility issues that are affecting their overall well-being, particularly their range of motion.

“For most of the seniors I train, a lot of focus is on the first two segments of the session. Many of them are stiff either because of their lifestyles ... sitting too much, bad posture, wrong sleeping position which, over the years, leads to a chronic condition.

“Of course, ageing is also a factor. And so, loosening the muscles and stretching is very important and may take a while. We can’t jump the gun and begin strength work immediately as it may lead to injury.

“But really, it depends on the mobility of each person,” he says.

His job, he says, gives him immense satisfaction.

“When I get a message from a client saying that they feel a bit better or stronger, I feel that I have done my job. This is what I am supposed to be doing – helping them feel better,” says Ken whose oldest client is 95 years old.

Ken, 50, only started training seniors sometime after 2018.

“A friend of mine in his 60s had suffered a stroke and he reached out to ask me if I could help him get back some mobility.

“At the time, I didn’t have specific certification for training seniors or those with mobility issues but I agreed to help him with the knowledge that I had as a personal trainer.

“I came up with an improvised training programme for him, using things that he had at home – mineral water bottles, a sofa, and so on.

“After about a month or two, he started to show some improvement – he could do movements that he couldn’t before we started our training. That made me realise that my training really can help those with mobility challenges,” he says.

Prior to this, the typical profile of his clients were those in their 30s and 40s who sought him out because they wanted to “train to lose weight”.

“But I was finding it challenging not only because the market was saturated but scheduling was also an issue.

“These were working people and so I’d be busy early in the mornings before they went to work or in the evenings, after they got off work. And it was quite common for clients to cancel, often at the very last minute. It was frustrating.

“These people who had a want but not a need – they wanted to lose weight or they wanted to be in on a fitness trend but usually, after an initial period, they would lose their zest and commitment.

“So I thought, maybe it would be better to focus on those who had both a want and a need to train,” shares Ken, who has been a personal trainer since 2015.

This idea was solidified when another friend, also a stroke patient who was in his 40s, reached out for help.

“I worked with him, and within a few weeks there was improvement. He could lift his leg higher than before. Seeing his progress helped me make up my mind to focus on seniors. First, I knew I could count on them to be committed.

“And it has been fulfilling. The thing with seniors is that they will follow the training well and, as a result, they see progress and improvement in their mobility. It’s not that I have some special ability but they put in the work and therefore see the results.

“Also, the market isn’t saturated at all. There aren’t many trainers who work only with seniors,” he says.

And so, after finding his new purpose as a trainer, Ken got himself certified as a senior fitness specialist and started training senior citizen about three years ago.

Chia is less dependent on her walking stick and frame since working on mobility and strength training with Ken.Chia is less dependent on her walking stick and frame since working on mobility and strength training with Ken.

A better life

Chia Bong Soo, 86, has been training with Ken for about five weeks now and she no longer needs to walk about the house with her walking frame or stick.

“I use them when I go out but at home, I can climb the stairs and walk about without any aids. I can even cook now. I made sambal today,”she says, with a smile.

Chia’s grandchildren were the ones who signed their grandma up for the training sessions as they noticed that her mobility issues were getting worse, putting her well-being at risk.

“Mum has had two falls and the doctor warned us to be careful not to let her fall again as the impact could be bad. So my children decided to do something and they read about Ken online and decided to try his training out for mum. It is convenient too as he comes to the house,” says Maureen Lee, 61.

“She’s walking much better now and, in fact, she finds the walking aids actually impede her movement,” says Lee, adding that Chia diligently does the exercises she’s been taught even on the days she doesn’t train with Ken.

Most, if not all, his clients have some kind of mobility issue or other and are looking to improve their quality of life.

“None of them want to improve their performance in sport or a fitness activity. They either have issues resulting from an illness or something and they want to improve their mobility,” he says.

Lee Chuey Shan says her mother, Pang See Moi, started training with Ken because, at 80, Pang was experiencing “generalised weakness of her limbs”.

“She was not able to walk, stand up or move about without help. She used to be an active person, she could even drive despite her advanced age, practice tai chi, cook and volunteer at the Tzu Chi recycling centre,”says Lee.

“Ken came over to my house to train my mum’s weak muscles, strengthen them and in five weeks, she was able to walk on her own with just a walking stick. During this time, her alertness and appetite improved too.

“She continued with the training to further improve her mobility. At the end of the second round, she could actually walk without any walking aids. Additionally, she is able to go to the toilet on her own, shower and go out with her friends for breakfast on her own. It was amazing how the quality of her life improved!

“On top of that, Ken has a magic touch with senior citizens. His motivation, dedication, positive attitude and cheerful demeanour gave my mother the will to move forward.

“I will forever be thankful to Ken for providing his amazing service,” says Lee.

Both Lili Koo’s parents have seen marked improvements in their overall well-being.

“I think they both enjoyed the results and progressions after each session, feeling stronger, gaining mobility. I witnessed them build and tone muscles, saw their knee pains disappear and they are now able to climb the stairs more easily. A higher quality of day-to-day living and maintaining that independence of being able to do things for themselves was also obvious,” says Koo.

“They are able to climb in and out of the car effortlessly, squat without pain which enables my mum to do gardening, which also translates into additional daily movement and sunshine for her. They also learn good form of lifting and this helps in general as we are always needing to lift or carry things, and this helps them avoid injuries.

“My dad has always been quite active in that he walks at the park five days a week, but coming into his late 50s or early 60s, we noticed a stoop, possibly due to muscle loss.

“But once he started sessions with Ken, his posture straightened back up. And from as long as I remember, I have always known my mum to be somewhat overweight, but since she started lifting weights under Ken’s programme, she has toned up.

“That absolutely strengthened my belief that our body has so much to gain with the right exercises,”says Koo.

Apart from the hour-long sessions, Ken also gives his senior clients Lee (left) says that her mother has grown more confident in moving about their home without any walking aids.Each one is different

Before he trains a senior client, Ken carries out an assessment: He tests their mobility, strength, agility and stamina.

“I do this so that they can measure their own progress. They can see if and how they have progressed as we go along.

“Also, they will be able to benchmark themselves against people in their age group. There is a lot of research (on mobility dynamics) of seniors in different age groups and, using this, they will be able to tell if their mobility is within their age group,” he says.

While he has clients who have stayed with him for two to seven years, many train with him for just a few months, until they are happy with the mobility they have achieved.

“Ideally, it is good to keep at it so that your progress does not stagnate and you are guided on your movements. But, of course, the decision is up to them and what they want to achieve,” he says.

The Kuala Lumpur-born trainer says that he will only take on a client if the seniors themselves want to undergo training.

“I am often contacted by the children of seniors. This is fine but I have been in situations where I’m at their home and the senior citizen and his or her child are arguing because the older person does not want to do the training. It was their child’s decision.

“It’s a difficult situation and it won’t work unless the older persons want to take part in the training themselves,” he shares.

There is another prerequisite: The senior must have at least some mobility.

“There was once, a lady contacted me to work with her parent after she saw how a client of mine was moving better. She was told that ‘this guy did it for me. He helped me move better’, without actually knowing the training that I did with the client.

“And so, I went to the house and the father was lying in bed. I asked the daughter if the dad could move. She said he could not. I asked if he was able to go through my training and she replied, ‘no’. I then realised that she thought I could do some ‘magic’ by touching the dad,” he says, with a laugh.

Lee (left) says that her mother has grown more confident in moving about their home without any walking aids.

Passion for training

Ken, whose real name is Lim Wee Wee (“people would always laugh at me for my name which is why I gave myself the name ‘Ken’”), says that he has always been interested in fitness.

“My dad is a former body builder so I’ve always been exposed to fitness and training since the time I was very young. In fact, I have a photo of me, aged eight and scrawny, flexing.

“My hero was Lou Ferrigno, you know the original Incredible Hulk in the TV series (The Incredible Hulk, 1978 - 1982) and I even have a photo with him! I paid RM1,000 to have that photo taken. He was coming to Malaysia for some national achiever’s convention back in 2011 and when I saw that announcement in The Star, I bought an early-bird ticket that cost me RM500.

“It was a three-day event. I went there on the first day and asked if Lou would be there that day. They said no, so I went back. I came back on the second day and it was the same thing. I realised that he was only going to be there for the finale and so, on the last day, afraid I’d miss my chance, I showed up early and stayed for the whole day.

“Then some guy said that to meet Lou, I’d need to buy a package which cost RM500. I immediately paid the money ... and that’s how I got to take a photo with him.

“It was worth it. He was my hero. I admired his body and, to me, he was a legend in bodybuilding,” he shares.

At the moment, Ken is looking to grow his team and is looking to recruit trainers to work with him in training seniors. But it isn’t easy as training ageing people with mobility issues requires a different approach than training younger clients.

“I have to constantly improvise the training so that it is achievable for them, at whatever stage they are at. To do so, I have to understand them. This means talking to them, learning about their lifestyle and their challenges and their frame of mind, and then coming up with movements that fit them.

“Not all trainers are able or willing to do this and have that human touch,” he says.

He is also looking to start group sessions but these are not for seniors who need a programme that targets specific issues.

“This is more for seniors who want to maintain their fitness and learn new skills that they can use in their daily lives,” he says.

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