The question has lingered in the fitness industry for years—are young athletes easier to train than the average adults who make up the general population? The reason why the question beckons debate is because the strength coach and personal trainer have several commonalities in education and application. However, there is an explicably large gray area in field.

From time to time, I meet up with a strength coach who works exclusively with young athletes. He works with youths ranging from the ages of 12–24, specializing in middle school, high school, and college sports. Although from time to time he does work with some general population clients—baby boomers roughly in the age range of 40–64—his predominate clients are young and vibrant and train with a purpose to excel in their chosen sport.

Each time we discuss our recent experiences, I am amazed at how diverse he creates each workout program and how exceptional his athletes execute many of the exercises included in each program. His athletes come from all sport backgrounds including basketball, football, tennis, swimming, baseball, track, and volleyball. Each program begins with an initial consultation (with or without a parent); basic assessments involving muscular endurance, core stabilization, and flexibility; and basic body weight drills designed to pinpoint specific faults in certain skills. It’s a fantastic, well-thought out approach to exercise design and very similar to what I do with my general population clients. It is also very similar to what many trainers do with their adult clients. However, it seems the results vary considerably given the different types of clients involved.

How can two professionals with almost similar approaches to program design experience different outcomes on the training spectrum? I thought to myself, are young athletes easier to train than adults? Is it related to age or environment? Are clients over the age of 35 more difficult to train simply because of their age? This is partially true, but there is a reason for it.

I’ve outlined certain characteristics that show why the general population—mainly adults—can be more challenging for the fitness professional to train than the strength coach who works with younger athletes.

1) Stress: Most adults experience a greater degree of stress in life, mostly negative and seemingly overbearing to the typical adult. Many adults face stress ranging from job security, finances, family, and health that can inhibit their focus when following an exercise program. Contrary, youngsters also face a degree of stress (bullying, peer pressure, grades). However, there are resources available to them including family members, coaches, and school programs that offer support. To the typical adult, institutional support isn’t readily available in a structured environment. Community programs and outreach usually come with high costs and insurance complexities.

2) Sedentary lifestyle: The root of inactivity comes from long hours of energy draining preoccupation and poor time management. Most adults are inactive due to long work hours chained to desks and computers. Unlike youngsters involved in scholastic sports where a structure is followed involving sport analysis, study, skill refinement, accountability, and team building, the general population client is involved in simply making it through each work day. Without some sort of structure, there isn’t any expectation to move unless there is a worthwhile incentive. Youth athletes benefit from a different kind of structure. They follow a routine consisting of academia, social interaction, and sport. Sports create a structure that includes expectations that should be met.

3) Health issues: Some adults suffer from a host of health problems beginning with the major three—hypertension, high cholesterol, and diabetes. The genesis of these ailments is inactivity, which leads to obesity. Although today many youngsters are experiencing the same illnesses that adults experience, active young adults have the ability to prevent and reverse detrimental health issues due to their youth and the resources available to them.

4) Excess body fat: Obesity rates are higher than ever and that even includes today's youth. Combined with the first three reasons described above, adults who are overweight suffer and have complications from diseases and medical conditions much more swiftly than younger athletic clients. There isn’t any arguing that advancing age plays an important factor in health concerns. The ability for a youngster to lose excess body fat is much greater than for an adult. Children and teens possess more brown fat, which contains mitochondria and is responsible for producing body heat. Brown fat has been shown to burn white fat, which stores calories. Recent studies show that adults still retain some brown fat tissue, but when combined with inactivity and poor eating patterns, there is little metabolic activity to offset the excess.

5) Depression: In today's age of “easily diagnosed, quick to prescribe medicine,” adults can suffer from depression due to stress from family, work, and finances. Adults tend to feel that they lack control of their lives and suddenly retract into a dark world of misery and loneliness. One study conducted over a year found that 53 percent of adults have a mental illness that contributes to disability. Specifically, the second greatest number of disability days was for depression. Musculoskeletal disorders such as neck and shoulder pain contributed the most(1).

In another study, 10,000 teens ranging from ages 13–18 were interviewed face to face to acquire data. The findings showed that 11 percent suffered from depression (2). Comparatively, a 2004 study showed that an estimated 26.2 percent of adults suffer from depression (3). Adults are also at risk for developing a dependency on medications to “get them through the day.” Today, teens are exposed to more resources to help them deal with mental disorders through social intervention, guidance, team activity, and expressive means. Those resources are readily available through school organizations, faculty, and community outreach. Most adults must initiate searches for assistance that must be funded out of their own wallet and, therefore, are infrequently pursued.



6) Poor posture: Age is a process of degeneration. Earth’s gravitational pull is a constant force that collectively causes the deterioration of our boney structural being. Adults have been on Earth longer and therefore their bodies have been enduring the effects of gravity longer.

Earth’s gravitational pull heaves joints constantly if there isn’t an opposing action to neutralize this phenomenon. With prolonged static postures of 8–10 hours per day at desk combined with inactivity, the typical adult suffers from the most common postural dysfunctions including upper and lower crossed syndromes. These conditions also contribute to pain, discomfort, and disability that negatively affect quality of life. Fifty three percent of adults suffer from such ailments as lower back pain, shoulder pain, and neck pain more frequently than teens due to longer work days and sedentary lifestyles. One study showed that out of 5,962 adults surveyed, these muscular disorders account for the greatest amount of disability days for adults (1.2 billion days)(4). Each condition presents a set of problems that become more difficult to unravel for the fitness professional. Fitness professionals have a number of assessments that they can use at their disposal to discover and correct these disorders. However, it is an exercise continuum that is necessary to warrant any type of relief for them.

7) Personalities: Adults are more set in their ways. They present categorically as Type A or Type B personalities, which force fitness professionals to adjust their coaching style sometimes several times per day. Mirroring posture and vocal tone are prominent characteristics of an effective fitness professional—especially one who works with 3–7 clients per day.

One-on-one sessions are becoming less popular in today’s fitness business, and group training dynamics are taking some edge off the fitness professional’s numerous coaching modifications. Young athletes are typically trained in groups and must adjust to the coaching style. The 20th century sports persona has modeled the coach as a viable leader that most young athletes automatically surrender to. To the fitness professional,  the reality is a client who is a 54-year-old vice president of a large investment firm doesn’t want to be coached in a manner that makes him feel like a "subordinate."

8) Orthopedic issues: Many adults will present a plethora of orthopedic problems stemming from knee injuries, hip replacements, frozen shoulders, and back injuries, to name a few. If they have neglected their bodies for a long period of time, chances are they’re paying the price now. Fitness professionals need to adjust, modify, and help correct certain aspects of the kinetic chain to make the exercise program enjoyable, pain-free, and effective. This calls for periodic or sometimes constant modifications to the exercise program. This can become frustrating to both the fitness professional and client because the outcome of the exercise program depends largely on adherence and effectiveness. Making modifications that don’t elicit pain (to the client) may not be as effective and delay desired results.

9) Financial justification: Most athletic programs (including some training) are funded by parents or the school system or in rare cases a possible sponsor. Parents can rationalize spending dollars on their children more than themselves when it comes to physical fitness or organized sports (1). Some sports such as soccer call for a price tag of upwards of $1000 per household depending on the municipality and school. Hockey and football are two of the more costly youth sports (2). However, parents continue to invest in their children’s sports program because they believe in giving them a chance to fulfill a dream or make an impact. This brings us back to the adult client. Why doesn't an adult view this the same way? Why doesn’t the adult possess the same optimistic view?

Many can’t justify spending the money on personal training or fitness because they face other expenses where they need to prioritize their hard earned money. Certain adults are skeptical of this expense simply because they lack the confidence, commitment, and motivation needed to succeed. When it comes to personal health, adults try to rationalize with themselves by procrastinating or trying to get healthier on their own. It isn’t until they fail that they finally seek out a personal trainer or succumb to a fat loss fad or gimmick.


10) Motivation/adherence: How many times has an adult client canceled a session on you? Emergencies, unexpected events, long work hours, and picking the kids up at daycare are all real excuses that adults face today. Along with the first reason on this list (stress), adults face an uphill battle when adhering to an exercise program. The fitness professional must demonstrate empathy. However, be tactful and concrete when establishing objectives and expectations.

Adults are accountable for many things during the day, which can make it difficult to maintain a level of motivation that will be consistent through the duration of several weeks or sessions. Comparatively, most young athletes will arrive unmotivated and disconcerted to a training session but soon become motivated and cooperate as soon as positive group dynamics of team training manifest.

The job of personal trainers and strength coaches is clearly defined by the type of clientele each one attracts. Each position holds different criteria for reaching success and calls upon the professional to exhibit unique characteristics to be effective with each life he has the chance to impact.


  • Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (2008, May 14). Fat Chance: Brown Vs. White Fat Cell Specification. ScienceDaily.
  • Merikangas KR, Ames M, Cui L, Stang PE, Ustun TB, von Korff M, Kessler RC (2007) The impact of co-morbidity of mental and physical conditions on role disability in the US adult population. Archives of General Psychiatry 64(10).
  • Merikangas KR, He J, Burstein M, Swanson SA, Avenevoli S, Cui L, Benjet C, Georgiades K, Swendsen J (2010) Lifetime prevalence of mental disorders in U.S. adolescents: Results from the National Co-morbidity Study-Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A). Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 49(10):980–89.
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