60-Something Trainer Embodies Fitness Trend
Bobby Morrow has worked at a lot of jobs in his life -- U.S. Marine, sheriff's deputy, studio photographer, blackjack dealer, and head of security at a major Nevada casino, to name a few. But in the past few years, the 63-year-old Lexington, N.C., man has found what may be his true calling: helping other boomers heal their bodies and improve their health.
"People come into the gym and explain that they've got this health problem or this ache or pain, and that it's just old age," Morrow says. "I show them that it's not really their chronological age that's the problem, but poor habits or other things going on that they've probably had since their twenties. But we can do something about that."
As proof, Morrow offers himself. After he got the ambition to take courses and obtain a personal trainer certification in 2005, Morrow put together his own personalized program that enabled him to lose 40 pounds in four months. "People feel more comfortable because I'm not a drill instructor," he says. "They see me around the gym. I've never been that interested in working with bodybuilders. I like to start with a person wherever they are, and create an environment that's about learning and feeling better."
Morrow exemplifies a growing trend toward older personal trainers who focus on the needs and concerns of fellow boomers, as SecondAct contributor Melinda Fulmer details in this article. Morrow recently was tapped by the American Council on Exercise, a nonprofit certifying organization for trainers, to serve as a spokesman and to appear in the organization's "Turn Your Passion Into Your Profession" promotional campaign.
He's also a pioneer in a new movement called corrective exercise. Instead of emphasizing a one-size-fits-all approach focused on weight loss or building showy muscles, corrective trainers such as Morrow analyze their clients' bodies, health indicators and medical histories, and then design individualized exercise routines aimed at remedying structural imbalances and other problems that can cause chronic pain and health woes.
"It's not about working on parts of your body, but about how your parts integrate as a whole," Morrow explains. "If you've got hip problems, for example, it may not be the hip that's the problem, but something else, like an injury on one side of your body that you had as a kid, and which you've been compensating for ever since."
Morrow sees corrective exercise as particularly beneficial for people over 40 who not only want to stay active and healthy as they age, but also are worried about the price and availability of health care. "These days, when you have a knee problem, your insurer may not be willing to give you as many sessions with a physical therapist as you once could get," he says. "So you probably are going to have to finish the long-term rehabilitation process yourself, in the gym. So working with a trainer, which is a lot less expensive, and doing corrective exercise is the natural next step."
His clients have included people with serious health problems such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and Parkinson's. (In those cases, he says he's careful to clear any exercise recommendations with their doctors.)
Morrow came to a fitness career circuitously. A native of North Carolina, he served in the Vietnam War in the late 1960s. When he came home, he used his military benefits to study business at a local community college and took a job at a photography studio to make ends meet. After that, he joined the county Sheriff's Department and spent four years as a deputy before following his father out west. For the next several decades, Morrow bounced back and forth across the country, working in a wide range of jobs, including running a photography business and helping to set up local 911 emergency phone systems. He was working as a security and surveillance specialist in a Nevada casino in 2005, watching out for card counters and employee thefts, when his mother's health problems compelled him to return to North Carolina to help take care of her.
That's when Morrow, who had been an off-and-on exerciser since his Marine Corps days ("I was never a gym rat," he explains), also started working out at a local Gold's Gym. Not long afterward, he ran into the owner of the photography studio where he once worked. "He said, 'My doc tells me I need to exercise. Can you show me what to do?' So I helped him out, taught him a few things. He got consistent with working out and dropped some weight, and his blood pressure went down. He even looked taller. And I thought, 'This is pretty cool, helping somebody to feel better.'"
Morrow sensed a need for fitness instructors in his North Carolina town, where many people still thought of personal trainers as a luxury for movie stars and athletes. He researched various personal trainer certification programs, and found that he could do most of the learning online. But after starting to work in the field, he decided that he needed more specialized knowledge to really accomplish what he wanted for his clients. He took more courses, scoured professional journals and worked toward adding a certification in corrective exercise from the National Academy of Sports Medicine. (He's completed the course work and is now preparing to take the exam.) He's branched out into studying areas such as myofascial release, a form of soft tissue therapy that seeks to break down constrictions in the body's internal network of connective tissue that limit movement and cause pain.
"Corrective exercise is a really new field," Morrow says. "It's incorporating aspects of rehabilitation and physical therapy, massage, chiropractic realignment of physical structures, and conventional personal training, all under one umbrella. I'm seeing more and more new ideas coming out all the time."
Being involved in a nascent trend is one of the things that Morrow finds most exciting and satisfying about his work. "I enjoy learning, and teaching, so much," he says. "I think that even if I had another source of income and didn't have to work, I'd still want to do this."
Coming Friday: Part II: Trainer's Best Corrective Fitness Tips
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