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Get up and move

Through his work as a certified nursing assistant at an assisted care facility, Samuel Henry was lifting elderly people and noticed that they sometimes fell because of the muscle weakness and physical frailty that can occur as they lose skeletal-muscle mass with age. He cited a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association in which frail nursing home residents in their 90s and older significantly enhanced their physical abilities after eight weeks of “high-intensity resistance training.” “There was a niche there I saw wasn’t being filled,” he said. “Most of my clients are older. It’s sort of a natural fit.”

So Henry, who was already trained to do things like range-of-motion tests, studied to earn the NCAA-accredited ACTION-CPT certification and become a personal trainer.

Based in Urbana, Henry was born in Chicago, graduated from Coyne American Institute in industrial electronics. He used that knowledge for 27 years at the world headquarters of Jehovah's Witnesses in New York City, maintaining printing presses and other equipment used to produce Bible-based material. There he met his wife, Antoinette. 

For the last 11 years he has been based in Central Illinois, conducting Bible education classes in prison as an Illinois Department of Corrections volunteer. Henry also manages and schedules data center cleaning for Paragon International. 

Henry’s personal training sessions typically last between 30 and 60 minutes, and he meets clients at a gym or in their homes. “It’s client specific,” he said.

Starting with an assessment, Henry tries to determine clients’ base line by doing things like measuring their heart rate while they climb an 8-inch-high step for three minutes and performing squats to determine the range of motion in their knees. He then has them complete a Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire (PAR-Q), a self-screening tool that can help determine whether an exercise program is appropriate. “Based on that, I come up with a program for them,” he said. “You wouldn’t do a lot of high impact with older ones. It usually takes six to eight weeks to start to see results.”

Henry will also take photographs to show clients things like muscle imbalances, “concrete things you can use to motivate them,” he said. He tries to help clients see the benefits of exercise, such as staying out of a nursing home. “It’s so that you can have a higher quality of life,” he said.

Using a full-body workout every time with stretching afterward, Henry gradually increases the weight or number of repetitions. “You have to constantly be challenging your body,” explained.

Henry has consulted with doctors who recommend that their patients take up load-bearing exercise to improve conditions like osteoporosis, weight management or high cholesterol or blood pressure. Some doctors are giving exercise “prescriptions” to their patients for conditions like obesity and diabetes that can be controlled with diet and exercise, according to Henry. “Most of my clients come because they really want help and they follow through,” he said. “You find out what’s important to them – weight loss, getting a little more strength, getting off of insulin.”

For instance, Henry said, one client wanted to be able to pick up her grandchildren, so he taught her a weight training exercise called a deadlift. For another client who wanted to be able to ride her bicycle, he taught her how to increase her cardiovascular capacity. If a client says they just want to look better, that can mean they want to lose weight or get more toned. “You have to interpret what they say,” Henry said. “It’s all moving the body. You listen to them first; we sit down and talk.”

Henry enjoys it when his clients’ doctors ask them what they are doing because they see such drastic improvements in their medical conditions. “I like to see the results,” he said.

One client told Henry that her grandson remarked, “Grandma, you’ve got guns!”

“I try to encourage being a NEAT freak,” he said, referring to a concept called Non-exercise Activity Thermogenesis that is defined by everyday physical movement that isn’t planned exercise or sports. He tells clients to do things like park a little farther away from a store or do a load of laundry manually. “All of that counts,” he said. “I try to teach them a little bit as they go.”

Some exercises on the weight machines mimic chores like chopping wood or starting a lawn mower. Before society became so industrialized, people did more activities like milking cows and baling hay that incorporated a lot of movement into the day, Henry explained. There are six motions that humans are made to do, according to Henry: Push, pull, twist, carry, bend at the knee and bend at the hip. “Modern living has caused us to sit more,” he said.

While a doctor will take someone to their maximum heart rate during cardiovascular activity, a trainer like Henry will take them to 75 to 80 percent of that rate, using a pulsometer. “You can still talk but can’t sing,” he said. “We do it the safe way.”

Henry is constantly studying kinesiology and takes online classes to stay up to date. “I find this satisfying,” he said.

Henry tries to set a good example, jumping rope and going to the gym. Although he’s 60, he takes no medications. “I see the benefits when I go to the doctor’s office,” he said. “It’s relaxing to me to work out. I sleep better. I try to practice what I preach.”

Henry makes sure clients are working out on cushioned mats and non-slip floors to help prevent injury. He also ensures that clients are dressed properly – including having females wear bras with enough support – and are wearing appropriate shoes.

Henry said the exercise motto “no pain, no gain” is a falsehood. “You do not have to put your body through that,” he said. “That’s been debunked so many times.”

That’s not to say that exercise can’t come with some mild discomfort. “If I walk up three or four flights of stairs, I should be huffing and puffing a little,” Henry said.

Another popular misconception is that you should starve yourself to lose weight, Henry said. “You eat regularly in controlled portions; don’t starve yourself,” he said. “Your body needs to see food on a regular basis. Otherwise it goes into starvation mode.”

Henry refers clients who want nutritional advice to a registered dietician. He also recommends smartphone apps like MyFitnessPal that track diet and exercise to determine optimal caloric intake and nutrients. “That way you can make an intelligent choice,” he said.

For those who would like to start a fitness routine, Henry advises starting gradually. “As little as four minutes a day is proven to be helpful,” he said. “Just get up and walk; everyone can walk. Just start doing something. If you watch TV, during the commercials do a little something and then sit down. Every little bit helps when it comes to exercise. It makes a difference.”


Sam Henry is the owner of Get Fit. For more information, visit his website,