T Nation

Gym Seizure


So I was at my gym tonight and an old man had a seizure. Let me explain.

I was on a treadmill walking for my warm-up, surveying the weight room, seeing which regulars were here and who was working what. I spot a frail looking, very old man walking into the locker room. Had to be in his 70's, judging from his old school jumpsuit, hunched back and slow stumbling walk. I remember thinking it was odd because it was the first time I had seen anyone this old at this particular gym. More power to him, I thought.

So I'm over at the power cage squatting and bullshitting with a buddy. Next thing I know I notice a bunch of red and blue flashing lights coming through the windows at the front of the building. I see some EMTs rush in with a gurney. Far from my average legs night. I eventually find out that the old man I saw earlier started convulsing and had a seizure mid-workout.

Although this was a pretty sad situation, the cause was much more disturbing. The gym I train at is a pretty big gym, with somewhere around 8000 members and a boatload of equipment. Management sells it as a nice, shiny gym but its not quite as commercial as an LA Fitness. I was chatting with the owner last week, and he mentioned about looking for more personal trainers to add to his staff.

Next day I noticed he hired two high school kids as "floor techs". Basically guys paid to pick up the weights I leave on the floor. These two kids were scrawny and know absolutely nothing about training and exercise. I've noticed over the past few days that the owner has been spending time teaching these two kids how to instruct people on certain machines. It was obvious that he was prepping them to handle personal training sessions, yet was also obvious that these kids were not certified and had no idea what they were doing.

Long story short, one of these floor techs trained the very old, frail man to the point of him having a seizure. The kid didn't notice any signs and symptoms in the man leading up to his seizure and was just pushing him to get his 10 reps and keep moving. If a certified trainer had been working with him, I am fairly positive that this whole incident would never have occurred.

The bottom line is that this is what happens when someone who has no business training people trains people. So if anyone reading this is working as a trainer without any type of certification, STOP BEING AN ASSHOLE AND GO GET SOME PROPER EDUCATION.

This is exactly why I stop listening when little guys start doling out exercise tips. "You know, if you took glucosamine your joints will never hurt. Not never." "You know, if you added some behind-the-back wrist curls, you would get hyuuuuuge." "You know, NO Xplode is, like, the greatest thing ever." SHUT THE FUCK UP.

I never understood why people who are motivated enough to hire a personal trainer to help them reach their goals would work with ANYONE who does not themselves have an above-average level of fitness. If I think I have an serious injury, I'm going to want to speak with a doctor, not a nurse-practitioner. If I want financial advice, I want to speak with a guy in his 50's who's been in the game for awhile, not some kid fresh out of college who wants me to be his 3rd client. I don't get why working out should be any different.

I know the owner is a very nice guy but he fucked up on a monumental scale and I wish him the best of luck in dealing with the lawsuit he will probably be receiving in the near future.


Well maybe if you put your weights away he wouldn't have had to hire these guys. As someone who has worked at a gym, I know how bloody annoying this can be and it's just completely disrespectful.


shit's crazy




I am all for the necessity of the trainers to be educated, but I also have to wonder if the old man has any history of seizures. If he has never had one prior, even if a legitimate trainer has been working with him, they wouldn't have had any history to go on. My fathers first seizure came out of fucking nowhere when he was just sitting on a bench reading a book at the harbor.

What I'm trying to say is, dude may have had one anyway, but I understand your general feeling towards the need for educated trainers. Although, some of those seem to be kind of b.s. as well so I guess one has to define educated when it comes to training much like you suggested, though neither skinny bastard, certified trainer, nor huge gym rat may have been able to prevent a seizure. Crazy shit indeed.


I disagree with your belief that a 'certified trainer' would have been properly educated in ways to recognize and prevent an oncoming seizure. From what I can tell, most certified trainers haven't been properly educated on basics like shoe-tying and English-speaking.

However, that's a bit of a null point. What really kills me about this is that some asshat would-be trainer has turned an elderly man's effort to get more out of his life through lifting into a negative experience. Not to mention putting a story out there that will scare maybe dozens of elderly people away from the gym. Sad.


What's sad is that many people think anyone who is simply "not fat" DOES have an above average fitness level. When I used to work out at 24 hour fitness, they had lots of sloppy looking trainers, but people still hired them.

The guy might have had a seizure anyways, my husband had one a few years back out of nowhere and we never did figure out why. But I completely agree that it's irresponsible to hire kids and use them as trainers.

Picking shit up is one thing, training is quite another.


While I agree with your stance on trainers, i think this has more to do with that warning that's on most exercise equipment.

"Consult a physician/doctor before starting any physical activity program "

Most people that have seizures, at his age especially, would have a history of seizures, and would definitely need clearance from a doctor.


I wonder how often this happens, I see quite a few older guys and a few obese guys in the gym. I'm surprised they're not dropping like flies.


What are these "signs and symptoms" you believe a personal trainer would know to recognize that appeared in this case, or you think likely appeared in this case, and instead was ignored?

Can you be specific?

Many seizures, as mentioned by MG above, show no warning sign of any kind.

Where there is a warning sign fairly typical ones that I know of that are visible to another person are dizziness or fainting -- which if they had happened even the kids would have realized, most probably, was reason to stop the treadmill. Confusion can be a sign but would another person necessarily recognize it and are they negligent in not taking momentary confusion in an elderly person as being a sign of impending seizure? Headache can be too, but I kind of doubt the old man announced he was getting a headache and the kid said to keep going. If so, though, okay, that was a mistake... but why a certified personal trainer would do better I have no idea.

And that also is not to say that stopping the treadmill somewhat earlier would have avoided the seizure.

Your general point on not hiring the ignorant I completely agree with, but as to whether it had anything to do with this case, that doesn't seem so clear to me unless you can be more specific on what you mean by saying signs and symptoms would have been seen and picked up by a certified personal trainer and would have made a difference here.


Let's be clear, I'm arguing that certified trainers are rocket scientists. In the grand scheme of things, becoming a certified trainer is not an intellectually demanding pursuit. To be fair, some trainers are certified via through-the-mail programs and take their certification tests over the internet, with an open book in front of them. Declaring all certified trainers would have averted this situation would be naive.

However, I maintain that if said old man had been working with a good certified trainer, he would most likely have walked out of the gym under his own power. This is because good certified trainers construct a regiment tailored to each individual client, taking into account the individual's level of fitness, medical history, personal goals, and physical limitations.

In this particular case, we can assume that the worker training the man had essentially no idea what he was doing. He had minimal subject education, at best. He knew nothing more than the age-old mantra of 10-12 rep sets coupled with minimal rest. Ergo, instructing the old man to complete this course of exercise was completely inappropriate. Although I am no expert, I would presume that this type of exercise pushed the old man's heart rate to a level that it should not go. Do I think that it is possible that this worker pushed the man's body to a point that a seizure was induced? Yes.

A good certified trainer would have taken a completely different approach with the man. I believe that a certified trainer would have had this old man doing low impact, low resistance movements with the goal of increasing flexibility, muscle fiber recruitment, and general muscular function. There's no reason in the world that an old man could or would want to work towards big muscles; improved movement and muscular coordination would, however, be a desirable and tangible goal. A certified trainer would have conveyed this line of thought to the old man prior to beginning their session.

I do think that a good certified trainer would observe the way that the old man was responding to the exercise, and possibly modified the remainder of the session based on what he saw. If the old man was having trouble balancing, was woozy or wobbly directly after each set, the certified trainer could interpret this to be a sign that something is not right with the old man. If the old man started having sporadic, jerking movements and muscle tremors, could be a sign that something is wrong with the old man. Would reducing the intensity of the exercise prevent the seizure from coming at this point? I don't know.

I do know that good certified trainer would not have put the old man in a physical state to trigger or induce a seizure (This is assuming that changing a physical state can trigger a seizure).

I'm not a medical professional, which does not make me an authority on seizure signs and symptoms. I do completely agree that many seizures are random and spontaneous. I do admit that there certainly is a good chance that this old man had one of these spontaneous seizures.

One final note: I am not arguing that this worker is at fault. He was simply doing what his boss had taught him to do. I've seen this on a nightly basis for sometime now. When all of the real trainers are busy with clients, the new members that arrive and demand their "free one hour training session" get stuck with these types of employees.
This is a consequence of this particular owner's business model. In this case, the owner is at fault for instructing an employee to do task he should not do.

I know it's long winded; brevity has never been one of my virtues. If I'm going to take on the task of arguing with Bill Roberts, I figure I better do a good job :slight_smile:


I hope you got a better job


If indeed the rest was minimal and/or if the weights were such that the old man, whom we will assume was unaccustomed to any recent difficult exercise, was having to strain to complete the reps, then this was stupid and I agree could have contributed to the problem.

By the way, I have no idea whatsoever why I previously had the idea you had said he was on a treadmill at the time of the seizure. You did not. My bad.

Also not being a professional in that kind of thing, I don't know, but tend to think the cause, if exercise releated, was probably was more degree of nervous excitation in the brain rather than heart rate per se.

Well, increasing strength is very important and helpful for the elderly but as you say the protocol should not be one driving the heart rate up unduly, and also -- for other reasons as well -- should not be so demanding on the nervous system. Among the other reasons is that explosiveness and speed put unnecessary risk to their joints and bones as well as cause unnecessarily greater risk of muscle injury. Slow and highly controlled movement is the way to go.

Which these kids would not, I assume, have done.

At this point it seems only a guess that the kids pushed him after being woozy or having sporadic, jerky movements, etc. Even if stupid, it seems easily possible, even likely, that they weren't THAT stupid.

A whole lot of seizures not even an MD present on the spot has any idea is going to happen before it does.

It just seems to me a very high chance or even predominant likelihood that while the kids may be stupid and lousy trainers in general and even worse for the elderly, that this event was unrelated to their actions, unless they were pushing the old man "high intensity" style, in which case I guess it's a quite reasonable likelihood.

Just as pure shooting-the-breeze guesswork: the answer seems impossible to know either way at least with the information available. But the general question of whether stupid/ignorant trainers are likely to cause seizures in the elderly is an interesting one that seems important.


I was a certified personal trainer and have seen many certified trainers that are ten times worse than uncertified trainers. There is no law in any state that you have to be certified! The training depends on the person's want to better the person they're training.