Many People will be joining gyms over the coming weeks. It is crucial as trainers / coaches that we give them the very best start they deserve!
As I have said before I’m a big believer in the importance of the “Assess, Don’t Assume” mentality. However, it’s crucial that assessments be approached the right way in order to deliver optimal results in strength and conditioning programs. I see it almost daily. Personal trainers training their clients with zero thought to the assessment of their clients?
Here are a few of my thoughts on the subject:
- As coaches assessments are an easy way to differentiate yourself.
With this era of semi private training (small group) and bootcamps, there are still a lot of coaches and facilities out there that pay no attention whatsoever to pre-participation screenings. On one hand, it’s a sad reflection on our industry, as one could argue that omitting assessments can set clients up for failure or injury. On the other hand, it creates an excellent opportunity for skilled coaches and trainers to differentiate themselves in a low barrier to entry industry. A saying I heard from Chek is “If you’re not assessing, you’re guessing!”
Make it a priority to start learning more about your clients or athletes and you’ll be ahead of 90% of coaches / PTs out there.
- Thorough assessments include both specific and general components.
I try to categorise assessments as either specific or general. Specific assessments may be anything from single joint range of motion (ROM) assessments, measurements of pelvic tilt, spinal curvature, forward head posture , etc. General assessments look at global movements and evaluate multiple joints at the same time. Examples include overhead squats and push-ups. You still have to be cautious as I have noticed that occasionally both kinds of assessments can fall short. For example, you may see unstable clients / athletes who pass all ROM assessments (specific) with no problem, but cant perform a basic overhead lunge walk (general).
- You must always be willing to refer out.
I am a firm believer that you are better off being a great trainer / coach than you are trying to be a very sub-par physical therapist, physician or even dietitian. Even if you have tremendous knowledge of various tests and rehabilitation techniques, as a trainer / coach, we don’t have the same resources (e.g., diagnostic imaging equipment) these professionals have. Furthermore, diagnosing is outside our scope of practice anyway.
I regularly refer out. It creates great opportunities for collaboration that will benefit our clients plus we get to learn from other health related professionals. If you see something on an assessment that raises a red flag, it is better to be safe than sorry… refer out!
Having said this, it should be a two way street. A client of mine is having problems with his hip, post op. He recently met up with his surgeon, chiropractor and physiotherapist and not one of them has tried to contact me either with prescribed / suggested exercises or to ask about his exercise history and I see him 3-4 times per week. I cant really blame them. Due to the many dubious qualifications and poor trainers who are ‘given’ certificates there is a great mistrust by many health professionals who feel we are unqualified and not able to add anything as trainers / coaches! I find this particularly frustrating as I have trained many medical professionals over the years including physiotherapists and many doctors.
- Don’t assess just for the sake of assessing, make it to the point.
Assess in the context of both injury history and functional demands. You never want to go into a movement assessment “blind” with respect to the person in front of you. Rather, it is best to first review a health history and have a discussion about training history, goals, athletic demands, and expectations , etc. I email all potential clients with comprehensive questionnaires prior to evaluation. I find that it is best to perform an assessment with a better knowledge of an individual’s history than it is to look at movement and then work backward from it. You can do an incredibly thorough evaluation in about 45 minutes, and most shouldn’t even take that long. My own assessment process currently takes around an hour! This is too long and an area I am working on.
- Don’t let hyper-mobile clients / athletes “cheat” assessments.
Just like you need to have both specific and general assessments, you also need to make sure to include both mobility and stability assessments. Hyper-mobile (loose-jointed) individuals are notorious for cheating assessments that are biased toward ROM. Comprehensive assessments need to also evaluate stability.
- Do NOT make new clients (or any clients) feel uncomfortable.
If a man is overweight and uncomfortable with his body, it’s probably not a great idea to have him take his shirt off unless completely essential. If a woman is seriously de-conditioned, it’s probably not a good idea to put her through a lunge assessment that she’ll fail miserably, particularly in front of a crowded gym. Remember that the first day is as much about building rapport and starting a friendship as it is about evaluating how the individual moves. As has been said in the past, “They have to know how much you care, before they care how much you know.”
- Don’t forget to give praise when the individual deserves it.
No one wants to be, or indeed should be criticised non stop for 45 minutes. Highlight what they do well. It is always easier to listen to unpleasant feedback after we have heard some praise of our good points. If someone highlights what you did well while also covering some important growth areas wouldn’t these suggestions be more well received? Again, our goal is to establish a great relationship, not just analyse movement.
- Remember that training is a never ending assessment.
Every exercise is an assessment. Each time your clients and athletes move, they’re providing you with information. The more you pay attention, the better you’ll be able to individualise their programs and coaching cues moving forward and the better trainer you will become.