I hope this goes without saying but you must assess every single client you work with. Every client needs assessing when they first become your client and they need reassessing on a regular basis.
Both the initial assessment and ongoing assessments are done for a number of reasons. The first of which is associated with your number one priority as a trainer; do not injure your client.
Given this is the most important factor, your assessment should tell you about any potential causes of injuries in the future. This can happen in a number of different ways, the simplest way is through conversation in your initial consultation or assessment. This is when they tell you about previous injuries, surgeries, recurring niggles, previous training, previous sports played and absolutely anything about their history that may indicate a potential cause of injury in the future.
The questions you ask are a part of your assessment.
The second reason for assessing your clients regularly is to measure progress. The most common way to measure progress is through body fat measurements or just a simple weight measurement. You can also assess strength, flexibility, movement, circumference measurements, posture, pain and a variety of other things which will usually be based upon the goals of the client.
Measuring progress is good for everyone. Your client knows whether they are getting closer to their goals, you can monitor the success of your programme, you can collect excellent marketing material to advertise getting new clients who want the same result. For those clients who slip in their complicity with the programme, sometimes assessments can be the reminder they need to follow the programme.
You can also benefit if the results come back negative because it means you have the opportunity to improve your process by troubleshooting why the programme has been ineffective. Maybe your client hasn’t followed the programme as outlined, in which case you now know you need to improve your communication skills or simplify the programme so the client will follow it in the future. Maybe you were experimenting with different exercise variables this month and these results tell you that you were wrong, that’s not such a good thing for your client in the short term but it is a good thing in the long term because you know what doesn’t work and will now waste no more time.
All of this information comes from a regular assessment of each of your clients.
What’s the bare minimum?
Do you need to know the Scapula-Humeral rhythm for every one of your clients?
Ideally yes because you’ll have more information to write your programme, plus it’ll limit the chances of your client experiencing a shoulder issue, however, for the average trainer, it’s definitely not at the top of the priority list of things to assess.
So what do you need? Your personal situation is going to play a big part in the answer to this question for you. For right now, I’m going to answer it for the average trainer in a big gym working with general population clients, most of who want to lose a bit of fat and gain a bit of muscle for a holiday or wedding they have coming up.
If you’re a rehab specialist or you’re working with more advanced clients who have a performance goal or you work with older generations or with a professional sports team, you’re going to want to have a much more in depth and specialised assessment and reassessment process.
For the average trainer, this is the minimum requirement for what your assessments should look like;
- Questions- previous injuries, health history, training history, sporting history
- Basic posture assessment
- Movement screen
- Weight and body fat
That covers your main areas of concern.
The questions, posture assessment and movement screen cover the injury prevention goal as well as getting the starting point for your exercise programme.
The body measurements and photos cover the measuring of progress and success of your programme.
If you’re missing one of those areas in your current assessment process, it’s time to add it in.
How much is too much?
Unless you’re working with someone who is outside of your typical fat loss/muscle gain client, this could be a professional athlete or an injured client, the chances are what I described above will be an adequate assessment.
If you’re working with a professional athlete, an injured client or someone equally or more advanced in some fashion, first of all you need to have the required training and skillset before you take that type of client on. Secondly, your assessment of that client should reflect their history and their goal.
If you’re working with a sprinter, you should assess their speed over appropriate distances. If you’re working with an injured client you should assess their movement more thoroughly and specifically and maybe even assess their pain levels if it’s appropriate.
Assessing the shoulder joint in five different ways is overkill for your average client who’s never had a shoulder issue but it is appropriate for a rugby player coming back from a shoulder injury.
Don’t get me wrong, the more you assess someone and the more you know about them, the better the programme you can write, however, there is a point of diminishing returns.
For your average client, a ten hour assessment isn’t going to produce a programme ten times better than a one hour assessment, however a one hour assessment will always produce a programme ten times better than a six minute assessment.
The question of how much is too much is completely dependent upon who you are working with.
As with most things in life, the answer lies in a children’s fairytale.
Just like with porridge not being too hot or too cold and with beds being too hard or too soft, your assessment should follow the same guidelines. Not too much detail as to spend days learning every single detail of your clients life when it is not necessary, but not too vague as to be surprised when you realise they can’t Bench Press in programme A because they’ve got an arm missing.
If you work with mostly the same type of client, then once you have your assessment process in place, you simply run every client through it at a regular monthly or quarterly period and adjust your programmes appropriately.
If the type of client you work with varies, you have the added challenge of figuring out how hot the porridge and how warm the bed needs to be for that specific Goldilocks.