During the first or second meeting between a personal trainer and a new client, the trainer asks questions and performs a series of tests to assess the client’s current level of physical activity and fitness, general state of health and possible injuries. This helps the trainer determine the client’s physical limitations and capabilities. Armed with this information, the trainer can then design an exercise program based on the client's individual needs.
Question and Answer
Either via a written questionnaire or conversation, a trainer collects answers to questions about medical history, occupation, hobbies, past injuries, chronic conditions, diet, barriers to exercise and goals. Trainers are not just being nosy. All of this information, as personal as it can seem, is critical for meeting the client's fitness needs and keeping their well-being in mind.
Medications and conditions can have different physical effects on people, altering their abilities. For example, beta-blockers, which are sometimes used to treat high blood pressure, can contribute to making a client feel easily lightheaded, which a trainer would need to be aware of in order to plan a routine accordingly and make adjustments for the client’s well-being.
Physiological assessments include testing a person’s heart rate, pulse and blood pressure. Resting heart rate and heart rate after performing a short cardio exercise are often checked to determine the level of cardiovascular activity a client can safely endure and at what intensity he will be able to start. Pulse readings are checked on the inside of the wrist and also on the neck, to the side of the windpipe.
Blood pressure may be tested with a cuff to assess if there are any concerns about hypertension, which can increase the risk of exercise. These tests do not substitute for a medical doctor's physical assessment prior to starting an exercise program; rather, they help a trainer further understand a client's health status and exercise preparedness.
A body composition assessment is often completed, especially if weight loss is among the client's goals. This involves measuring body fat, which is crucial for tracking a client's progress. It can be measured in a variety of ways, but the most common way that personal trainers calculate a client’s body fat is using skin-fold calipers, which measure the amount of fat that lies beneath the skin.
Circumference measurements taken around the neck, chest, waist and limbs also provide feedback to the trainer and provide a way to track progress for those clients aiming to lose weight or increase muscle mass.
Posture and Alignment
Posture and movement assessments are also common. These check for the alignment of the musculoskeletal system. Observing posture by assessing basic functions such as squatting, pushing, pulling, and balancing tells a trainer right away what areas of the body are overworked or under-worked. If the areas are overworked, this means the muscles need to be stretched and elongated. If the muscles are under-worked, they need to be strengthened.
A flexibility assessment is also common, and can be as simple as having the client reach for his toes. Other assessments include testing upper-body strength, typically using the bench press, or testing lower-body strength with a weighted squat. Each of these test what the client’s one-repetition maximum is, meaning the most amount of weight she can lift for one repetition of the given exercise. This information is usually used to create benchmarks for strength training goals.