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Say you’ve decided to take fitness into your own hands become proactive in the matter. You realize that you have certain goals that you want to achieve, and want to train with a purpose. You read our last article on the concept of individualized design ( Individualized Training: What Is It??? ) and you’re committed to embark on your own personal journey of fitness, and have already set up an initial meeting with your coach. What are the next steps? What can you expect from the start of the process? Well the first step is ASSESSMENT, and I’m here to tell you all about it.

Assessment is crucial in the process, as it provides a starting point. There’s a popular cliche that says “If you’re not assessing, you’re only guessing”. Every single decision that goes into a fitness program, from exercise selection, to training volume and intensity, to caloric intake, to macronutrient recommendations, needs to have a reason. That’s what the assessment piece is there for. It provides the insight that the coach needs to lay down a plan.

It all begins with a consult and a questionnaire. The written portion is meant to meant to make you reflect on some things and actually put them down in writing. You’d be surprised at how many “a ha!” moments can come from it. The coach will most likely review these notes and have further conversation about it. This includes things such as goals, training history, health concerns, injuries, sports background, daily routine, experience with nutrition plans, sleep schedule, etc. It’s basically an opening point to get to know you a little bit. This is also where the coach will go over basic logistics, his expectations from you as a client, and in turn, what you can expect from him as a coach.

The second piece is the collection of anthropometric data. Anthropometric measurements are used to assess the size, shape and composition of the human body. These can be taken in several different forms. For some, we may take circumferences (waist, chest arms, thighs, etc). In other cases, we may take caliper scores, which measure the amount of subcutaneous fat. There are also many other body composition analysis machines that can be used to gather information, such as Inbody, which measures body fat percentage, body mass index, visceral fat, and both intracellular and extracellular hydration. These measurements not only give us as coaches a good idea of where the person is currently at, but it’s also an ideal way to measure progress down the line.

Next, is posture analysis. Here, the coach will observe the way your body “stacks” from a forward, back, and sides perspective. We’re basically looking for symmetry, or lack thereof. This is a great way to provide insight as to why someone may be experiencing pain in certain movement patterns, past injuries, or potential issues in movement. Bare in mind that almost everyone will have things that look “imperfect”. This does not mean that there’s anything wrong with the person, it’s just one more thing that we could consider when establishing training priorities and exercise selection. It could also raise some questions that we may want to look at in the next step, the movement screen.

A movement screen is another integral part of the assessment process. Say the coach observes some asymmetries in the postural analysis. Does that mean that there’s a problem? Maybe, maybe not. We need to see you move in order to determine if any of those things result in inefficient movement. While we have basic standards as to what we want to screen, both the anthropometrics and posture pieces will determine how the movement part of the process will look. We’re looking at mobility, flexibility, stability, motor control, and proper muscle recruitment, amongst other things. By the end of the screen, we have a pretty good idea of the type of exercises we’ll be using in our prescriptions, and a full idea of what we will be testing in the next phase.

The final part of the assessment process consists of actual tests of fitness to determine the level of the individual, balance, strength, and weaknesses. What we see in the previous assessments will dictate how this phase will look. It may be anywhere from 1 session, to 4 weeks worth of workouts and testers, depending on the individual. Here, we look at structural strength components (lifts and gymnastics), as well as the energy systems (aerobic and anaerobic) in different scenarios. Data collected here will be essential in laying down a blueprint for what training will look like. This will also be the baseline to gauge progress in the future.

As you can see, there is a lot that goes into setting up the adequate training design. Everybody should demand that it be part of the process. Without this information, there’s no way a coach can design the right training program. There would also be no objective way in which to measure effectiveness of training throughout time. That’s why it's so important to not only perform an initial assessment, but periodically re-assess to see how the person is responding to training dosage. It’s like going on a cross country drive and not once taking a look at the dashboard. How do you know if you have enough gas to begin with, or when you’re starting to run low? Are all fluid levels ok? Is the car overheating? What about tire pressure? Same applies to fitness. Assessment protocols provide the information on the dashboard. A REAL coach will take all of that into consideration, and periodically take a peek to make sure that everything’s in order.

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