Deciding which fitness assessment to perform on your clients and when, can be a daunting task. First, it is important to know your client’s goals before administering any type of fitness assessment. The tests you select should help the client measure progress towards her goals and motivate her to work hard. Different personality types might also factor into which test you choose. Some folks weigh themselves daily and monitor their current state of fitness by the number on the scale. Others would rather have teeth extracted than step on a scale and may prefer circumference measurements as a less anxiety-laden assessment.
I have listed a few of the common tests the can easily be performed in the gym or studio. I have also added a few helpful hints and things to consider for each. No matter which assessment you choose to monitor your client’s progress, it is important for you, as the pro, to be sensible in your selection and confident in the execution. Practice makes perfect and will help you to create a positive experience for your clients.
The Bruce Submaximal test is administered to measure aerobic capabilities using the results to calculate a client’s VO2max. If you’re working with an endurance athlete, triathlete, marathoner, etc., this might be a good one to administer at the beginning of, and at increments during, an intense training program. The test is performed on a treadmill with a blood pressure cuff attached to the client’s arm. It can be awkward to perform and undertake. If you plan to work with endurance athletes, practice performing this test to ensure a smooth and confident experience for your client. You can find a great step-by-step "how-to" here. When I first started out as a personal trainer, I administered this test to a lot of my friends and it really helped to work out some the wonkiness in administering it. It also helped me figure out my own process and steps which made me a lot more confident.
Also, some brands of cardio equipment offer a similar test as the function of the treadmill, elliptical or stationary bike. The heart rate is calculated based on the readings from sensors in handles or grips. This might be an easier and less time-consuming option to measure a client’s VO2max. Though, it is possible that the results will be less accurate than a Bruce Submax, but should still be considered a good measurement tool for change or improvement. Before administering a VO2 max test on a piece of cardio equipment, I highly recommend that you try it out on yourself.
A Skinfold test is adminstered to measure a client’s total body fat. There are seven different sites from which a skinfold measurement is taken using calipers. This test is ideal for a candidate who wants to lose body fat and/or gain muscle. However, it can be detrimental to a client who is obese and needs to lose a large amount of body fat. Also, if a client has a lot of body fat to lose and has been mostly sedentary, it can be difficult to easily decipher fat from muscle when pinching up the skin. If a client is lean, it is easier to roll the skin between your index finger and thumb ensuring that you are truly measuring fat.
Here is a great YouTube video you can watch to brush up on how to perform this
Using an Omron, or any bioelectrical impedance device, is quick alternative to using skin fold calipers to measure body fat. Client’s can simply enter some personal data, height, weight, age, sex and fitness level (athlete or normal), grasp the sensors in the handles and press the “start” button. Within seconds your client will have their % body fat and BMI. So, if you do have a client who may be a challenge to “pinch” consider purchasing an Omron to measure progress with fat loss. If you’re a gadget person or if you train client’s who are, this type of device is quick and easy to use and often sparks greater interest in results.
Weighing your client on a scale is an easy and fast way to measure progress or maintain current fitness levels. Some client’s will respond well to this, but others may not. I have typically used this measurement for clients whom I have set up on a workout program, trained them with it a few times and then set them free to work on their own for 6 to 8 weeks. This type of self-motivated client, already acclimated to incorporating exercise into her daily life, will typically weigh herself once a week or so anyway. It’s a great tool to encourage her to monitor and maintain her current fitness level and can crate an opportunity for you to reach out periodically and inquire what the scales says. I have used this tactic many times and it works well because as soon as this type of client sees an increase on the scale, she will want to “get back after it.” There’s where you fit in!
Circumference measurements are another assessment option that suits a wide-range of clients. A compact and inexpensive tape measure is all that’s needed to easily record chest/waist/hip measurements. This assessment may be done monthly or at various intervals to monitor your client’s progress with both weight loss and muscle gains. It is also a handy tool in determining body composition when other measurements are incorporated in the arm, thigh or calf.
It can be tricky with larger clients or with male trainers and female clients. A simple tip is to ask your client to hold the tape measure in areas where it would be in appropriate for the trainer to do it (across the chest) or if you are unable to easily navigate your arms around a client’s waist or hips. Practice taking all of the measurements on one side of the body and describing where you want the client to hold the tape measure.
Some clients may want to remove their shirt, but in the corporate gym where I am, we had a strict rule requiring a shirt to be worn for both male and female clients (no sports bras as tops!). If you do allow your client to remove articles of clothing, and you will have to for the skinfold assessment, be sure to plan that ahead of time in order to balance both the client’s privacy and your professionalism and reputation. Be especially thoughtful if you are assessing someone of the opposite sex.
Another assessment to consider adding to your repertoire is a sit and reach test, even if flexibility isn’t a specific goal for your client. In general, we all sit too much which can cause shortening and tightening of muscles like hamstrings, glutes and quads. That tightness may increase your client’s potential for injury due and cause them to have poor form performing various exercises. All you need is a yard stick and some masking tape. You can purchase a fancy sit and reach box, but it is not very portable, an added expense and not a necessity (remember the KISS rule).
Basically, your client is seated on the floor, legs extended, feet about 12 inches apart with the yardstick between their legs. Place the heels at 15” on the yard stick, which you should mark with the masking tape creating a line on the floor. Ask them to exhale and place one hand on top of the other then fold over reaching as far as they are able while keeping legs straight. Ask the client to repeat this twice more and record all three measurements. Compare your client's results based on age (see link), but you will likely be able to visibly determine that you should incorporate stretching into his program.
So, now you have some insights and tips into the most common types of fitness assessments. If you need forms and charts to help you record and review the results, Fiteeza has a “ProKit” with the templates that you can customize. Just another way that Fiteeza is here for you, the Fitness Pro. You’re welcome!