How to Do Fitness Assessments for Online Clients That Work

Maybe you’ve been doing online training for a while or thinking about including an online option for clients. One of your big challenges as a personal trainer working with clients mostly or solely online is assessment. This includes initial fitness assessment forms, like health and activity questionnaires, but also ongoing fitness tests, health and body composition measurements, and assessment of specific exercises. 

Assessment is essential for setting fitness goals, tracking progress, making changes to programs, and training safely. It’s not as easy to do when working as an online personal trainer, but there are ways to assess clients virtually so that you can keep working. 

About Online Personal Training

If you have never trained a client online, this is a new world, and it may feel a little overwhelming. Some of the tools online trainers use to work with their clients include: 

  • Streaming videos of workouts and exercise demos
  • Mobile apps to track progress and workouts
  • Email and messenger apps to communicate
  • Document sharing online for training programs
  • Video conferencing for face-to-face sessions
  • Social media sites for sharing information
  • Personal trainer software for tracking clients and for organizing business information

A big difference in online training is that more responsibility goes to the client. They need to be motivated to get the work done that you assign, and that can be a challenge. Communication with clients is necessarily different too. It’s easier for some people than others, so work with clients individually to find the best way to talk and meet. 

Is online training the right fit for you? Learn more about what it takes to work in this specialized fitness career. 

Why is Assessment Important? 

Assessing clients online is a big challenge, but it is not insurmountable. Although it may seem more difficult, it’s important that you don’t let this part of training slide. Assessments are essential for many reasons: 

Initial Assessments Help You Set Goals and Plan Programs

To help your clients determine their personal fitness goals, and then design the programs that will achieve them, you need to know your clients: current fitness level, health status, nutrition choices, strength level, preferences, and more. An initial assessment helps you get to know your client and sets the foundation for successful training. 

Ongoing Assessments Track Progress

You also need ongoing assessments of your clients’ health measurements, fitness level, and strength to ensure progress. If you don’t measure, you don’t know if they are succeeding or if you need to make changes to their fitness program. 

Assessments are Motivating 

Motivating online clients is especially challenging. Assessments help mark victories and point out areas of needed improvement. They help motivate clients to keep going or to double down on effort. 

Fitness Assessments for Online Clients May Be Even More Important

Assessment is important for all your clients, but the special circumstances of online training make it even more essential. When you meet with clients face-to-face you can learn so much more about them. You will find you are constantly assessing them, simply by talking to them and observing their workouts. With online clients, that isn’t possible, so put an emphasis on formal assessments. 

The Challenges of Assessing Online Clients

Some aspects of assessment are easily done online, especially those that involve your clients filling out forms. For instance, a PAR-Q, or physical activity readiness questionnaire, is essential before starting with a new client. It gives you important health information about a client so that you can plan safe workouts. This is easy to do with an online form. 

You can also have new clients make certain measurements and report them to you: height, weight, specific body circumference measurements. Body composition, an important measurement of body fat versus lean muscle, may not be possible. Most clients don’t have the tools for this. 

Also more difficult is assessing how a client moves and what their form is like. Do they have good posture? Do they make similar errors in form for most of the exercises? What is their cardiovascular fitness like? These things are all easier to assess in person, but you can still get most of the information you need online. It just requires some special strategies. 

Tips and Tools for Making Fitness Assessments for Online Clients Work

Not only is assessing online clients doable, it is crucial. For all the reasons that assessment is important for in-person clients, it is possibly even more essential for those you only see online. You can’t be physically there to watch your clients move from every angle, take measurements, or correct their form hands-on. 

When you work with a client in a gym, it’s much easier to see progress or setbacks. When you don’t have that in-person connection, you rely more on formal assessments. These measurements will help you get a more accurate picture of how a client is progressing or struggling. Here are some tips to help you do it right. 

Start with a Thorough Questionnaire

A PAR-Q is necessary for any new client, but with online clients, include even more information. Be as thorough as you need to be to get information that will establish a baseline and ensure you can provide safe workouts. 

Do an Initial, Face-to-Face Video Consult

It may not be feasible to chat online regularly with all your clients, but at the least, you should make time for an initial consultation. Paperwork can only tell you so much. Require that new clients get online with you to chat. Use FaceTime, Google Hangouts, Zoom, or other video conferencing so you can see each other. Use the completed assessment forms to direct the conversation and ask questions and clarifications. 

Set a Schedule for Assessing

Make expectations clear from the beginning with an established schedule for assessing your client’s progress toward physical fitness. This may vary by client, but for instance, it could include weekly measurements for weight and body composition and bi-weekly assessment of specific exercises, like squats or push-ups. 

Setup Video Uploads

Live video chats like your initial face-to-face consultation are a great time to conduct assessments of the kinetic chain and more. But that doesn’t have to be the only time you check on your client’s movements. Include video uploads in your assessment schedule. Write up a description or create a demo video detailing the moves your client should make for physical assessments. Instruct your client to record themselves doing these moves. They can submit their videos by uploading to a client-specific Google Drive folder, via a personal training app, or through whatever platform works for you. 

Use Tape Measurements

An easy way to track progress quantitatively when you can’t be in the same room with a client is to have them tape measure parts of the body. Instruct new clients on how to do this accurately during your initial consultation. Then, agree on how often they’ll take new measurements to report back to you. Useful measurements are waist, hips, thighs, biceps, shoulder, and neck. 

Use a Body Fat Calculator

Body composition is one of the most useful assessment strategies for health and weight. But the best way to measure body composition will always require tools your clients don’t have at home. As an alternative, try a calculator for body fat, which is easy to find online. This technique isn’t as accurate, but it will still give you a good sense of how a client is progressing. You’ll need to get a few measurements from the client: weight, waist circumference, wrist circumference, forearm circumference. 

Invest in Technology for Assessment

If you think you’ll be doing online training for the long haul, it may be worthwhile to invest in tools for easier, more accurate, and more varied assessments. Fitness assessment software designed just for trainers can be useful for gathering and organizing information on clients. 

What makes these kinds of tools so useful is that they capture and breakdown movements so you can do the assessments you would typically do in person, in the gym. Some programs focus on assessing to reduce injuries and pain, while others analyze functional movements in 3D. With tools like these, you can have clients record their movements and assess them as if you were right there. 

A few programs even offer a whole package of tools for trainers. These include business tools, websites, apps, workout libraries, e-commerce function, custom branding, payment processing, and assessments. 

Choose the Right Assessments

Whichever tools or measurements you use to assess clients, make sure they are appropriate for the individual. The assessments should match the client’s abilities and goals. For instance, those trying to lose weight will need to be assessed through weight and tape measurements. For those more interested in building strength, assess individual exercises. You don’t necessarily need to do a full range of assessments for every client. 

Online training presents a unique challenge. If you’re up for it, consider how you’ll effectively assess clients. This is an essential part of personal training, and even in an online setting it’s possible to do it well. 

Ready to start training clients in-person or online? The ISSA’s Certified Personal Trainer – Self-Guided Study Program is the right course to get you started.


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Certified Personal Trainer

The Certified Fitness Trainer program is designed to equip graduates with the practical day-to-day skills necessary, as well as the theoretical knowledge needed to excel as a personal trainer serving the general public. Along with the necessary exercise science foundation, the distance education program covers client assessment, program design, basic nutrition, and sports medicine along with business and marketing skills.

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