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ISSA Talk, Episode 5: How to Do Online Fitness Assessments

Reading Time: 17 minutes 17 seconds

Edited for clarity.

Erin Mahoney:

ISSA presents How to Do Online Fitness Assessments. This is yet another presentation of the ISSA Talk web series, which is designed to help trainers and fitness professionals move their profession in an online environment as part of this evolving and unprecedented impact of COVID-19.

Thank you for joining today. I'm your host, Erin Mahoney. And I'm really excited to get into the discussion of online fitness assessments, mostly because we've had a lot of feedback from you all out there saying that you want to know how to conduct these assessments when you aren't able to connect with your client face-to-face or in person. And what are the best resources available to do these assessments? So, on behalf of ISSA, I'm thrilled to get this conversation going and provide yet another tool to all of our fitness professionals out there that are still making those positive impacts on health and fitness.

How to Set Up Your Online Training Toolkit

You maybe have been doing online training for a while, or at least thinking about including it. And if you haven't, let's do a quick review of some of the other things we've discussed in ISSA Talk! Specifically, we've talked quite a bit about some different tools that online trainers can use with their clients. And these of course, includes streaming workout and exercise videos, the different types of mobile apps that you can use for tracking progress with your clients, communication through messenger apps. Online document sharing, to share records, workouts, and in general, different interactions with your clients. Face-to face-sessions, via video conference. Sharing information and education on social media so that way you can gain more clients and then different personal trainer software for tracking clients, and then organizing your business operations.

If you haven't learned about these in our series, please check them out. They're all how-to's and they'll get you started. Hopefully at this point in your career, you know that assessments are important. For a lot of trainers, fitness professionals, assessment is that first step. And oftentimes it's what we do in order to gain new clients. A lot of times we do these assessments as a recommendation for our service offerings and to show really what we're looking at when we look at our clients.

Assessments for Setting Goals

So, we know that it's important from a marketing perspective and a client acquisition perspective, but in ongoing world, what we're also realizing, and we know is that they're important to set goals. Once we have those goals, then we can build the programs. And then it's important you don't stop one time. Instead, you've got to keep tracking the ongoing progress that the clients make, because this gives you the opportunity to give them feedback and to motivate them. And that provides the accountability that is so needed in this online environment. And in general, that feedback continues. More goals, more programs, tracking, feedback, accountability, and ultimately success.

First and foremost, we know when you've got a new client, it's time to do initial assessments. These are going to set the goals. This is how you're going to plan your programs. And you can do all of these online. And you should have been, and you were probably doing them in a physical environment, but let's talk about how we can do it in an online environment. We're going to talk about how you can establish their current fitness level, what their health status is, specifically, maybe their medical history, also their nutrition choices, which you'll learn through lifestyle questionnaires. Things like their strength level are really important because they're going to have to make decisions about the equipment to purchase based on what you're recommending for their strength. And then of course, biometric data.

Now, what we also have to remember is ongoing assessments are just as important as that initial assessment. So, the initial assessment marks that baseline. Ongoing assessments tells us where we're at, have we achieved the success that we planned or do we have to modify our program a little bit? And these are also huge keys to keeping our clients, retaining them throughout the process. And for the most part, once you've done that initial really robust and inclusive initial assessment, you're going to start looking at tracking the biometric data, general fitness assessments, and strength and performance tests in an ongoing setting.

Assessments for Motivation

Remember, assessments are motivating and you need to remind your clients of that too. Especially at that initial session, they're definitely victory markers. We have to know when our clients are achieving their goals that they're looking for. And for both the client and the trainer, there're opportunities to see where we could be improving. Both, the trainer for providing recommendations and building programs, but also for the client for giving feedback to the trainer about what's working and what's not. And what have they adhered to and maybe what have they not.

In general, what we know is that assessments are the motivation to either keep doing exactly what we're doing or double down on our efforts and plan and do even more. If there's one takeaway you could get from today, it's actually probably less about how to do the online assessments and much more to recognize how important they are. Even more so than when we are in a physical setting, assessments are critical. Face-to-face interactions are now virtual. If they're not planned, they don't happen for the most part. So, plan them or, and make them so that they can happen accidentally through social media, just pushing more content out there.

Assessments for Accountability

We also know that the accountability element is replacing live session attendance. So historically, when we were working with clients, we would see them on the times that they come in for their scheduled sessions or their workouts. We would also probably see them when they weren't scheduled. Maybe they were coming in to do other workouts that you recommended for them. So, there was opportunities for more interaction in the physical space, but in the online world right now, you are that network. That social community that is going to hold them accountable, recognize that they're doing the right thing, and then give them the proper feedback.

And then thirdly is, there is right now, with everyone being at home, a blurred work, life, and fitness boundary issue. This means that where they sleep, where they eat, where they work, and where they work out for the most part is all the same setting. And that means it's very easy for any of those elements to take over. And what you don't want to have happen is for work to, what used to be spent in their time commuting is now being spent even more in work. And maybe those boundaries expand and start growing over the top of fitness opportunities. So, you have to make yourself as a trainer, even more prevalent in their lives. To make sure that they understand that fitness is a part of this blurred boundary situation and how you can help them find times for it so that when assessment time comes, they're achieving their goals.

Pros and Cons of Assessing Client Online

All right. A few things we can chat about are initially the pros and cons of assessing clients online. In general, what we do know is there's a few things that can be done relatively easily and a few things that are a little bit more challenging in that virtual environment. Questionnaires and check-ins are very easy to do in a virtual environment. I mean, for the most part, we can even do them over the phone. You can do them video conferencing, when you're trying to gather information about their lifestyle, what they've been doing, what they haven't. You can also weigh them in, have them either tell you, ideally, we want them to record it so that you know for sure. And then it's also easy to make sure that the program adherence is coming along because they're either accomplishing their goals or they're not, right? Well, then we've got some of the challenges. 

Body Composition Assessments

The first one is body composition testing. For the most part trainers are conducting their body composition tests on clients. So, it makes it that much harder in a virtual setting for clients to do it themselves, or to figure out how to get it done. We also know that assessing movement quality can be a little bit of a challenge in an online environment because how it's harder to see them in a three-dimensional view now. So, you've got a plan for that.

And then program adherence. So, we said that, that's easily done virtually, but there's also the flip side of that because getting them to adhere to their program is based on what they're saying. So, you've got to look at that program adherence from both a positive and a negative. How do we know that they're saying that what they're saying that they're doing is what they're doing? Because again, you used to be able to see them when they were doing those things quick. Quick check-ins, face-to-face. Let's chat about each one of these. Specifically, the ones that are a little tougher to do in an online environment.

All right, body composition tips. Here's some things for you, make sure you do an educational opportunity in a session. So instead of just telling them how to assess their own body composition, explain it to them. We recommend that you do circumference measuring for body composition. It's just a few measurements. They vary from male to female, but in general, forearm, neck, waist, or hips. You can find those online. And the client is going to do those with a tape measure, which they probably have at home.

Now, what you're going to do when you teach them about it is, you're going to teach them about the best way to do circumference measurements. And those include things like not pulling the tape too tight. You also don't want to have any gap. It should just lie easily over the circumference of whatever you're measuring. You're also looking for landmarks and like a freckle or the belly button, but in the event where maybe there isn't a landmark, then you measure. So, if you're measuring the forearm, going halfway between the elbow and the risk to make sure that every single time the client is performing their own measurements on themselves, they know that they're doing it consistently in the same way.

So, you teach them these things so that when they go through that assessment on themselves, they know how to do it correctly. You also do that with them. So again, it's not that we don't trust our clients, but we want to be a part of that assessment process. We want to watch them so we can give them some feedback and tell them, "Oh, go up a little bit higher or don't pull quite so tight. Okay, great. Let's mark that down." And of course with that being said, you record it. Document it in their files, make sure they're aware that you're watching and make sure that you have a way of tracking their progress even on graphs. So, they can see that they're always trending in the right direction.

With body composition, some of the things that you don't want to do is certainly do not expect that they know best practices for circumference measurements, and also don't leave it to them to calculate. So, what you don't want to do is say, "Yeah, just Google, how to assess your body composition based on your circumference measurements." Do it with them, show the site that you use, and then make sure that you guys come to the same calculation together. And then don't do these once or seldom. It's common practice to do body composition assessments about every 30 days, especially with circumference measurements. They're typically not going to change as quickly. So, we don't want the clients to have a greater expectation that they're going to lose more than they actually do, but every fraction of an inch counts.

And especially again, we were talking about the most important thing about assessments right now is that they are a huge form of accountability for you. So, you can definitely do this every two weeks and just let them know in a physical environment, you'd only be doing this once a month. But because of the situation that we're in, we're going to do it every two weeks to keep on track of it and just make it part of our routine.

Movement Quality Assessments

Let's talk about movement quality assessments. When we're talking about movement assessments, we can talk about different things like an overhead squat assessment, functional movement screens. We can talk about really just any kind of exercise that they should be doing correctly. Because really any movement, if they're not doing it, they're moving with alter joint motions, we know we've got some issues. Maybe it's them not knowing how to do it correctly or some muscle imbalances. So, we always take movement quality into account when we talk about assessments.

And here are do's and don'ts. First of all, you want to observe them in both recorded and live sessions. Ideally, what you're doing is you're asking your client to submit some video recordings of them doing certain exercises or portions of their workout. So, you're able to look at what they're doing in probably more of a free environment. And it's equally free in live sessions. In live sessions, when you're conducting a training session with them or a group training session with them, you're able to see what they're doing with less focus on themselves, really. They're just trying to get that workout done.

So, you watch them in both settings because you will see a little bit of a difference. But if you see changes in their movement quality on both the recorded and the live sessions, you know that's consistent. That's going to happen no matter what. And what you want to do is you want to provide that feedback for them and you also want to record it. Even if it's something as simple as noticing it in a live session, you should be doing a quick summary of every session that they do. And just documenting it for both of you guys, so that you remember what workout they did, what you noticed, what they felt like.

So that's all in their files, and they can contribute their perspective on it too. And then what you're going to do with movement quality is you're going to educate the importance of it. Movement quality is so important and especially for clients that are really just trying to give it their all, sometimes they sacrifice form and technique just from getting the exercise done, just get one more burpee done. But the more you can teach them about some of the bad things that could happen if they don't focus on moving quality, as well as some of those positive outcomes that could happen when they do focus on movement quality. You'll end up helping push that learning curve along the way.

And just like you would do in a real situation is you want to give them several cues. So, don't just keep saying the same thing, you know, keep your shoulders back, keep your shoulders back. Think about giving them visuals like, pinch your shoulder blades back in and towards your spine. Imagine that I've got my hand placed on your back and think about drawing your scapula in towards there. So, you want to give them different opportunities because different things are going to click for them.

All right, let's move on to the don'ts. So, you don't want to lose attention to detail. Great trainers have constant focus with their clients in every single session. Great online trainers have that same attention to detail. You don't lose it just because you're looking at a screen. Instead, you get really good at looking at every single element of them and learning to request that they change positions if you need to see different perspectives of how they're performing their exercise. Don't only review the stuff in one-on-one assessments. You can give that feedback in live sessions or group sessions, and don't forget to record it, document everything. You want them to see their improvement over time. And as you get really good at online training, you're going to realize you have room for a lot more clients. And it's going to be very difficult for you to remember all of those clients and what their issues are if you don't have documentation of it. And similar to the tip for do, is we don't want to be providing that same cue over and over.

Program Adherence

All right, that was a big one. Let's move on, program adherence. All right, this is one of the most important things. We need our clients to stick with what we tell them to do. 

First and foremost, do consistently and regularly check-in with them. And check all aspects of what they're doing, don't just check their workout. Look at what they're doing for their nutrition. Check out how their sleep is going. Look at their recovery. Look at different elements that might be impacting their ability to stick with a plan. Especially in this situation, it could be stress. So, you want to make sure that the program is working with their life and that their life is working with the program.

You also want to set expectations upfront. So, you want to let them know how you're going to check in on them. You want them to understand how frequently you're going to be doing these assessments. That is all part of getting them to be accountable to the recommendations. And then also for your do’s, you want to make sure that you're using different trackers, apps, or live recording so that you can give that as a means of feedback for them. What we don't want to do is underestimate the importance of the assessments and the programs that you're giving them. You also don't want to allow subjectivity. Again, it's not that we think that our clients aren't telling us the truth, but we don't always, if we don't have to rely on them telling us how much they weigh or them telling us how many minutes of cardio they got in or what their body composition test was, then don't do it with them, record it, document it. You guys are both on the same page at that point.

And also realize that the same protocol that you were using for live in person sessions and assessments, it's not going to be the same. So, make sure that you're allowing yourself that flexibility and putting even stricter guidelines on the assessments, the frequency, the type, all of it. 

Online Assessment Takeaways

All right, moving on. Here's some of our key takeaways for online assessments. 

  1. Start with a robust and exhaustive questionnaire. 
  2. Do an initial face-to-face consultation with them, even though that means video conferencing right now, that's okay. Do it face-to-face rather than having them fill out a form and send it back into you.
  3. Conduct your initial objective assessments. 
  4. Create that schedule of assessing. How frequently are you going to assess them? What are the expectations? 
  5. Set up their video uploads. 
  6. Maintain and revisit your client records. Go over it with your clients. 
  7. This is the way of the future: Definitely invest in technology for assessments. 

Start with a Robust and Exhaustive Questionnaire 

Let's check out each one of these real quick. All right, starting with a thorough questionnaire. If anything, you want to be including more information for online clients. And you got to realize the lost element of live body language. Even though we're fortunate enough to have video conferencing, also do realize that when you would be going through, let's say a part Q with them in a live setting, you typically would be able to see when they would get uncomfortable answering questions or maybe when they were resistant to telling the truth.

So, there is some of that getting lost. And in this situation, the last thing you want to do is send them a questionnaire to fill out for you to glance over real quick, to build a program. You want to develop that rapport even more so than you ever have before. Tip number one, moving on. 

Do an Initial Face-To-Face Consultation 

That initial console is even more important in that online world. So, you've got to use your FaceTime, Google Hangouts, Zoom, whatever it is so that you can see each other.

Conduct Your Initial Objective Assessments 

Next, you're going to talk about those objective assessments. So, as many as you can do with them, do them. So rather than them telling you what their resting heart rate is or what their weight is, or how many pushups they can do in a minute, or a three-minute step test, do it with them. Record them and make it meaningful. And then of course, as part of that, of making it meaningful, tie it into their goals. So, let them know why you're assessing everything and why it's important and how that's going to impact not only the journey toward their goal, but their end goal as well.

Create That Schedule of Assessing 

Schedule your assessments. In the physical world it was easy to say we would assess every 30 days. And oftentimes trainers would either forget or push it off. Maybe a client says, "Oh, I had a bad week. Let's push the assessment until next week." Even more so, we need that structure and we need our clients to know that structure is coming so that way you're on the front of their mind all of the time. When you start training them or as you're transitioning them into this online world, make those expectations very clear from the beginning and get that schedule written out for the next six, 12 weeks. For example, you might be doing weekly measurements for weight and body composition and then biweekly assessments for specific exercises. That probably looks like it's too frequent for both of those. But again, it doesn't matter. You can look at the comparative data 30 days apart, but just knowing that you're going to capture that data every week or every other week is really valuable.

Set Up Their Video Uploads 

All right, set up the video uploads. We talked about this in one of our other videos, but in these situations you're providing a description or a demo video on instructions for exercise assessments. So, for example, let's say you want to do an overhead squat assessment with them. You are going to have to tell them what they need to be doing. Or let's say you're doing a pushup test for endurance, you have to let them know what that looks like, what the correct form is, and how to execute it. So that way they're all set up. And then they can record themselves and put it on the Google drive if that's what you're using so that you can review it and also provide some feedback for them. And then they continue, they modify, they record themselves. And the cycle just continues from there.

Maintain and Revisit Your Client Records 

Records and retention. Hopefully at this point in this presentation, we've gone over this, but just document every assessment and every finding. More information is better than less. And include in the file, what the client should be doing differently. So, the information alone isn't quite enough. What you really want to be doing is saying what you could do different or what client could do different in order to get to where you both want to be. 

Invest in Technology for Assessments 

And then finally, we know at this point that online training, excuse me, is the future post-pandemic. It isn't that everyone's going to flood back to the gyms and we're not going to use these tools anymore. We're absolutely going to use them. What you want to start doing is as you're going through this journey, pay attention to what you really like about technology and online training and what you don't. And then you can start going through and looking at the different software that's available, tracking devices, and different applications. Start thinking of all of this as your future and not just as your temporary solution. 

Final reminders, here we go. Do your face-to-face consultations virtually, be thorough, customize the assessment to what the client needs, and then tie the assessment and the outcomes of the assessment to their goals. And finally, schedule those ongoing assessments. In fact, schedule those ongoing assessments right when you do that first face-to-face consultation.

And that's it, everybody. Thank you so much for joining us. I'm looking forward to you all having fantastic online assessments. Please feel free to ask us with anything that you might have by reaching out to us directly or by providing your comments.

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