You may or may not have time during the first appointment to perform your baseline testing. It will depend on how long the interview portion takes, your proficiency at testing, and how much time you allow for initial consultations. If you really want to get the testing done at your first meeting, you may consider allotting 90 minutes for your initial consultations. This allows you to have a program planned and ready to implement for your second appointment.
Why Testing Is Important
There are several reasons to perform exercise testing. The first is to assess risk. If you take a client's blood pressure and it is through the roof, you will obviously not be continuing with the session. Instead, you will refer that person to their physician. If you had not performed this assessment, and instead had gone right into a workout, your client's blood pressure could have continued to rise and they may have had a stroke during their session.
Testing will also provide you with information that will help you develop a program to meet your clients' needs in a more individualized way. You will be able to see where each clients' strengths and weaknesses lie and what you need to work on. The client who can run a mile in six minutes, but cannot perform a pushup, needs to spend more time working on upper-body strength.
At some point, your client's motivation may start to lessen. You can use both pretesting and post-testing as a motivational tool to show them where they are improving or where they need to put in more effort. Re-evaluating your clients every four to six weeks will also allow you to assess the effectiveness of your program design. If your client is not showing improvement, you may need to make some modifications.
Charting progress is much more precise when you have numbers to base it on. Six months down the line, if you have not tested, you can tell your client she is stronger and has more stamina. If you do test, you can tell her she improved her upper body strength by 30 percent.
Some clients will not want to be tested because they are embarrassed, anxious, or uncomfortable. When you find yourself in this situation, try reiterating the benefits of testing. If they are still unwilling, respect their wishes and do not pressure them to comply. They may eventually come around, and if they do not, then find other ways to chart progress. You may simply show them their chart and compare their exercise program on day one with their program six months later.
Types of Tests
There are countless indicators of health and fitness and numerous tests you can perform to measure them. Some tests are quick and easy, while others take more time and effort. You may choose to assess all of these factors or only a few, depending on your client and the equipment you have access to. Whatever evaluations you choose to perform should be carried out in the following order, or the results may be inaccurate:
Anthropometric tests: height, weight, and the circumference of certain body parts
Resting heart rate
Cardiovascular endurance: 30-second or 1-minute step test
Muscular strength: 1 RM bench press
Muscular endurance: push up test
Flexibility: sit and reach test
The tools you will use and the tests you perform will depend on your clients' needs and the equipment at your disposal. Trainers in health clubs will have more equipment at their disposal than trainers who work in-home. For example, there are several different ways to perform body-composition tests. The method that provides the most accurate results is hydrostatic weighing. The problems with the test are that it requires special equipment and is expensive and time-consuming to perform.
Skin-fold calipers are less precise than hydrostatic weighing, but are also the least-expensive tools with which to perform body-composition analysis. They are small enough to carry with you, and with a little practice, you can become proficient at testing your clients' body fat. They serve the purpose of allowing you to establish a baseline measurement and chart progress, even if the results are not completely accurate.
Bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA) is another form of body-composition testing. It works by sending an imperceptible electrical impulse through the body. The speed of the impulse passing through the body will vary depending on the client's lean body mass. This method is less expensive than hydrostatic weighing, but more expensive than skin-fold calipers, and is the least-accurate form of testing.
If you do not have any of these tools, you can use anthropometric tests that only require the use of a tape measure. You do not need expensive tools to perform your evaluation. Just be sure that you use the same methods of evaluation for both pretesting and post-testing so you can accurately assess progress.
The American College of Sports Medicine has published a book titled ACSM's Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription. This book contains detailed, up-to-date information on all aspects of exercise testing, including how to perform tests, how to interpret the results, and much more. It is small enough to carry with you as a reference and is a great tool for every personal trainer.
Discussing the Results with Your Client
Talking with your clients about the results of their testing can be a challenge. It requires you to display empathy and sensitivity. Many times people are more out of shape than they realized, and this is a big reality check. Your clients may feel discouraged or overwhelmed by their results. Explain how the program you will design will help them get where they want to go, and that you will be with them every step of the way. It may also be helpful to emphasize how many of your other clients have been in this same situation, but were successful due to hard work and dedication. Do everything you can to ensure that your client leaves feeling optimistic and ready to take on the challenge.