PT Mistakes: Not Doing Movement Assessments
An exciting topic and very promising first word to an article that will definitely be full of fun, easy reading and will certainly be vastly entertaining.
Look, I'll do my best!
It is my strongly held belief that each of yours or my clients should each receive an assessment before training happens.
Something that fills me with rage now is when a client come in for the first time to meet their trainer and within 4 seconds THE BEASTING HAS COMMENCED!
How does that trainer know how to warm them up?
How does he or she know what coaching style would be best to employ?
Have goals even been agreed upon?
Is the person hypermobile?
Is the person going to drop dead if they do an arms-above head exercise?
Do they listen to the band Ghost on repeat for 4 hours per day?
These are the kinds of questions that need to be answered.
And the terrible thing here is....
The diabolical terrible (did I say terrible enough?) thing is I used to be one of those coaches who would just start training people straight away.
I'm really not sure how people didn't die to be honest.
I wouldn't do movement assessments, I would have a conversation with someone for a couple of minutes and then just start training them.
"A beasting you say!? Certainly Sir!"
No real assessment of needs or movement was performed. I'd ask them about injuries and illnesses but I'd go in completely blind as to how well they moved or what their level of conditioning was like.
I was always very good at learning to use every single exercise as an assessment like Dan John has said many times in the past but what this led to was potentially unsafe sessions for the clients.
If you are an aspiring or even current fitness professional looking to gain knowledge from people who have been there and done it you don't need to look much further than Dan John
Often I made very inappropriate exercise selections for each and every client meaning that often I'd have to change many exercises in a session because the client just wasn't able to do them.
This still happens from time to time but nowhere near what it used to be like because I perform movement assessments on each and every client personally unless they are one of my online training clientele.
Again, I'm quite good at recovering when something goes wrong and communicating that it's fine to struggle with something (and that I messed up) but the problem was opening myself up to the higher possibility of my client having a bad experience whether feeling embarrassed or like they are terrible at exercise which isn't something that helps with client retention!
Does this mean that every single workout needs to be planned out in advance and follow an a+b+c equation of precision? Absolutely not, but you need a good working knowledge of how someone moves to be able to plan ad hoc sessions without risking injuring or giving your client a bad experience.
Realizations And Changes
A few years ago I began working at a place called Primal. This was the only time I've been an employed Personal Trainer rather than self-employed and I enjoyed a brilliant 2 years.
I worked for a group of people who felt movement assessments were very important and had a number of assessments we had to do on everyone.
I quickly agreed!
These included tests for hypermobility (something I was researching about a lot at the time), something called the function movement screen (fms) and various other stretches and positional tests that taught me a great deal about what to look out for as the human body moves through time and space.
The assessments showed me that you can very quickly address many movement issues without diagnosing anything because that is not the job of a Personal Trainer.
The tests also showed me HOW TO REFER PEOPLE TO MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS.
If pain was present in any of these tests we had to refer them on to the relevant medical professional because I didn't and don't have the qualifications to treat people in this manner.
I've kept this philosophy with me ever since.
Pain isn't normal.
You shouldn't have to train through pain and often training through pain is literally the worst idea in the world (although if you speak to British Weightlifting champion Jack Oliver, he has never been out of pain, so my argument isn't sold on him.)
At Primal I realised that I should have been doing movement assessments all the way through my career I just didn't know it yet.
The problem with the movement screens at Primal was that none of them (from my recollection) involved any kind of external load or any kind of additional weight in their hands or any kind of lifting whatsoever.
You find that people move completely differently (for better or worse) with the addition of weight so you'd have people who would move their body perfectly...until you introduced any kind of weight at which point everything would go to pot.
You even experience the opposite from time to time. The phenomenon of people that are terrible at moving their bodyweight but as soon as you offer additional load (or a great deal of load to the stereotypical powerlifter) their movement is suddenly solid.
Without a well-rounded movement assessment you have very little idea of where a particular person falls when it comes to their movement.
WHY DIDN'T I ALWAYS DO THIS!?!?!?!
I started to piece my own movement screen together from various corners of the fitness world upon leaving Primal.
I now use:
Primal's hypermobility tests
7 FMS assessments and 3 pain provocation positions
An Eric Cressey T-Spine Mobility Assessment
Various Kabuki Strength inspired drills
Loaded Barbell and dumbbell exercises like the squat and deadlift (which can be changed according to the client)
Assessments I've stolen from places I've since forgotten about
Everything Dr. Stuart McGill has ever said
These assessments are usually done for an hour after my initial consultation and can be performed as often as I like on clients from there. I should do them every 3 months or so but it's more like every 6 months with most clients as we'll be fixing and changing things throughout.
Assessments are great for spotting the weak link in someone's armour and to show you what exercises to choose and what exercises to avoid like the plague. They are fantastic for seeing what people need to work on and where they might struggle.
What they are absolutely not for is telling people they are broken and telling people that parts of them don't work. That is not for PT's to diagnose. I like to use the terminology of 'shy' (like a 'shy core' for example) or just like to talk about improvements we can make and if I need to refer them to someone more qualified than me then at least that builds trust with a potential client and they won't think I'm just making my best guess in order to train them no-matter what. This can be very tempting trap for well-meaning self-employed trainers that need to pay the bills.
Don't fall for it.
When the results from the assessment is in I can then sit down with all the data I have gathered and build the very best plan I can.
Even then I sometimes get it completely wrong which is another opportunity to learn in itself. Don't beat yourself up for writing plans and get to work on writing a better one when that happens and you'll be a wonderful Personal Trainer.
Movement assessments for the win!
Keep an eye out for our upcoming members area for full content and explanations of our movement screens as well as many other great pieces of content.
By Chris Kershaw
Chris is a Personal Trainer, Strength Coach, Writer and man of small stature and reader of The Discworld Series with a decade in the industry. He trains everyone from beginners to high level athletes. His favourite clients are people getting into the gym for the first time because they can make the biggest changes in their life
You can reach me through the email address Chris@kershawstrength.com
My Instagram is Chris_Kershaw_Strength.
Thank you for reading!