The topic is assessment. Why do we do it? We assess new members of the health club hoping that they will become clients. We assess existing clients to document results, and/or to revise training programs. Assessments are based on what the client wants, and what they need.
What do we assess? I first learned that the components of a fitness program were muscular strength, muscular endurance, cardiorespiratory endurance, and flexibility, and so that is what was measured in a client assessment. How times have changed! The variables we now consider to be part of a fitness program are much more in depth and include numerous variables outside of the client’s performance in the gym.
In my first job as a full-time personal trainer, there was a brief period where we were instructed to ask the new member about their daily activity level as part of the initial interview and assessment. It was a nice way to learn more about this person, but I don’t recall receiving instruction in terms of what I was supposed to do with that information. Why and how would the person’s daily activities affect the fitness program I designed for them?
In this article, I would like to discuss how a convergence of situations in which we find ourselves can and should affect assessment and the resulting program design. Consider the following:
- Most people don’t have to move much for work anymore. Our entire environment has been designed for us to perfect this act of non-movement.
- There is surmounting evidence that sitting is killing us - even if we go to the gym regularly (Stamatakis et al., 2011; Wilmot et al., 2012).
- Many individuals do not understand or believe that everyday activity will contribute much to their overall health and fitness status.
- Some of my clients were skeptical when I told them about the “treadmill desk,” developed by Dr. James Levine from the Mayo Clinic. He set up his computer and other equipment on a treadmill, and walked at a pace of less than 1 mile per hour while working. How could something so seemingly innocuous make a difference in any substantial way? It is interesting to read how people, after changing their office to stand and move more, were actually surprised when they lost quite a few pounds!
This disconnect between activity and exercise, in addition to the surmounting research regarding sitting too much, supports the notion that we as trainers have the opportunity to affect our clients’ entire lifestyle on a multi-tiered level.
I would like to make the case that we need to assess clients’ lifestyles along an Activity to Exercise Continuum. This continuum includes everything from daily activity, leisure pursuits, to the other end, which I’ll call true exercise. This has the potential for being a crucial component of the entire program.
The Activity to Exercise Continuum
So what exactly is the difference between an activity and an exercise? Can the same 5 movements be perceived as both? Sure, depending on the individual at any given moment. For example, a movement prep sequence, or warm-up, might be perceived as a high intensity routine to a deconditioned client! I educate my clients by using my cycling as an example. When I ride 9 miles to my first appointment at 6am, I feel it is exercise, i.e., I get my heart rate elevated and I challenge my muscles because I can ride fast without much traffic. Compare that to riding home at 4pm, when the streets of NY City are very crowded and the pace is slow. I consider this to be more of an activity, i.e., something I need to do for transportation. If I want to be stronger as a cyclist, it is not only the higher intensity ride that benefits this goal, it is also the total time spent on the bike. If I want to burn calories in my efforts to lose body fat, then additional time riding the bike is beneficial, especially if I am unable to work at higher intensities.
My first experience in the fitness industry was in Florida, where I learned high intensity training according to Nautilus principles (one set, 8-12 reps to momentary failure). I met Ken Hutchins, the developer of the Super Slow Training Protocol (10 seconds positive, 10 seconds negative). He presented the following as the Definition of Exercise:
A process whereby the body performs work of a demanding nature, in accordance with muscle and joint function, in a clinically-controlled environment, within the constraints of safety, meaningfully loading the muscular structures to inroad their strength levels to stimulate a growth mechanism within minimum time (Hutchins, 1989).
With this definition in mind, we can think of exercise as that action, movement, set, or behavior that imposes a demand on one of our bodily systems, or one of the fitness parameters we include in our assessment. When someone starts taking yoga, it could be extremely challenging to muscles, bones, joints, and respiratory rate. Therefore, yoga is considered an exercise. Once they are familiar with the moves and stronger overall, they may use a yoga series as a warm-up. Now, to this person, yoga is considered an activity. When someone runs up the subway stairs from a deep station and they pant at the top - that’s exercise. When they are stuck behind someone with his or her 2 kids and move slowly - that’s activity.
Let’s assume a new client wants to lose weight. Typically, we may do a sub-max cardio test on a treadmill, ask how often they can commit to work with us in the gym, and ask what they will do on their own in terms of cardio exercise. We may also delve into their eating habits to help create a greater caloric deficit.
Let’s explore how different this assessment would be if we include the Activity to Exercise Continuum. Let’s assume the client tells us she takes the elevator down to the lobby of her building, walks 2 blocks to the subway, 4 blocks at the other end of the trip, and then takes the elevator up 14 floors to her office. If her goal is to burn calories, then we could brainstorm about some of these potential options:
- Could the client walk down the stairs instead of taking the elevator? Even a few floors? If she feels time is too tight in the morning, maybe she could walk up the stairs later in the day.
- Could the client walk faster to the subway? If she has a few extra minutes, she could perhaps walk to the next subway stop, or get out early and walk a few blocks to work.
- Could the client see herself standing while speaking on the phone? Or walking around the office or do some squats while talking?
Dr. Levine wrote about burning less than 100 calories per hour using his treadmill desk. That could translate into approximately 57 pounds in 50 weeks! (Levine & Miller, 2007). If our client understands that she could burn a few hundred calories each day by adding some activity, we would not need to take as much time out of the workout to have her do cardio intervals, etc. In addition, we could make an even bigger inroad than previously considered.
In summary, we as trainers have an opportunity to affect greater change if we make a deliberate attempt to think of the training program as the lifestyle of the client, not merely the time in the gym with us. This would also have a ripple effect, because the other people in our clients’ lives would hear, see and think about the efforts as well.
- American College of Sports Medicine. (2011). Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Position Stand: Quantity and Quality of Exercise for Developing and Maintaining Cardiorespiratory, Musculoskeletal, and Neuromotor Fitness in Apparently Healthy Adults: Guidance for Prescribing Exercise. 43(7).
- Hutchins, K. (1992). Super Slow: The Ultimate Training Protocol. Castleberry, FL: Ken Hutchins.
- Levine, J. A., & Miller, J.M. (2007). The energy expenditure of using a “walk-and-work” desk for office workers with obesity. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 41(9).
- Stamatakis et al. (2011). Screen-based entertainment time, all-cause mortality, and cardiovascular events. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 57(3).
- Ty, W., Barry V., Hooker, S.P., Sui, X., Church, T.S., Blair, S.N. (2010). Sedentary behaviors increase risk of cardiovascular disease mortality in men. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 42(5):879-85. doi:10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181c3aa7e
- U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. (2008). Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Retrieved from www.health/gov
- Wilmot, E.G., Edwardson, C.L., Achana, F.A., et al. (2012). Sedentary time in adults and the association with diabetes, cardiovascular disease and death: systematic review and meta-analysis. Diabetologia, 55(11):2895-2905. doi: 10.1007/s00125-012-2677-z