While I was in the gym last week, I thought about how long it has been since I focused on chin-ups – specifically, getting better at doing chin-ups. Wasn’t it important to me sometime in the past year? What happened? In thinking back about my goals and habits the last few months, it became very clear what happened…it’s called life!
Life did not just happen to me. This is the same situation our personal training clients experience. It often becomes apparent how much “life” has played a role in our client’s goals after assessing their progress.
Fitness assessments are part of the baseline knowledge taught by all personal training certifications and are most often incorporated into our first session with a client. Although various assessments may differ from one trainer or business to another, the client’s goals are most often determined during this session - like getting better at chin-ups.
When it comes to re-assessments, however, we might want to think more broadly. Several factors that are not listed by most certifications in the traditional assessment categories need to be considered.
This article will review an integrated approach to re-assessment including two crucial components of a re-assessment:
- Effecting an honest evaluation of the client’s current habits
- Discussing the client’s current life priorities
Our clients need to be honest in evaluating their current habits and together we need to explore their overall life priorities for the near future. With these considerations in mind, we can help them start, re-figure or totally change their plan in order to be successful in their fitness goals. I will use two clients as examples in explaining these components.
Re-assessment Component One: Honesty in Evaluating Current Habits
I was speaking with a client about her most important goal at the moment, which is to lose weight after she gave birth 2 months ago to her son. She seemed frustrated at not losing weight more quickly. After I asked her how many times she had exercised on her own in the past week without me, she spent 10 minutes explaining how busy she was and how she was not able to make it to the gym. Oh, plus she goes out to eat often and it’s “impossible to lose weight when you eat out often.”
It’s tough to admit the truth, but when clients are honest to themselves and their personal trainer about what has been transpiring in terms of their behaviors, they have a more solid and genuine foundation from which to start the re-assessment. Has the client been doing what they said they were going to do? Can they be specific in stating these items?
It is helpful to avoid putting any value or supposed reason as to what you say. In other words, have your clients avoid statements like: “I didn’t workout as often as I said because work got busier after someone left and I had to pitch in.” Ask them to re-state it by communicating that they didn’t work out as often as they said, followed by being as specific as possible as to the reason they did not follow through. Following this honest admission, have your client think about what else they said they would do, or not do, and discuss where they are with those behaviors.
For example, my postpartum client restated that she has not exercised as often as she said she would. She also added that she thought it would be easier to find time to exercise while being home with her son. She stated that although she wants to lose weight, she also likes to eat dessert, and was finding it difficult to cut back.
Getting this honest and specific assessment is vital to tweaking the program in order to balance their current motivations with goals moving forward. We can then move to assessing how the client’s overall life priorities right now are affecting those goals and motivation.
Tips for effecting an honest evaluation from your client during re-assessment:
- Ask your client to be as specific as possible while communicating their current habits.
- Encourage your client to avoid statements that involve another person or situation as the reason the tasks/goals were not accomplished.
- Ask your client to include specific reasons for why they did (or did not) do what they said they were going to do.
Re-assessment Component Two: Your Client’s Current Life Priorities
In traditional periodization modules, we as personal trainers manipulate variables to focus on specific goals, with one aspect being more important than others at any one particular time. While we might deliberately change our athlete’s program to prepare for the season or individual event, our non-athlete clients require a program change of their own. They have desires, goals and events that require us to navigate through various hurdles at different times. These hurdles are many times the reasons they have not achieved their goal, and behind what they stated earlier in terms of honestly reviewing their current situation, e.g. increased work demands, not realizing a new baby would require so much of her time, etc.
I have a client who recently became a grandmother to two boys within 6 months. She did not anticipate that she would want to spend the entire weekends with her grandsons! The bike rides and tennis games she enjoyed with her husband were put on the back burner of priority, and her time-consuming strength training routines were not as important to her as they used to be.
After speaking with her to re-assess our plan, we decided that a more condensed, integrated workout routine would be better suited for her at this time.
We can also ask them to think ahead about what things are coming up in their lives that may affect the fitness program. This can be anything from work to family to medical issues. When we can anticipate, we can plan. When we plan, we increase our self-efficacy, i.e. the degree to which we feel we will be successful in our efforts. According to social cognitive theory, a high degree of self-efficacy is vital in the success of changing behavior (McAuley, et al., 2011).
Once there is clarity, without blame or judgment as to where we are right now, we can move forward and plan for the next periodization cycle so to speak.
We can ask our clients where they feel they can make some changes considering what they have just discovered. My postpartum client decided that if she could workout while her son is sleeping, she wouldn’t feel as guilty and so purchased some DVDs to compliment the gym visits. She also acknowledged that maybe she is ok with losing weight more slowly, and not giving up her cherished dinners out (this then started a whole other conversation about changes she could make there). We also planned a timeline for the next few weeks, realizing that in 6 weeks she would go back to work and need to re-assess again at that point.
My new grandmother was getting plenty of real life activity with her grandsons, and found a tough group fitness class to do once each week in addition to our high energy, metabolic workouts we started.
Tips for discussing your client’s current life priorities:
- Ask your client what their current life priorities are at the moment, as these priorities may have changed since the previous re-assessment.
- Ask your client where they feel they can make some changes if current priorities are preventing them from accomplishing their goals.
- Ask your client if they foresee anything in their future that may affect their fitness program.
A client’s re-assessment is much more than looking at fitness parameters. An effective re-assessment is an honest analysis of behaviors that are, or are not, getting your client to where they wanted to be. It should include an examination of what the client’s overall life priorities are right now and how their fitness program fits into that, not vice versa. Lastly, based on the information you receive from your client, re-planning their fitness program may be necessary, until the next cycle of life changes require you to assess once again.
- McAuley, E et al. (2011) American Journal of Preventive Medicine: Self-Regulatory Processes and Exercise Adherence in Older Adults: Executive Function and Self-Efficacy Effects. 41(3): 284-290