PT on the Net Research

Addressing the Basics of Client Assessment: The Intake Wizard

Welcome, this is a two-part series on “Addressing the Basics” of the client assessment process.

Part One of this series will focus on the importance of what is commonly referred to as Informed Consent, Par-Q, Medical and Family History, etc. Read why it is critical to your training business and download this tried and true Client Intake Wizard for immediate implementation.

Part Two of this series will focus on the initial measuring and long-term tracking of body composition and why it is a critical aspect of the training and education process. Trainers will be given the opportunity to download a powerful Excel Spreadsheet called “Body Comp Tracker” which many trainers have literally billed multiple millions of dollars with. It will help you streamline the Body Composition process making it more applicable to your training practice, and make your life easier as well as motivating and inspiring your clients.

Learning Objectives:

  1. Understand the rationale for collecting client data before beginning the training process. AKA: Following the Governing Standard of Care for Fitness Professionals.
  2. Learn how to use client data to identify both the needs and wants of the client, and how to use science to inform and effectively educate the client.
  3. Learn how to implement the information learned into your overall program design and training sessions.

These days it is very easy for trainers to get lost in all the new strategies, techniques and products they can implement into their training practice, including the myriad array of Add-on One or Two-day certifications. Functional Training, TRX, Multi-Planar movement, nutritional counselling, foam rolling, body weight training, ViPR, sandbags, split routines… the list goes on.

What Transcends the Trainer's Particular Philosophy and Style?

Regardless of these techniques, there are a few things that transcend all of this. That is what this article will be speaking to. The collection of baseline data is critical to enabling all trainers to best help all their clients. Doing so can seem like a waste of time, but it really is an essential part of the process and is the #1 requirement Fitness Professionals should do regardless of training philosophies.

The dizzying array of training styles, cutting-edge equipment and personal preferences can easily distract the trainer from collecting critical info needed to decipher the client's needs from wants. This can easily be done by peeling back the layers of the onion on the client and is vital to best serving them. Doing so just may affect your program design. The following three points will explain...

1. Peeling back the Layers of the Onion

The benefit of a comprehensive Intake Wizard is to simply and easily peel back the layers of the onion, getting to know all kinds of critical information about a client that you would not have known otherwise. The first training session is not meant to be a conversation/therapy session. You’re not going to turn over every leaf the first time you meet with someone through a random lively conversation.

Going through the medical history can be looked at as a guided path to make sure it is safe for them to participate in training, and uncover anything and everything the trainer would need to know to properly implement program design and exercise selection.

Uncovering metabolic disease to orthopedic issues are obvious, but it will also uncover the little-known facts that the client doesn’t realize they ought to be telling you as well (Example below) … and that’s the point.

Making It a Habit

People are slaves to their habits. Making it a habit to have clients fill out an Intake Wizard is a habit worth having. Just as it is likely the career trainer will come across someone with medical conditions that they will want to be aware of, they will also come across people with no issues at all. In an example like this, the Medical History will seem like a waste of time. But it is not, remember SOP!

Making it a habit of going through the “Intake” process enables the trainer to be prepared for any situation that arises and hence provide the info you need to deal with it in an appropriate manner.

Trainers have a unique opportunity to inform and educate clients about “everything health related.” This is good preventative health care, in which personal trainers are now on the forefront.

2. Wants and Needs

The reason why we refer to it as an “Intake Wizard” is because, if done properly, it gives trainers the information they need to best program for their clients by addressing 2 things:

  1. Their wants, which is the reason they came to you.
  2. Their needs, which the Fitness Professional determines from behind the curtain – these are often things the client may not even know about, nor have considered.

This is what makes us professional and it works like magic! Dotting the I’s and cross the T’s leaves no stone unturned, enabling the client to be served in the best possible way.

As with any successful business, paperwork is a critical function regardless of how boring it may seem on the surface. The Intake Wizard is exactly such a critical document. It is meant to be printed, filled out, referred to and filed away for reference.

There are Fitness Technology companies that have developed products specific to the personal trainer to streamline this process. This awards trainers with the opportunity to leverage technology, enabling the process to be done online and efficiently. This cuts down on printing paperwork and filing, and puts this critical data at the trainers’ fingertips at anytime, anywhere.

Documents like this Intake Wizard are tried and true. Holding ourselves to a higher legal standard of care is critical to our professional competency regardless of how you do.

3. Program Design

A Personal Experience: An example applicable to the point of this article

When I was just starting out as a trainer in Boston, the Chairman of the Board at the Harvard School of Public Health approached me! I was flabbergasted! This guy was a serious man and he wanted me to train him. This guy knew more about the human body than I ever thought I’d know.

I made a mistake of not going through an Intake Wizard. I figured he knew more about himself than I ever would, and he would automatically inform me of everything I needed to know. In other words, I trusted him to tell me.

As a result it took about six months through our conversations to finally unveil the crux of his problem. And he didn’t even realize what the underlying issue was.

Had I taken the time, gone through a full medical history (… yes, on a highly trained Dr…) I would’ve discovered things that would have impacted my Program Design from day one. That would have accelerated our results.

Granted this was 1995, and I was one year out of college, way before the time of the FMS: Functional Movement Screening.

He was in his 60’s and was crooked as a stick, literally. It was taking him twice as long to walk to work as it used to and he couldn’t figure out why. Obviously his posture was a mess, so I started stretching this and that, focusing on his back which was kyphotic and with scoliosis. He didn’t realize how bad his posture was. I saw a crooked stick, he saw the same gentleman he always did.  

So why was he so crooked?

Was it just bad unconscious posture? NOPE! It turns out when he was in college he played football, was tackled and broke his knee. He was put in a cast and back in the 1950’s, they didn’t have physical therapy. As a result, he never straightened his knee after the cast came off. That led to dysfunctional movement patterns, which eventually crept both up and down his body leaving him crooked as a stick.

My lesson was learned. No one escapes next time!

Go all the way back, not just the last year. Knowing about all surgeries, injuries, anything and everything is going to give you insight about how and why this person moves the way they do and what needs to be on your Radar. 

Don’t Take a Shot in the Dark

Peace of mind in following the SOP of our industry gives all of us peace of mind. Trainers never know what they’re going to run into. Whether it be previous injuries, health risk factors, propensity for depression, or other fitness goals they hadn’t considered, filling out an Intake Wizard is smart business.

A lot of trainers like to get right on the floor and start showing their clients awesome workouts. But that is not the standard operating procedures of the consummate Professional who elevates our field. We would be doing ourselves and our clients a huge disservice by jumping the gun and not taking the time to collect this data.

Plus, trainers can also use the Intake Wizard to dig into a client’s past. It is a great way to get to know them inside and out which leads to building rapport. That rapport can help with the sale and retention.

Download and Deploy!

There is no need to futz around trying to create these yourself. This is a tried and true, tested document ready for immediate implementation. Put it to work for you to make your life easier.

Download or print the Intake Wizard Forms here: Client Intake Wizard

Trainers who take the time, save themselves exactly that – time. The trainer is able to cut to the chase by specifically addressing issues of concern - not to mention the potential lawsuit that could be the harsh reality of not following procedures. Gathering necessary information and seeking a particular client’s needs and wants is the best way to initiate the training process.

The Informed Consent and the PAR-Q are absolutely critical to be done the first day face-to-face. The rest of the Intake can be done before the first session, at the first session, or after the session (to be reviewed on their 2nd session). All are acceptable ways to get the job done. If you have access to an online system you can send them a link and they can do it online. It’s entirely up to you.

Through implementation, trainers come across as more professional and thorough, which will help you sell training and best serve your clients. Plus, it will help you build your business.

The Walk-away:

Clients appreciate the thoroughness when they understand it is for their own good. Impressing this upon them is a great way to get them to comply. These are the existing standards of care accepted by all certifying organizations, and these standards are designed to protect all parties involved.

It is exciting when trainers discover something they otherwise might have missed. This enables them to dial into the clients specific needs, while still addressing their wants!

In Part 2 of this article, we will discuss collecting baseline body composition records and the importance of tracking a client’s progress through the training process. There will be another powerful downloadable tool to use in the form of an Excel Spreadsheet to make the process seamless, simple and a whole lot easier!

Nothing validates your effectiveness as a trainer better than cold hard evidence of progress. And that is what Part 2 of this series will be about. Trainers can’t track what they don’t measure. Be on the lookout!


Roitman, J. (2001). ACSM’s Resource Manual, Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

Simon, E. & American Council On Exercise. (1991). Personal Trainer Manual, Boston: Reebok University Press.

Clark, M., Lucett, S., & Corn, R. (2008). NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training, Philadelphia: Kippincott Williams & Wilkins.