As a personal trainer, fitness assessments have been one of the toughest things for me to figure out. The personal training certification that I completed suggested doing LOTS of fitness assessments, including weight, body measurements, body mass index (BMI), blood pressure, resting heart rate, 3 minute step test, push-up test, sit-up test and flexibility test. So I did all of these, feeling as though all of this must really make me look like I know what I’m doing!
But after a few months of doing all these assessments with clients, I started to wonder, what is this really showing us? Are all these assessments actually providing useful information? If someone’s blood pressure is sky high, I really can’t help much. Yes, long-term exercise will help but this really needs to be handled under the care of a medical professional, which I am not. The push-up and sit-up tests counted how many of these exercises could be completed in one minute. Well, at some point you top out unless you start compromising form. (Sure, I can do 100 push-ups in a minute but my form is crap!)
This all really started to bother me. I began a quest to find assessments that showed clients meaningful information. Meaningful is the key word here. The tests I mentioned above provided a ton of information but none of it showed meaningful information. It was just a bunch of numbers on a page that a client can’t make heads or tails of. One of the most enlightening bits of information I’ve read on the subject of assessments is this: clients know they’re out of shape when they come to you. They don’t need a bunch of assessments to confirm this fact and make them feel worse.
So, I read Ignite the Fire, a personal training handbook, and I joined the Professional Trainer Society and asked other trainers their thoughts on assessments. Then I took a bit from here, a bit from there and a bit from my own head, mashed it all together and this is what I came up with:
- In a client’s first session, we get a baseline of their current strength. This is accomplished by doing as many reps as possible using weights that are “challenging but doable” on the following exercises: bicep curls, overhead triceps presses, loaded squats, overhead press, bench press, loaded sit-up and a timed elbow plank. These are done at a comfortable pace and not timed. The client stops when they feel like that’s all they can do. This just gives us a baseline of where the client is starting – there’s no right or wrong answer.
- Most people don’t *really* workout because they want bigger biceps or to lose 5 pounds. Most clients want to feel better. Since this is the case, I also conduct a “self survey” which asks clients to rate how much they enjoy exercise, how they feel about how they look, how much energy they have, etc.
We retest both of these about every 1-2 months to see how clients are progressing in strength gains and in feeling better about themselves.
The reason I decided to test on strength rather than a cardio-based exercise is because of the many compelling reasons for women to do strength training. I’ll leave you with a list of these benefits that I got from an article on BodyBuilding.com.
1. YOU WILL LOSE BODY FAT
Studies performed by Wayne Westcott, PhD, from the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, Massachusetts, found that the average woman who strength trains two to three times a week for two months will gain nearly two pounds of muscle and will lose 3.5 pounds of fat.
As your lean muscle increases so does your resting metabolism, and you burn more calories all day long. Generally speaking, for each pound of muscle you gain, you burn 35 to 50 more calories each day. That can really add up.
2. YOU WILL GAIN STRENGTH WITHOUT BULK
Researchers also found that unlike men, women typically don’t gain size from strength training, because compared to men, women have 10 to 30 times less of the hormones that cause muscle hypertrophy. You will, however, develop muscle tone and definition. This is a bonus.
3. YOU DECREASE YOUR RISK OF OSTEOPOROSIS
Research has found that weight training can increase spinal bone mineral density (and enhance bone modeling) by 13 percent in six months. This, coupled with an adequate amount of dietary calcium, can be a women’s best defense against osteoporosis.
4. YOU WILL IMPROVE YOUR ATHLETIC PERFORMANCE
Over and over research concludes that strength training improves athletic ability in all but the very elite athletes. Golfers can significantly increase their driving power. Cyclists are able to continue for longer periods of time with less fatigue. Skiers improve technique and reduce injury. Whatever sport you play, strength training has been shown to improve overall performance as well as decrease the risk of injury.
5. YOU WILL BE PHYSICALLY STRONGER
Increasing your strength will make you far less dependent upon others for assistance in daily living. Chores will be easier, lifting kids, groceries and laundry will no longer push you to the max.
If your maximum strength is increased, daily tasks and routine exercise will be far less likely to cause injury. Research studies conclude that even moderate weight training can increase a woman’s strength by 30 to 50 percent. Research also shows that women can develop their strength at the same rate as men.
6. REDUCE YOUR RISK OF INJURY, BACK PAIN & ARTHRITIS
Strength training not only builds stronger muscles, but also builds stronger connective tissues and increases joint stability. This acts as reinforcement for the joints and helps prevent injury.
A recent 12-year study showed that strengthening the low-back muscles had an 80 percent success rate in eliminating or alleviating low-back pain. Other studies have indicated that weight training can ease the pain of osteoarthritis and strengthen joints.
7. YOU WILL REDUCE YOUR RISK OF HEART DISEASE
According to Dr. Barry A. Franklin, of William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan, weight training can improve cardiovascular health in several ways, including lowering LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, increasing HDL (“good”) cholesterol and lowering blood pressure.
When cardiovascular exercise is added, these benefits are maximized.
8. YOU WILL REDUCE YOUR RISK OF DIABETES
In addition, Dr. Franklin noted that weight training may improve the way the body processes sugar, which may reduce the risk of diabetes. Adult-onset diabetes is a growing problem for women and men. Research indicates that weight training can increase glucose utilization in the body by 23 percent in four months.
9. IT IS NEVER TOO LATE TO BENEFIT
Women in their 70’s and 80’s have built up significant strength through weight training and studies show that strength improvements are possible at any age.
10. YOU WILL IMPROVE YOUR ATTITUDE AND FIGHT DEPRESSION
A Harvard study found that 10 weeks of strength training reduced clinical depression symptoms more successfully than standard counseling did. Women who strength train commonly report feeling more confident and capable as a result of their program, all important factors in fighting depression.