“Measure twice and cut once” as they say. In other words, know what you’re doing before you do it. That’s the philosophy behind assessment. Assessment is truth. It is an objective measurement (or set of measurements) that tells you what IS, so then you can strategize about what needs to change, how to change it, and how to measure that change.
I’m writing a series about Individual Design Coaching (my business). I usually explain this to people as a 5-step process. The previous article was about Consultation and I continue today with Assessment.
So, what do I assess and why? What’s important to assess really depends on the individual in front of me and their particular set of goals. However, we have to know where we’re starting from–and answers to interview questions are not enough–so, I must have a set of standard assessments that establish a baseline for every client. They are:
- Photographs. I do these from three angles: front, side, and back. Your head is not included in the photo because we’re not assessing beauty. I don’t want you to be distracted by your hairstyle or makeup or facial expressions when you’re looking back at progress photos in the future. You’re basically wearing nothing but a small pair of shorts (& sports bra for the ladies), so we can see what’s actually going on with your body. The photos are for 2 things: body composition (fat vs. muscle) and posture.
- Skinfolds & Tapes. I have a tool called calipers that is used to measure how thick something is. I use these to measure the amount of body fat present at various sites on your body by taking a careful pinch and measuring the resultant “skin fold”. I also use a measuring tape to measure the circumference of certain areas of your body. Comparing and contrasting these two sets of measurements can tell us a lot about what’s going on under the skin in terms of muscle mass and fat mass.
- Body Composition. Based on the skinfold measurements, I use an equation called “Yuhasz” to estimate your body fat percentage. This gives us an estimate of your fat mass and lean body mass (not fat). These numbers are useful for tracking change and progress over time, but also for making nutrition recommendations.
- Basic Vitals. This is a catch-all term for things like height, weight, and age. All important information too. Not every assessment needs to have some special sauce to it, like a technique or a system that requires training to understand and practice. No, some assessments are simple and always accessible, such as the, “How much do I weigh today?” and, “Do I like how I look in the mirror today?” tests.
- Mobility Tests. Air squat, overhead squat, step-up, split squat, toe touch, active straight-leg raise, scratch test. That’s it. These quick snapshots of your movement ability tell me what I need to know about your hips and shoulders, glutes, hamstrings, and movement patterning. If you nail all these tests and do effortlessly exactly all the things I’m looking for you to do to ‘pass’, then I have some more advanced tests queued up for you.
- Stability Tests. The stability tests are based on the premise that all movement is core-to-extremity. This means that the proximal motor units (closer to the spine) fire before the distal motor units (further from the spine) in every functional activity (grabbing a box off a shelf, sitting on a toilet, walking across a room). So, we’ve got to develop core stability first and foremost of all forms of strength. I test this by having you perform a forearm plank, side planks on the left and the right, a glute bridge hold, and single-leg glute bridges on both sides.
- Work Capacity Test. The work capacity test could really be anything that shows me your ability to pace difficult work over an extended period of time. Nowadays, I use a 10-minute airbike test on my Schwinn Airdyne. This is a pretty intuitive machine and the harder you work, the harder it gets, which makes it pretty similar to running in many regards. It’s a better test than running, though, because it has a computer tracking a variety of data, and there are no impacts (making it easier & safer for heavy people).
- Health History. I gather client health history using a questionnaire that includes your current goals, exercise history, family history of disease & mortality, past injuries, past medical issues, current medications, average hours of sleep, energy levels, supplements, and history with nutrition programs. You can just imagine how much that information influences my recommendations for lifestyle, nutrition, and exercise. One of the most important pieces is the family health history, which shows the prevalence of lifestyle diseases that have both a genetic and lifestyle component.
- Nutrition Log. The final assessment is a detailed 5-day log of exactly what you ate at what time of day, and how much water you drank. We can’t change it if we don’t know what we’re changing and why, so we better start by gathering the data. One of the fundamental flaws in any one-size-fits-all “diet” or nutrition fad is that it DOES NOT start with an individual nutrition log. How can you tell people, “eat this,” and, “don’t eat that,” if you don’t even know how many meals they eat a day, at what times, and whether they are home cooked or come from a fast food restaurant? The nutrition log might show me a hundred things you need to change, but it’s also going to show me what to change first.
That’s Step 2. These are the assessments I do with an in-person client. I also train people remotely if they don’t live near me, and that changes a few things. In the case of a remote client, the assessments that can be done with questionnaires, logs, or just plain old-fashioned question answering over the phone, are all done the same. The assessments that require us to be face-to-face or hands on are done instead via video or are outsourced (sending you to someone in your town for reliable body comp testing, for example).
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