The Components of a Good Fitness Assessment

Last month, I addressed the basics of how to use assessments to sell personal training. If you don’t already have an assessment process in place, you can borrow from the assessment tool that we use, which I’ll explain below.

When you take the time to perform an assessment such as this, your ability to demonstrate the value in your services and your ability to influence someone to invest in the training process is greatly enhanced.

First, let me say our assessment tool isn’t sexy, it doesn’t require fancy equipment and doesn’t generate snazzy reports. However, it does provide us with an opportunity to observe the client’s body when it’s stationary and moving, and it allows us to begin to draw general conclusions.

We do our assessment in three parts. It takes about 10 minutes and includes a postural assessment, a movement analysis and a flexibility assessment.

Part A: Instruction for postural assessment
The client should remove any sweatshirts or jackets to expose as much of the body as is appropriate so your trainer can get a good visual of the body’s alignment. The client should breathe naturally while standing in a normal and relaxed position. Sometimes closing their eyes for a moment, then opening them, can help clients get into a more relaxed and normal posture.

Using an initial fitness assessment form, your trainers should start with the postural assessment, working from head to feet. Your trainers should do a profile of the front of the client’s body, back and both sides, looking for gross deviations and taking notes on what they see.

• Head – Notice if the client’s head is rotated or tilted, forward or neutral.
• Upper back – Is it kyphotic, flat or neutral?
• Shoulders – Are they dropped or elevated, forward or internally rotated? Look at all profiles. Does the client have “winged” scapula?
• Pelvis – Trainers will need to touch the client, so make sure they ask for permission first and let the client know what they are looking for. Trainers should check to see if the hips are level by having the client stand with hips and shoulders touching a wall. Does the client have an anterior (lordotic) tilt or a posterior (under tuck) tilt?
• Q-Angle – Are the client’s hips significantly wider than his or her knees when he or she stands with feet together?
• Knees – Are they the same height? Do they have a gross medial or lateral rotation?
• Feet – The trainer should look at the client’s bare feet. Do they have an excessive arch? Are they flatfooted? As the client walks, your trainer should notice if the feet internally or externally rotate. Does the client pronate or supinate when walking, or is the client’s weight evenly distributed on his or her feet?
• As clients walk, your trainer should look at them from the feet up and from the head down to see anything that they did not notice while they were standing still. What’s going on with the client’s feet? Does the client rotate through the torso while walking? Is the client’s arm swing consistent from side to side?

Part B: Instructions for movement analysis

After watching one rep demonstration from the trainer, the client should perform the following movements. On each of these, your trainer should make notes on the client’s ability to maintain proper joint alignment and form without pain. The trainer should ask the client how his or her body feels performing each of these movements and make notes on the client’s feedback.

• Squats – Feet should be hip to shoulder width apart, chest lifted, abs engaged and arms reaching forward. The client should slowly lower into squat position. Have clients no lower than 90 degrees at the knee using a bench if needed, then return to standing. Have clients repeat five to 10 times. Look for internal rotation of the hip (knees knocking), external rotation of the hip (knees bowing), leaning to one side or the other, knees sliding forward beyond the toes and heels lifting up.

• Lunges – Feet should be hip to shoulder width apart, right foot forward and left foot back with the heel lifted. Weight should be in the heel of the front foot and on the ball of the back foot. The client should slowly lower the back knee toward the floor, then return to a standing position. Repeat about five times on each leg. Trainers should look for hip, knee and ankle alignment, internal/external rotation of the hip, the front knee sliding forward beyond the toes, the front heel lifting up, and/or balance issues. Notice if there is a difference on each side.

• Pull – Have clients perform a row, and they can be seated if necessary. The client should stand with feet hip to shoulder width apart, chest lifted, abs engaged and knees slightly bent. Using a tube or cable machine, have the client perform a row by pulling elbows toward the ribs, then return to starting position. Have clients repeat five to 10 times. Observe whether the client is able to keep shoulders down and whether he or she can retract his or her shoulder blades. Watch for activation of muscles (lats/rhomboids/mid traps), control through concentric and eccentric phases of contraction, and symmetry on both sides of the body.

• Push – The client should perform a knee-based push-up. Hands should be wider than shoulder width apart. The client should lower the push-up to 90 degrees at the elbow and press back up to starting position, repeating five to 10 times. Look for back swaying, scapular stability/scapular winging and symmetry during both the eccentric and concentric phase.

• Core – The client should lie on his or her back with knees bent and feet on the floor with your trainer’s hand under the client’s low back. The trainer should instruct them to maintain pressure on their hand. As the client maintains abdominal contraction, have the client bring one leg up to 90 degrees at the knee and hip, then lower without arching through the spine. Do the same thing on the opposite leg. If the client does not have a problem with that, then have the client lift one leg to 90 degrees and hold, then bring the opposite leg to 90 degrees without arching through the spine. If the client has no problem with that, then your trainer should place their hand under the client’s lumbar spine, and the client should lower both heels to the floor while maintaining a 90-degree angle at the knees. Ideally, the client should be able to maintain the same pressure on the trainer’s hands until his or her feet touch the floor.

Part C: Instructions for flexibility assessment

• After each of the following flexibility assessments, the trainer should record “good” or “NI” (needs improvement). Your trainer does not need to record exact range of motion (ROM) measurements. If these need improvement, the trainer should plan to work on releasing these areas by strengthening the opposing muscle group and lengthening the tight muscle groups.

• Piriformis/Medial glute – The client should sit upright on a bench and place an ankle on the opposite knee. If the client’s shin is somewhat parallel to the floor, he or she has good ROM; if the knee is pointed slightly upward at an angle, the client has a limited ROM. Notice whether there is a difference between the right and left side. The trainer should make notes on the symmetry of the client’s ROM.

• Hamstring – Have the client lie supine on the floor (if a client has any kind of back pain when laying like this with both legs extended, then have the client bend one leg with his or her foot on the floor). Have your client contract his or her abs, fully extend the leg and dorsi flex the foot and then lift the straight leg as high as possible. Observe how high the leg goes before it starts to bend at the knee or the spine begins pressing into the floor. Ideally, they should be able to lift their leg close to 80 degrees. Again, make notes on the symmetry of their ROM. Note: If clients have a lot of body fat, they may be restricted by the mass of their abdomen, not the tightness of their hamstring.

• Hip flexor – Remaining in a supine position, the client should bring one knee to the chest with the opposite leg extended. If the hip flexors are tight, the extended leg will bend at the knee and/or the client’s head will lift off the floor. Be sure to observe differences on the right and left side of the body. Note: If the client has a lot of body fat, he or she may be restricted by the mass of the abdomen.

• Pectoralis/lats – The client remains in a supine position with abs tight, spine neutral and arms down to the side. The client should extend both arms up over his or her head until they are resting on or towards the floor. Observe whether the client can touch his or her hands, wrist and elbows to the floor without arching the spine. If the client is unable to reach the floor, he or she may have tight pecs and/or lats. Make notes on the symmetry of the ROM.

• Subscapularis/Teres major – Client remains supine on the floor with abs tight, spine neutral and elbows directly lateral to the shoulder. Keeping elbows in position, the client should externally rotate his or her forearms towards the ground. Observe whether the client can touch his or her hands and wrist to the ground without arching his or her spine. If the client can’t do so, he or she has tight internal rotators and weak external rotators. Make notes on the symmetry of the ROM.

• Quadriceps – Have the client lie prone on the floor with arms crossed and head resting on the arms and legs extended. The client should bring one foot to his or her glute. The client should be able to bend more than 90 degrees at the knee. Make notes on the symmetry of the ROM. Note: If the client has a lot of body fat or muscle, he or she may be restricted by the mass of the back of his or her leg, not necessarily by the tightness of the quadriceps.


Sherri McMillan, M.Sc., has been inspiring the world to adopt a fitness lifestyle for more than 20 years and has received numerous industry awards, including the 2006 IDEA Fitness Director of the Year, the 1998 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year, and the 1998 CanFitPro Fitness Presenter of the Year. Her million-dollar training studios in Portland, OR, and Vancouver, WA, have received Better Business Bureau Business of the Year recognition. McMillan is a fitness trainer, a fitness columnist for various magazines and newspapers, author of five books and manuals (including “Go For Fit—The Winning Way to Fat Loss,” “Fit over Forty” and “The Successful Trainers Guide to Marketing”), a featured presenter in various fitness DVDs, an international fitness presenter, and a spokesperson for Nike, Nautilus, Twist Conditioning and PowerBar. She can be reached at