Assessment sounds sorta clinical, sterile even. Maybe something like one of those long ass questionnaires you fill out for your first doctor visit. You know, the one that asks a bunch of vague health questions that no one actually follows up, and really just results in turning your 10 am appointment into an 10:45 or 11 am.
Fortunately, this is not that. And here, we’ll discuss not only what an assessment is, but why it’s useful initially and as an ongoing tool.
What is the What.
Generally speaking, I use a system that gauges 3 important things:
1. How well you move
2. How strong you are
3. How fit you are
To be more specific, I measure Flexibility (how much range of motion you have), Mobility (how well you control that range), and Stability (how strong/supported you are within a given range of motion). Each are more or less progressions of each other and impact Movement Proficiency within the 5 Essential Patterns, including Core and Conditioning–all of which have been covered in previous articles (that’s right, this shit is connected). For instance, ankle and hip mobility are directly tied to lower body patterns, such as bend/hinge, squat and single-leg. Directly tied, meaning a lack of mobility will likely have a negative impact on the quality of a given movement pattern.
If mobility, stability, and movement are solid, I will move on to measure skill, then strength. Skill is determined by your ability to perform the following body weight exercises within each movement pattern:
1. Squat: Air Squat
2. Bend/Hinge: Waiter’s Bow
3. Single-Leg: Front Lunge
4. Upper Push: Push-Up
5. Upper Pull: Pull-Up
6. Core: Side Plank
7. Conditioning: Rowing
Although none of the above are particularly intense, or “sexy” for that matter, they are a necessary box to be checked prior to measuring strength. Using the squat pattern as an example, someone’s Air Squat ought to be nearly flawless before we even consider gauging strength in something more complex like a Back Squat.
Further, each of the above have a level of interdependence that needs to be considered as it relates to strength. Continuing with the squat, adequate core strength is a requisite for testing max effort Back Squats. If you consider the amount of force on the spine here, it’s really just common sense. This isn’t to say that you can’t ever do Back Squats until each box is neatly checked off, I’m simply saying you have no business doing them at max effort without proper skill and core stability.
As mentioned above, assessment doesn’t stop after the initial testing. It progresses and transforms over time as athletes get stronger and more fit. For instance, in month 1 someone might be acquiring skill in the hinge pattern with a Kettlebell Deadlift; by month 3, they could have moved on to a Barbell Deadlift at high reps to continue sharpening; and on month 6, going for a 5 Rep Max Deadlift, etc., etc…Beyond the Deadlift, assessment is the lifeblood of a program, ever-changing and evolving.
WHY, WHY, WHY.
The above makes it clear that a comprehensive assessment precisely determines someone’s fitness level, thereby eliminating any guess work when it comes to choosing the most effective exercises. Indeed, assessment is the cornerstone of Individual Program Design.
More significant, however, it serves as a communication tool between coach and client. And I don’t mean communication in the often used vague sense of the word, but in a very concrete way that provides reasons, context and understanding. Some might call this “buy-in”, which I consider to be a euphemism for coercion. I view it as a starting point towards building a collaborative relationship with clients. This is the art behind the science of assessment. This is what separates working out from training, and trainers from coaches. To quote a mentor of mine, James FitzGerald, “assessment is truth”.