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 www.nwFitnessEducation.com.

If your trainers currently are not performing fitness assessments on new clients or members, then it’s time to provide them with the skills and resources to start. It is one of the most incredible tools to help a trainer determine an effective training approach, and it is one of the most fabulous sales tools to help demonstrate a trainer’s value and influence members to invest in their services.

Developing the Skills
A multitude of assessment tools are available in the industry, and I am not convinced that one assessment approach is better than the rest. You must find the tool that you feel most comfortable with and then be consistent, comfortable and competent using it.

I am training an intern to perform assessments. During role playing sessions when I pretend to be a client, I deviate from norm to determine whether he observes those deviations. Sometimes he picks up on them and sometimes he does not. My advice to him is to start assessing as many bodies as he can—neighbors, friends and family members. The more bodies he can look at, the more clear ‘normal’ will be.

The goal of your trainers should be to look for gross deviations from normal—not microscopic deviations. A great resource for muscle testing is “Muscles: Testing and Function” by Florence Kendall. In addition, trainers may not know exactly what is causing deviations, but recognizing a deviation can help direct their attention.

Explaining the Assessment
At our studios, we perform assessments in the first session with new clients, which take about 10 minutes. This is the script we use when explaining the assessment to our clients:

“Joe, I am going to take you through a full body postural and movement analysis. I’ll be looking for where your muscles are strong and weak and for any imbalances that may exist. This will provide me the information I need to really customize the program to your body. It will help me determine which exercises we need to incorporate to strengthen any weak muscles and which stretches to help lengthen any tight muscles. An assessment will also make sure I’m not including any exercises that may compound an existing issue.”

Nine times out of 10, the client will state something like, “That makes sense. I’ve worked with trainers before and no one has ever done that.”

The reality is that most trainers don’t do an assessment, so when your trainers do, it instantly sets them apart from the rest of the trainers out there. It immediately elevates them to a level that causes the client to perceive that your trainers take a scientific approach to training and they must know what they are doing, which of course, they do.

Here’s how we wrap up the assessment with an explanation of the results for the client. This is the part where your trainers get to show the client how smart they are. The conversation might go something like this:

“Joe, thank you so much for letting me analyze your body. It’s really provided me with some really great information. Let me share some of my observations with you.

“First, when you were standing, I noticed that your shoulders fall forward from where they really should and that they are slightly internally rotated. This often indicates that you’ve got some weakness in your mid back muscles and some tightness in your internal rotators or chest muscles. This makes sense to me because you sit at a computer a lot in your work. It was further confirmed when you did the rowing test because your muscles had a difficult time fully retracting or pulling the shoulders back. And when I tested the flexibility of your shoulders, it was clear that there is a definite restriction there. So when designing your program, I’m going to place an emphasis on really strengthening your back muscles and stretching your internal rotators, then we’ll see how your body responds to that.

“I also noticed when you were standing that you have an excessive lordodic curve in your low back. That can indicate tightness in your hip flexors and/or a weakness in your core muscles. That makes sense because when I tested your hip flexors, they were tight, and when I tested your core muscles, there is a weakness there, too. So I’m going to make sure I really focus on strengthening your core muscles, which includes your abdominals, your back and hip muscles and lengthening your hip flexors.

“Lastly, I noticed you’re a little tighter on the right side of your body than the left. And whenever you have one side tighter than the other, it’s just more likely for the body to be pulled out of alignment. And when you’re moving your body, you really want things to line up the way they are supposed to so there is less wear and tear and injury. So whenever we stretch, I’ll spend a little more time on the right side to see if that helps develop better symmetry, and we'll see how your body feels with that. Sound good?”

At this point, clients are typically really impressed with the attention to detail, the scientific approach to the training process and your trainer’s ability to customize the program to their body.

After this, it’s really easy to have the ‘sales’ conversation starting with, “Excellent, Joe. All we have to do now is decide how you and I are going to work together, and there’s lot of options. Let me explain…”

Next month, I will offer detailed instructions on our three-part assessment that you can give to your trainers to follow.