Why We Don't Do Assessments

A Little Bit of History

When I was first getting started in the industry back in late 2006/early 2007, I worked at THE best facility in town for post-rehab training, and one thing that Tom (my boss) insisted upon was that everybody who came into the facility to train had to be put through a comprehensive initial movement assessment.  Bear in mind that we were working with a lot of people coming back from injury – whether it was a car accident, surgery, or something else, a lot of our potential clients were messed up one way or another, so for these people, it was crucial that they be looked at, in detail, before we would even let them do bodyweight exercise.

BUT, the majority of the people we worked with were the “general fitness” population – people like you and me (in fact, I was a client at the facility for a year and a half before I started working as a trainer), who just wanted to get in better shape, and didn’t have any major physical limitations.  They would, from time to time, have the odd little tweak here and there from their jobs, or from working in the garden at home, etc., but for the most part these were healthy individuals, without acute movement issues.

One key point I should mention here that would have saved me a lot of over-analyzing for a couple of years following if I’d just stopped to think about it was that we never did a follow-up assessment a 3-6 months or a year down the road, or ever, as long as the person didn’t have a subsequent major injury.  When I asked about this, I was told that it was felt to be unnecessary, because if anything new came up, we would see it in their workouts and/or the clients would tell us about it.  We would SEE it in their workouts…why didn’t I clue in?  Anyway, on with the long version…

As I continued to learn more about movement, and started to take on more responsibility, I took on a small group of clients for whom I did everything, from assessment, to program design, to training them on the floor, and I found that almost everyone seemed to have the same basic issues – a lack of core strength, tight hip flexors and hamstrings, poor hip-hinge mechanics, and some other postural issues from sitting so much (all of this combined sometimes also manifesting as chronic low back pain).  Every now and then, there would be someone who also had a previous knee issue, or a cranky shoulder, for example, but these were things they knew about coming in that we would either identify in their initial intake questionnaire, or they would tell you about the first (and sometimes every!) time you worked with them.  By and large, they still had the same other issues as everybody else.

I also saw that with some people who we identified as having a “movement restriction” from their assessment, no matter how much we worked on correcting it, even if they improved somewhat, they never quite got to the “ideal” movement the assessment was looking for.  The fact is, people are different – they are built differently, and not everyone will have the ability to reach that “ideal” movement quality in all movements, E.G. not everyone is capable of squatting to parallel or below safely and/or pain-free, or pressing heavy loads overhead, or deadlifting from the floor.

Despite this, I was still wrapped up in an assessment and analysis mindset, and I kept beating myself up over the fact that I never found time or opportunity to formally re-assess people regularly.

Just before I left that facility to go out on my own and start The BTG, Nick Tumminello posted this article, which really reinforced what I had been seeing, and made me question the validity of a standardized movement screen for the general population, and instead take an exercise-based approach

Finally, I began to realize that the quality of people’s movement (ANY movement) might vary from day-to-day, and that I could, and already did, easily identify these issues WHILE THEY WERE EXERCISING (which brings me back to the ideas behind why we didn’t RE-assess clients regularly back when I started out).  Specifically, before heading into any of the big lifts (E.G. deadlift, squat, etc.), we always do a specific warm-up for those movements with little to no load, and when watching them perform the specific warm-up, I might see a funky hip shift on the deadlift that wasn’t there the week before, or someone might be stopping short of their regular depth on their squat.  These are their limits TODAY, which are more relevant to their training than some assessment performed months ago, regardless of how comprehensive it may have been.

Decision Time:  What to Do Instead?

  • I refer out post-rehab clients – I am not set up to work with them effectively, so I have chosen to focus instead on the general fitness population.  If I were working with post-rehab clients, EVERY one of them would get an initial comprehensive screen to see where they are starting from.

For everyone else, we do the following:

  • Address the usual “tight” areas with SMR before the general warm-up

  • Address fundamental general movement patterns and the usual “tight” areas with a general dynamic warm-up

  • Assess each person’s ability and ROM TODAY on the loaded lifts with an unloaded or minimally-loaded, specific warm-up, and identify any movement issues that they have TODAY

  • If an issue is identified, determine whether it is just a positional awareness type issue (I.E. can it be "fixed" with coaching/cueing) or if it is a physical limitation due to soreness, tightness or minor injury

  • If it seems to just be a simple tightness issue, extend the specific warm-up and/or add in some specific SMR/mobilizations to see if we can loosen things up before adding significant load to the movement.

  • Modify parameters as necessary on the day, whether that be load, or reduced ROM, or changing an exercise altogether, because people are different, and may be differently able from one day to the next.