Ever shown up to a gym or for a trainer/coach the first session or class and they wrote a ‘personalised’ program for you on the spot? Or even worse, just got stuck straight into a session? Unfortunately, this happens all too often in gyms, parks and other training facilities. Such poor preparation significantly increases the risk of injury. Moreover, prescribing unsustainable training loads and ineffective exercise selection results in unhappy clients who just may give up on something that could be so valuable to them for the long term.
A thorough initial consult for anyone starting training is absolutely critical, whether that be 1 on 1, small group, gym classes, bootcamp, self training, and everything in between. Your body, your health, your enjoyment and long term journey is worth more than some adlib non-specific approach. I have briefly raised the importance of the initial consult in a previous blog re program structure HERE, but feel it is so vital that it deserves a whole article on its own.
Understanding the Person Before the Program –
Following a random bunch of exercises seen on Youtube, written in the latest Men’s Health magazine, or some online program doesn’t help you. The first step of anyone’s fitness and health journey, whatever the end goal, is for the Coach to truly understand you. It is not enough for a Coach to know you want to “lose some weight” or “tone” or “get stronger”, but they must understand the reasons behind it, the why. Without understanding the why, or emotional reasoning, the program can never truly address the individual and their motivations. I go into greater detail on this in my article HERE.
Beyond motivations and goals, the initial consult is a key time to gain an understanding of many other relevant factors such as:
- Work commitments and schedules
- Family commitments
- Access to facilities, parks, pools, gyms, home based equipment
- Fears, barriers, and apprehensions
- Social support (critical, more detail in my article on this HERE
Now let’s go in to all the key information to be gathered before any type of training is planned and started:
Injury History –
I cannot overstate the importance of going in to detail on all past and present injury, disease, illness and surgery history. Having a Coach that knows what you have been through, your previous treatments, timelines of issues, what aggravates and what eases, is key for the program design and understanding contraindications. Having all current and previous concerns in mind, will help guide the direction of the movement screening to come, giving the Coach ideas of what to be looking for, imbalances, weaknesses and patterning wise.
Training history –
If the Coach can gain information on what you the client has done in the past, regarding physical activity, it helps establish the following:
- Likes and dislikes
- Potential ability to learn new movement patterns, as a varied skill background regarding movement schema, sets groundwork to learn new skills efficiently
- What current movement patterns they possess which can be built upon
- Level of health literacy, helping guide the language used when explaining programs and movements to come
- Potential movement imbalances, e.g. someone with a long history of tennis is likely to have rotational and postural imbalance from being a left or right handed player
Current training levels –
This forms part of the above-mentioned commitments and schedules to be factored in, helping gain an understanding on just how much time can be committed to the goals. But, what is most important about this information, is gathering training load. If someone is currently doing 1-2 walks a week and nothing else, even if they can commit to 5 strength sessions a week, it would be misguided, and injurious, to elevate training levels that much. It must be a graded approach based on where you are at currently.
The movement screen –
Once all the background information has been gathered, understanding the body in movement sets the tone for the exercise selection and training targets. The screening used needs to be individualised to some degree based on the above information, but should also include key movement patterns required for every human on the planet; the ability to squat, hip hinge, lunge, push, pull and rotate.
A battery of movement assessments, based on the client’s individual history and critical movement capacities, allows your Coach to assess and gather information on areas to address regarding motor patterning & recruitment, motor control, strength & flexibility imbalances. This ensures the ongoing periodised program design does more than just get you sweaty, but it makes you better. More efficient and balanced movement leads to greater physical outcomes, whatever the goal, and of course a huge reduction in injury risk as the training progresses in loads and complexities.
So why go through all the above? Because you need all that information for your Coach to accurately complete the below.
Post assessment needs analysis –
Once the thorough initial consult has been completed, this is where the work and the skillset of the Coach comes to the forefront. With all the information gathered, a needs analysis can be created, where training priorities are developed, regarding injury management & rehabilitation, movement patterns, energy systems, strengths, weaknesses, tightness and restrictions. Without this clearly detailed list, creating an individualised program is impossible, so as I mentioned earlier, if you go somewhere that doesn’t go through a thorough initial consult, then go away to plan your program, run for the hills ASAP. An example of what this priorities list might look like is just below:
- Right hip stability
- Thoracic extension & left side rotation
- Left ankle dorsiflexion
- Trunk anti-extension endurance
- Global lower body strengthening
- Work capacity and endurance for desk based posture
The ideal week vs the feasible week –
Once the training priorities list has been established such as above, it’s now about creating the weekly structure, the micro-cycle. If the coach knows your targets to work on, understands your weekly schedule and other life commitments, then putting together your training program that is long term sustainable becomes a much simpler and tailored process. It’s all well and good to create 6 days per week, 90 minute workouts with an hour stretching every day on top of that, but how realistic is that. Pick the key targets to improve, nail them. Build on it over time and self-mastery will be achieved, motivation and consistency will continue to grow, and the long-term results will always be more successful than anything ad-lib. I speak in detail about the importance of self-mastery for mental well-being, and how critical individualised exercise structure is for that in my article HERE.
The long-term plan –
If you don’t know where you have come from, creating the stepping stones to get where you want to go is like setting off on a hike with no map and no compass, eventually you will get lost. The initial consult forms the base for setting the long-term targets, it allows for continual analysis on your projection, and ensures that everything you do in your training and activity is specific to you. What this means is your training is always time efficient and productive, always enjoyable and tailored to you, and always has purpose.
Programming structure –
With the needs analysis, long term plan, weekly (micro-cycle) structure and full history gathered, the Coach will now get in to the devil of the detail regarding the individual sessions. These can include, but are not limited to, training vectors, exercise selection, exercise sequencing, training intensities, training complexities, training volumes and targeted soft tissue release approaches. If you would like to know more about programming structure I have written an article dedicated to just this HERE.
Without a thorough initial consult, from a highly experienced and university educated Coach, knowing where have you come from, what you are currently capable of, and therefore understanding what to do to get where you want to be is near impossible. To be truly successful in whatever your health, performance, injury rehabilitation & prevention goals are, you must have a clear starting point, have metrics to be able to re-evaluate and have an individualised training plan so that you can adapt & progress accordingly, based on appropriate periodised programming.
If you want to experience the difference of world class coaching and actually create change, come on in to Absolute Health & Performance for your initial consult.
Written By Head Performance Coach David Smith