As a health and exercise professional, you perform assessments for several important reasons. For example, assessments can be used to establish baseline values and guide exercise programming. Additionally, assessments are valuable for establishing training goals and guiding program progressions.

However, a paradigm shift occurred in the approach to assessments in the recently publishedACE textbook The Exercise Professional’s Guide to Personal Training – A Client-centered Approach to Inspire Active Lifestyles, which highlights the fact that not all clients need or desire a complete fitness assessment at the beginning of their programs. In fact, assessments may demotivate some individuals, as they may feel uncomfortable, intimidated, overwhelmed or embarrassed by their current physical condition, their inadequacies in performing the test protocols, or even by the fear of the results. This article explores the past, present and future of client-centered assessments.

Past: Revisiting the Traditional Approach to Assessments

Conducting physiological assessments at the beginning of the client–trainer relationship has long been standard practice within the fitness industry. Traditionally, these baseline assessments are conducted to:

  • Identify areas of health/injury risk for potential referral to the appropriate healthcare professional(s)
  • Collect baseline data that can be used to develop a personalized cardiorespiratory and muscular-training program and allow for comparison of subsequent evaluations
  • Educate clients about their present physical condition and health risks by comparing their results to normative data for age and sex
  • Motivate clients by helping them establish realistic goals

There is debate over the timing and specific testing modalities that are chosen during an initial assessment. The justification for assessments in this initial session is based on the long-standing notion that some, if not all, assessments need to be conducted at the beginning of the client–trainer relationship to collect baseline information from which personalized programming can be developed. However, what was once standard practice is changing, as many are recognizing that not only are all assessments not necessary at the start of a program, but some may also even be counterproductive.

Present: A Client-centered Approach to Assessments

Building Self-efficacy by Choosing the Right Assessments

Many new clients begin a program with very low self-efficacy related to exercise ability and program success. As a health and exercise professional, what are you doing to combat this issue from the very start? Past performance experience is a critical source of self-efficacy information, so each early experience should be focused on creating success and building confidence.

A mistake many health and exercise professionals make is to schedule an entire session of assessments. Put yourself in the client’s place: How do assessments make you feel? When a person is new to exercise and/or has obesity, what is the likely result of the assessments?

Ultimately, each client should leave the first session feeling successful and looking forward to the next. Determine which assessments (if any) are necessary and conduct only those. In some cases, you may elect to collect all the assessment information needed by simply observing a client’s movement techniques during an introductory workout session. Decisions regarding assessment administration (and whether to conduct them) may positively affect rapport and help build client self-efficacy, enjoyment, success and program adherence.

Fitness assessments, once thought to be a mandatory starting point for any exercise program, are not actually necessary for many clients. This should not be confused with health/preparticipation screening, which should be conducted with each client to determine if they have any limitations for, or should receive medical clearance prior to, exercise participation or increasing exercise intensity. Before conducting a fitness assessment with a client, it is important to determine if the specific assessment is necessary to help the individual client reach their goals, and if the client is interested in completing the fitness assessment.

The ACE Integrated Fitness Training® (ACE IFT®) Model provides health and exercise professionals with the flexibility to conduct evidence-based fitness assessments or to lead clients through early sessions that incorporate exercise programming that provides appropriate movement and fitness challenges. These sessions can provide valuable feedback about a client’s current postural stability, joint mobility, functional movement, balance, and cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness. In fact, early training sessions that include exercises that provide “assessment” information can be the key to success for many clients by helping them to get moving right away and achieve immediate success. These exercises also provide useful information to help you modify each client’s program during subsequent sessions to build on that success.

As a health and exercise professional, you must have a good understanding of each client’s needs, determine the appropriate assessment battery, and then create a suitable timeline for when the assessments will be conducted (if at all). It is important to understand each client’s needs and goals and to be empathetic when evaluating the relevance and timing of assessments (see sidebar, Building Self-efficacy by Choosing the Right Assessments).

A common goal for many clients starting an exercise program is to positively modify numerous anthropometric and body-composition measurements. Given both the widespread prevalence of obesity and the fact that excessive fat mass is associated with a myriad of unhealthy conditions, this is an admirable target. Regrettably, clients frequently establish goals that are incongruent with what the scientific literature suggests are likely to occur with exercise training. In a client-centered approach, it is critical that you understand and convey how much various anthropometric and body-composition parameters are realistically going to change in the coming months. Without this knowledge, attainable anthropometric and body-composition goals for the exercise program cannot be established and it is highly probable that clients will become predictably disenchanted with the program when they fall short of lofty goals.

Exclusive ACE-sponsored research has examined training responsiveness to the ACE IFT Model for a variety of anthropometric and body composition parameters in younger and older adults. The expected change and timeline for key anthropometric and body-composition outcomes measures are summarized in Table 1. You can apply these research findings when collaborating with clients on setting attainable and realistic exercise program goals during assessments.

Table 1. Expected Change and Timeline for Key Anthropometric and Body Composition Measures


Health outcome

Expected change


Body fat (%)

↓ 2.7–5.9

2–3 months

Waist Circumference (cm)

↓ 1.9–3.3

2–3 months

Weight loss (lb)

↓ 1.0–2.0

2–3 months


Acknowledging a client’s enthusiasm and desire to change while also providing information to shape realistic expectations is a critical aspect of the client–trainer relationship during assessments. Having conversations about what anthropometric and body-composition changes can be expected in a given amount of time is crucial for client safety, motivation and adherence, and for setting attainable goals that will lead to long-term success.

Future: A More Personalized Approach to Assessments With the ACE Mover MethodTM

Clients may express a desire to achieve an exercise-related goal within a time frame that is not realistic. Often, these goals and the motivation to achieve them are sparked by upcoming events (e.g., reunion, wedding or vacation), and the client is excited, motivated and ready to get started. The ACE Mover Method is an all-encompassing philosophy that optimizes client–professional interactions and empowers clients to make behavioral changes aimed at improving their health, fitness and overall quality of life. One of the key areas that you can focus on with the ACE Mover Method is to personalize the approach to the need for, and appropriate selection and timing of, assessments and reassessments.

The following case study illustrates how you can use the ACE Mover Method to manage a client’s expectations and utilize assessments and reassessments to bolster their motivation and help them achieve their goals.

ACE Mover Method: Managing Expectations With Assessment and Reassessment (A Case Study) 

During an initial consultation with a highly motivated new client, they mention that they have been making some health-related changes over the past year but have not been able to achieve their intended results. The client shares that their 50-year high school reunion is in three months, and they would like to lose 30 pounds (~14 kg) to look and feel their best.

Here is an example of how the ACE Mover Method may be applied in this scenario.


Asking powerful open-ended questions during this initial session helps to identify what the client hopes to accomplish by working with a personal trainer and assess what additional information the client may need to achieve their goals.

Personal Trainer: You have been making healthy changes over the past year but have not seen the results you wanted. What specifically are you hoping to achieve by working with a personal trainer?

Client: I want to lose 30 pounds before my high-school reunion in three months. I've already lost 10 pounds in the past year but I 'd like to lose 30 more to get closer to my high-school weight.

Personal Trainer: Losing weight is a priority for you. What is your current understanding of healthy weight loss?

Client: I know that losing weight is not easy and that there is a relationship between physical activity, nutrition and weight loss. Based on my experience over the past year, I had to work hard to lose small amounts of weight. I am not sure how much weight I can lose before my reunion but thought my best shot would involve working with a personal trainer.

Personal Trainer: Thank you for sharing that with me. You are correct—losing weight can be challenging, and how much activity you do and what you eat has a significant impact. However, there are other factors to keep in mind when it comes to weight loss. I would also like to share the timing of assessments and reassessments so that we can track progress on your weight-loss goals. Is it O.K. to go into more detail?

Client: Yes, please.

Personal Trainer: Research shows that a key characteristic of successful weight loss is that it occurs steadily and gradually at a rate of about 1 to 2 pounds per week through ongoing lifestyle changes. We have about 12 weeks to work together before your reunion, which means we can set a realistic goal of losing another 12 to 24 pounds or so within your target time frame. Also, given what the research says about the expected rate of weight loss, my suggestion is we perform an assessment/reassessment of your progress every couple of weeks instead of every day. That way, we are likely to see progress instead of the same number on the scale. Does that all make sense?

Client: Yeah, it does. Even though I would like to lose 30 pounds in 12 weeks, it would be more realistic for me to set a goal of losing about 12 to 24 pounds. That’s not bad. I've already lost 10 pounds, and if I could lose another 12 pounds before my reunion, I would feel good about that! It also makes sense to not get on the scale every day given my personalized timeline and weight-loss goal. That has definitely been a source of frustration and discouragement in the past.

Break down barriers:

Personal trainers can empower the client to overcome potential barriers by asking open-ended questions to learn about previous challenges and potential obstacles that could stand in the client’s way.

Personal Trainer: You mentioned that you were successful at losing 10 pounds in the past year. Would you tell me more about that experience?

Client: I had to work hard. I increased my energy expenditure by becoming more physically active throughout the day and I began a regular exercise routine. I was consistent for four months, and that is when the weight came off. I was eating better by taking lunch and healthy snacks to work. I was doing a good job, but then I started to get burned out and lost my motivation. My schedule at work changed and I began commuting during high traffic times. The healthy choices I was making started to decrease as I became busier, and I went back to eating whatever was convenient. Also, as I alluded to previously, I became frustrated with getting on the scale every day without seeing progress.

Personal Trainer: It sounds like consistency and motivation were key factors to your initial success. What lessons did you learn that could help you achieve your goals this time?

Client: I realized that I need to make a more realistic schedule for both eating and exercise. I got overwhelmed last time by trying to do too much too soon. Now I am comfortable with my new work schedule, I already have a gym membership and I'm hiring a personal trainer. My upcoming reunion has motivated me.


Working together with the client on goals and solutions is the next step and allows the client to continue building their exercise and lifestyle-change program.

Personal Trainer: You’ve learned a lot from your past attempt. To be successful, you recognize that you must be consistent with physical activity and nutrition, but in a way that does not overwhelm you. Being as specific as you can be, what will you do to move forward?

Client: I’d like to meet with you three times per week starting this week, and I have a buddy at work who works my same shift, and we are going to walk for 30 minutes Monday through Friday. I'll also take lunch with me to work two days per week by bringing leftovers from dinner, and I can leave some healthy snacks and water bottles in my car. That way, when I’m stuck in traffic, I'll have some options other than stopping for fast food. Finally, I think getting on the scale every couple of weeks will be the optimal timing of assessment/reassessment for me. Knowing now that my expected weight loss will be slow and gradual, it makes complete sense to assess my weight in increments where some progress would be expected instead of every day, as that has been a significant barrier to my motivation in the past that I don’t want to repeat!

This interaction illustrates how you can use the ACE Mover Method to set clear expectations with a client who initially has a goal that may not be realistic or safe. In this scenario, the personal trainer acknowledges the client’s enthusiasm, asks for permission before sharing relevant information, and then follows up by making sure the client understands what was shared. Additionally, the personal trainer identified that when the client had previously performed weight-loss assessments too frequently, it had been a barrier, and that an alternative client-centered approach of less frequent weight-loss assessments would be a more personalized fit for this client.

Assessments remain an integral part of any client-centered personal-training program. When selected carefully and conducted properly, assessments can provide valuable health, fitness and performance information for you to use in exercise program design, implementation and monitoring. Assessment information is also important for goal setting, determining health risks and developing rapport with the client. However, not all assessments are suitable for all clients. It is up to you to decide the timing and most beneficial series of assessments for each individual client. Periodic reassessments are also important for evaluating progress and continuing to foster the client–trainer relationship. The ACE Mover Method can be applied to ensure assessments are strategic and personalized to each of your future clients.