The Ultimate Fitness Assessments Guide
Fitness assessments have a useful purpose in the fitness arena, both for personal trainers, clients, and exercise enthusiasts. This article will explain the details about fitness assessments, including what they are, why they are used, common fitness assessments, age-specific fitness assessments, and fitness assessment software.
When you are ready to learn more about a fitness business management software option that includes features to record, track, and share fitness and performance assessments, schedule a demo with the Exercise.com team to learn how you could save time and grow your business.
What Is a Fitness Assessment?
A fitness assessment is a test or measurement completed by a fitness professional to get fitness or health information about a client. It can be biometric (related to the body) or assess the current level of fitness. Client questionnaires can serve as an assessment to collect personal information or additional health information.
Many fitness assessments test one or more of the components of fitness. The different components of fitness are cardiorespiratory endurance (also sometimes called aerobic fitness), muscular strength, muscular endurance (muscular strength and endurance are sometimes combined into muscular fitness), flexibility, and body composition.
Some fitness assessments may also test balance, stability, mobility, or other sports or performance skills such as power or agility.
There are benefits and limitations to all fitness assessments. Some use little to no equipment, while some use expensive equipment. Some require trained fitness professionals to conduct, some are easily administered by anyone as long as they can follow the instructions. It’s important to choose the fitness assessments that make the most sense for you and your clients.
The prices that are charged for fitness assessments vary greatly. Some fitness facilities and personal trainers will include them when a client purchases a training package or membership, while some will charge an additional fee for fitness assessments.
How Do I Perform a Basic Fitness Assessment?
Here are some general tips for performing basic fitness assessments. Fitness assessment manuals or references will have specific instructions for each assessment that you should become familiar with before using them with clients.
- Practice with a friend or colleague if necessary.
- Instruct the client to dress comfortably.
- Gather the materials you will need for the assessment, including forms, equipment, a track, or the space needed to perform the assessment.
- Before completing a fitness assessment, it is important to have the client complete a PAR-Q (Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire), informed consent, and any other health screening procedures that must be done before exercise.
- Choose the assessments that you want to perform. This may depend on their fitness goals, age, or you may use general fitness assessments.
- Gather personal information (date of birth and sex) that you may need to use for comparison of the client’s results to normative data or age-adjusted charts.
- Ask what the client’s health, fitness, and weight management goals are.
- Give basic, yet detailed instructions.
- Explain what the assessment is testing and how you will use the assessment information.
- Gather the assessment data.
- Enter the data into a software system if you are using one.
- Compare the results to normative data or age-adjusted charts.
- Share the results with the client, either in-person, email, or electronically and explain what the results mean if necessary.
Why Are Fitness Assessments Important?
There are many reasons why fitness assessments are important. They do not take a lot of time to complete but can provide a wealth of information and help you get to know your clients better. Here are a few reasons why fitness assessments are important:
- Assessments serve as a baseline measurement that trainers and clients can use to compare results over a period of time.
- Plan an exercise program based on results.
- Address mobility, stability, strength, endurance, or balance results that may increase the risk of injury.
- Increase client motivation for their exercise program.
- Build loyalty with current clients and cultivate relationships with new clients, both of which increase your revenue.
Types of Fitness Assessments
Anthropometric Measures (Body Composition)
There are some basic measurements that provide good baseline measurements and enable trainers and clients to track progress. These measurements require minimal and inexpensive equipment, are quick to administer, and are easily interpreted.
These anthropometric measures include height, weight, blood pressure, resting heart rate, waist circumference, and hip circumference. Minimal equipment is needed and these can be completed quickly.
Resting heart rate can then be used to calculate the target heart rate range for clients as they are exercising. There are different methods for doing so, like the age-predicted HRmax equation, the Karvonen method, or the Tanaka method.
Waist and hip circumference can be used to determine the client’s waist to hip ratio, which is an indicator of health risk. Watch the video below to see more about BMI and how to measure a client’s waist and hip measurements.
Body Mass Index (BMI) is a calculation based on height and weight. Trainers can use the BMI calculation, an online BMI calculator, or a BMI chart to determine their clients’ BMIs and then use the following categories:
- Under 18.5 = underweight
- 18.5 to 24.9 = healthy weight
- 25.0 to 29.9 = overweight
- 30.0 and up = obese
BMI has some advantages as well as some disadvantages. BMI is only based on height and weight so it does not consider muscle or lean body tissue vs. fat tissue. The advantages are that you don’t need any special equipment and it is easy and quick to calculate. While BMI is not as accurate as other measures, it is a good screening tool and can provide a baseline measurement.
If you have access to the necessary equipment, you can determine a client’s estimated percent body fat using skinfold calipers. Follow the procedures for collecting the skinfold measurements and use the calculations for that procedure.
Bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA) is another method that uses additional equipment. There are handheld devices and scales (seen below) that can be used to determine a client’s estimated percent body fat. BIA tends to have some inaccuracy but can serve as a comparison from baseline to a future assessment.
These tend to be more accurate than BMI, but less accurate than some more specialized and expensive measures. The equipment is affordable, requires minimal or some training, quick, and easy to use.
DEXA (dual x-ray absorptiometry), BodPod, and underwater weighing are more accurate but require expensive and specialized equipment, plus trained professionals to administer and may not be an option for many trainers.
Muscular strength is defined as the amount of force that can be produced by the muscles (usually against resistance or weight) a single time or one repetition.
One repetition maximum (1RM or 1 rep max) is a common assessment of muscular strength. A 1RM assessment measures the heaviest amount of weight you can lift with correct form for one repetition of that exercise. A 1RM test for the bench press exercise is commonly completed.
Make sure the client is warmed up prior to completing a 1RM assessment. ACE Fitness has some helpful instructions and information about completing 1RM muscular strength assessments on their website.
If you do not feel comfortable completing a 1RM test with a client, you can also estimate their 1RM based on the number of repetitions that they can complete to failure. For example, if a client can complete 5 repetitions of bench press with the maximum weight, that would equal about 87% of their 1RM.
Muscular endurance differs from muscular strength in that it tests the endurance, or being able to complete a number of repetitions of an exercise rather than just one repetition. Muscular strength and muscular endurance are sometimes combined to describe muscular fitness.
The push-up test is used to test the endurance of the upper body, primarily the upper arm (triceps), chest (pectoralis), and shoulders (deltoid). Men complete the test with their toes on the ground and women complete the test modified with their knees on the ground.
The client completes as many repetitions as possible without stopping. The test ends when the client is fatigued or has poor form. The score is the number of push-ups completed and is used to compare with others of similar age and gender.
The ACSM curl-up test is used to assess the endurance of the abdominal muscles, primarily the rectus abdominis. The only equipment needed is tape for the floor and a ruler or measuring tape. Here is a video giving instructions and the position for the ACSM curl-up test.
There are specialized tests usually completed in a laboratory, such as treadmill or cycle ergometer tests to measure VO2max. VO2max requires expensive and specialized equipment, a trained professional, and can be uncomfortable for many clients.
If a trainer has the resources available for these VO2 max tests, they are very accurate and informative. If not, other tests can be done quickly to estimate VO2 max with little to no equipment.
The 12-minute run assessment was developed by the Cooper Institute and has been used for 50 years. After a brief warm-up, the client runs as far as they can in 12 minutes. If you are using a track, you can convert the laps to distance covered using a chart. The completed distance is then used to estimate VO2 max.
The Rockport Walk Test is also commonly used with clients of all ages. After a brief warm-up, the client walks a mile as fast as possible. The time to complete the mile in minutes and seconds is recorded. After completion, the client’s heart rate is immediately measured and recorded. The time, heart rate, sex, and age are used to estimate VO2 max and compare to other exercisers of the same age and sex.
The YMCA three-minute step test is another commonly used assessment of cardiorespiratory fitness. The materials needed include a 12-inch step, stopwatch, metronome, and a stethoscope (optional, but gives an accurate reading of the client’s heart rate). Record the resting heart rate of the participant before they warm-up or begin the test.
The client would complete a short warm-up prior to the assessment, then step up with one foot, up with the other foot, then down with one foot, and down with the other foot to a cadence of 1 step-per beat. The metronome should be set on 96 beats per minute, which equals 24 total steps each minute. After the three minutes is up, the client sits down immediately and their heart rate is taken for one minute.
The one-minute heart rate is the score for the YMCA three-minute step test and is used to compare heart rate recovery by age group and sex. The categories range from very poor to excellent. See the video below for a demonstration of the three-minute step test.
For assessing low back and hamstring muscles flexibility, the YMCA Modified sit-and-reach (YMCA) is commonly used. You either need a special sit-and-reach box, or you can create your own with a box and ruler.
The client sits against a wall with back with knees extended, shoes off, and the box lined up with the soles of the feet. The client should extend elbows and place one hand on top of the other (as shown above). The measurement starts from the tip of their fingers.
Without any jerky movements, the client should reach as far forward as possible, lining up with the ruler. Knees should not bend during the testing procedure. After a few practices reaching forward, the client should hold the position while reaching forward for a few seconds for the trainer to record the score to the nearest half-inch.
Once the score is recorded, it can be compared against others of the same age and sex. See the video below for instructions and details about the sit-and-reach test.
The Functional Movement Screening (FMS) was developed in the 1990s by a physical therapist and exercise physiologist and is a series of seven movements and three clearing tests focused on mobility and stability. The focus of the FMS is on the quality of movement, not strength, endurance, or power and uses a scoring system of one through three for each of the main movements.
Some of the movement patterns include a deep squat, hurdle step, active straight leg raise, shoulder mobility, rotary stability, and more. The three clearing tests are basically a flexibility assessment and just identify pain or no pain during the movement.
The goal is to find weaknesses during these seven movements, identify any sources of pain, and use that information to make recommendations for the client. The FMS can be administered in about 10-20 minutes, requires the purchase and use of an FMS kit and guide, and practice/training before using it with clients.
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Other Fitness Assessments
The vertical jump test is used to test the power and explosiveness of the quadriceps muscle group. A Vertec is a piece of equipment designed to use specifically for the vertical jump test, or you can mark the measurements on a wall and then use a measuring tape to get the score.
To start, the client stands against the wall, extends one arm overhead while standing and this measurement is recorded. This is the standing reach height. The client then steps away from the wall, squats, and jumps vertically as high as possible. The difference between the standing reach height and the jump height is the recorded score.
See the video below for a demonstration of the vertical jump test.
Static postural assessments are used to detect tightness or weakness in five areas of the body. The areas include the ankles, hips, pelvis, shoulder, and neck. The video below describes more about these assessment procedures.
An overhead squat assessment is used to assess muscle imbalances or compensation during a movement pattern. With the arms extended over the head, the client is instructed to squat five to ten times. The same method is repeated, but the trainer should view the client from the side.
See the video below for more information about the overhead squat assessment.
Personal trainers can use a questionnaire to learn specific important about their client’s health habits, like sleep, nutrition, mental health status, or interests, or goals. These questionnaires can be used to give a full picture of the client’s health and fitness.
Fitness Assessments for Specific Age Groups
The Senior Fitness Test (also known as the Fullerton Functional Test) focuses on the cardiovascular fitness, endurance, balance, strength, agility, and flexibility of adults ages 60 and up. The six assessments included in the Senior Fitness Test are:
- Chair Stand Test for lower body strength and endurance.
- Arm Curl Test for upper body strength.
- Chair Sit-and-Reach Test for lower body flexibility.
- Back Scratch Test for upper body flexibility.
- 8-Foot Up and Go Test for agility and balance.
- 6-minute Walk Test (or 2 minute Step in Place Test) for cardiovascular fitness.
There are charts with normative data for a comparison for ages 60 to 94. Watch the video below to see an example of the 8-Foot Up and Go Test.
The Fitnessgram was designed by the Cooper Institute in 1982 and is used across the country to assess the health-related fitness of children in school settings The Fitnessgram assesses aerobic capacity, body composition, flexibility, muscular strength, and muscular endurance.
The Fitnessgram scores are used to place students into one of three zones – the Healthy Fitness Zone, Needs Improvement, or Needs Improvement – Health Risk. The video below gives some details about the Fitnessgram.
Fitness Assessment Software for Personal Trainers
There are a variety of options for personal trainers to record and track fitness assessment results. Some personal trainers might prefer to use the paper and pen method, but there are software options that help to save time and can easily be shared with clients.
Some software programs focus solely on fitness or performance assessments, while others have assessments built into their platform that also include other fitness business management features, like client management, scheduling, e-commerce, and more.
Two software programs that focus solely on fitness assessments are Fusionetics and Kinetisense. Both of these software systems have useful features but come at an additional cost for personal trainers to access and use.
A fitness business management software option that includes assessments with its other features is Exercise.com. The benefit of our system is that fitness professionals, personal trainers, and staff only have to learn one system. There is also the benefit of easily sharing assessment data with clients.
What Is the Best Fitness Assessment Software for Personal Trainers?
Personal trainers must decide which fitness assessment software that best meets their needs and their clients’ needs. Some software requires an additional cost and additional system to use that may not be integrated with their fitness business software.
Exercise.com provides a performance assessment feature that is built-in to the all-in-one software. No need to have separate software systems for client management, calendars and scheduling, workout creation and delivery, AND performance assessments. Exercise.com has everything that trainers need to manage their business and perform assessments and provide assessment data for their clients.
These powerful assessments can be automated for onboarding clients or engaging existing clients. Plus they are completely customizable to your brand. Make the data that’s import for your clients and your business front and center.
Fitness Assessment Resources
Here are some helpful resources with more information about fitness assessments.
- ACSM’s Health-Related Physical Fitness Manual, 5th edition by the American College of Sports Medicine
- ACE Helpful Formulas
- ACE Personal Training Manual
- Senior Fitness Test Manual (Human Kinetics publishers)
- NASM downloadable assessment forms
Now that you have more information about fitness assessments, how to use them, and types of assessment software options, schedule a demo with the Exercise.com team to learn how you could save time and grow your business.
Melissa Morris is a professor by day and a part-time writer for Exercise.com. Melissa has a BS and MS in exercise science and an EdD in educational leadership. She teaches nutrition and applied kinesiology at the University of Tampa and has worked in health education, fitness, and nutrition for 15 years. In her free time, Melissa loves to workout at Orangetheory fitness and run 5K and 10K races.