In the world of training and performance, being able to give athletes and clients the most individualized care is what you should strive for. Even when working in a group setting or through a digital platform, you should still understand your clients’ need to get the most out of the time they’re training with you. True individualization of a program starts with a thorough assessment of how a client moves and what limitations you need to consider when customizing training routines. Let’s cover some basic assessment ideas you can use in both performance physical therapy and strength and conditioning to ensure you’re getting a true sense of how well a person moves and what other factors to consider.
How many trainers, coaches, and even sports medicine professionals never fully consider the anatomy of their clients when crafting a program for them? Properly assessing a client’s anatomical variations that could cause limitations will enable you to program movements that agree with them. Failure to recognize anatomical variations from client to client may result in a less-than-ideal program for them.
For instance, if someone has a long torso and legs, you might want to program hex bar deadlifts from an elevated surface to reduce increased stress on the lower back and also reduce the likelihood the hips become irritable at the start position. On the flip side, someone with a shorter torso and legs would be completely fine pulling from the ground in a conventional setup.
To use another example, someone who has a natural tendency to deadlift with feet turned out might have more of an externally rotated hip position (femoral retroversion) and so prefer a sumo deadlift position compared to a narrow conventional stance.
You want the program to fit the movements of the client, not the other way around. If you want to learn more about how anatomy can affect positioning and programming, in particular with regard to the squat, check out this article by Dr. Ryan DeBell of Movement Fix.
Sweat the Details!
Being a good trainer or coach comes down to understanding how well your client moves. Before programming specific exercises into individual training programs, assess those movements first! Whether you’re using the functional movement screen or your own assessment, your clients need to show you that they have the requisite motion first before you can put together an effective program for them. Here are a few examples of how you could modify a program based on limitations you might assess.
“Client A” Goal: Improve overhead shoulder press
Assessment: Overhead mobility assessment reveals that “Client A” lacks full overhead range of motion, which could potentially create compensatory movement at the top of the motion.
Modification: Landmine Shoulder Press
“Client B” Goal: Bench press without aggravating anterior shoulder pain
Assessment: Shoulder extension assessment reveals discomfort in front of the shoulder in a range similar to the bottom position of bench press.
Modification: Dumbbell Floor Press
The goal of your assessments is to enable your clients to attain the training stimulus/progress they need to improve without putting them at risk of aggravating previous physical issues or creating new ones.
Understand Outside Variables
Because coaches and trainers are so focused on the training aspect of working with clients (rightfully so), we can forget all the other things that those clients go through on a daily and weekly basis that could impact their performance. Knowing when to push your clients and when to back off can go a long way in keeping them motivated and training with consistency. Employing basic tools such as a readiness questionnaire and asking about things outside their training—such as increased stress and changes in sleep habits or nutrition—can go a long way in gauging how you should approach each day with your clients.
There is a lot of overlap with regard to what personal trainers, coaches, and sports medicine professionals do for clients. The distinctions in discipline can be tricky to navigate, and we always recommend that trainers and rehab professionals understand what their scope of practice allows them to do and to refer clients to another provider if they’re unsure. Understanding your strengths and then collaborating with other professionals when necessary is the ideal solution to crafting the best care for your clients. Remember: The goal is to help our clients achieve their goals, which means being conscious of our own biases that may reveal themselves along that journey. Providing an exceptional experience starts with understanding clients and assessing their life situations both inside and outside the gym. The key to success for you and your clients is to look at individuals as individuals first—even when training a group.