PAR Q screening is a key part of the introduction and assessment process that all qualified Fitness Professionals should follow. By far the most popular method is to use a PAR Q. Find out why this is so important, the questions you should be asking and how to meet all your obligations.
Why is a PAR Q important?
Why a Par Q?
By far one of the most important and effective screening tools is the PAR Q or to use it’s formal definition the Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire.
As the name suggests it is used to assess readiness for exercise. Look upon it as a type of clearance or green light to start training or, red light to seek medical clearance first.
The questionnaire finds out key information by asking a range of health and lifestyle questions. It enables you to get to know your client and conduct an initial assessment of their health status and medical history. By the end point you should have gathered enough information to determine if they are ready to start fitness training or, based on the information given, if it is advisable for them to seek qualified medical advice prior to exercise.
Where medical clearance is required, you should obtain this in writing and store a copy in your client’s file for reference.
There are a variety of PAR Q templates used by different gyms, leisure centres and fitness organisations. Whilst the layout and content of these will differ the overriding purpose is the same. That is to enable you to easily gather facts about your client focused on their occupation, objectives, medical history and lifestyle and to reach a decision if they are ready for exercise.
What’s in the PAR Q Questionnaire?
At this point you are just getting to know your prospective client and are simply gathering key lifestyle facts. These are mainly focused on smoking, exercise, weight and dietary habits. Here’s a few examples;
- Do you smoke?
- If you are a smoker, how many cigarettes do you smoke per day?
- Do you exercise regularly?
- How many days per week do you exercise for at least twenty minutes at moderate to strenuous pace?
- What is your weight now?
- What was your weight a year ago?
- Are you currently dieting or fasting?
Naturally as a qualified Fitness Instructor or Personal Trainer there will be much more that you will wish to know and understand about your client’s lifestyle. But your initial assessment should be concerned with gathering key facts to assess their readiness for exercise participation. When the parq and client screening is complete you can switch your focus to their fitness related goals.
Medical History Questions
The medical history section of the PARQ is the litmus test for whether your client is able to participate in exercise. If they are, it also explores if there are any contraindications you need to be aware of.
It will enable you to;
- Identify medical conditions that may place a client or gym member at risk when participating in certain activities.
- Identify possible contraindicated activities.
- Assist in designing an exercise programme that includes safe activities and/or appropriate modifications.
It is akin to a traffic light. If you conclude there is sufficient detail to stop (red) then you should be considering a medical referral and seeking G.P. consent before assisting your client further. If you feel it’s ok to continue but with caution (amber) then you need to keep any possible exercise contraindications at the forefront of your mind. Finally if the PARQ shows all is well (green) then you can start to discuss exercise programme design and next steps.
How PAR Q helps you ..
The great thing about this simple easy to use form is that it works both ways. We have seen how it can greatly assist your client in providing essential information for pre exercise screening, but it also serves you well in showcasing that you are a credible Fitness Professional.
It will enable you to;
- Fulfil relevant legal and insurance requirements for your role.
- Communicate to your clients and gym members that you are interested in them and their welfare.
- It also speaks volumes that you are keen to assist them with their goals whilst being highly focused on their safety and well-being.
Does exercise pose a risk?
Indeed it does! The identification of these potential risks for your client is the first step to preventing them. Clearly if the purpose of your exercise programme is to improve your client’s quality of life then aggravating an existing medical condition is counterproductive to the goal.
If a significant medical condition or risk factor for injury exists you will find this out through your client screening. You may then decide to request medical clearance or recommendations from the medical profession prior to designing the gym-based programme.
The need for medical clearance should not deter you from working with a client or gym member. With the right and proper modifications, and by working closely with medical experts where necessary, almost everyone can and should engage in exercise.
Goals, Time and Motivation
Effective use of the PAR Q helps you pinpoint your gym member’s level of commitment and motivation. Are they looking to exercise for a one hour session three times a week? Are the goals they have set themselves realistic? Answers to these types of questions will provide both you and the client with a clear understanding of the best programme.
PAR Q Limitations
Nothing is without potential limitations and the PAR Q is only as effective as the way it is used by the Fitness Professional. Let’s look at some of these limitations.
- The form depends on complete client honesty from the outset. Telling a little fib can be pretty common, especially when it comes to alcohol consumption, smoking and food choices. Explain to your client at the outset that you need to understand the complete picture to help them and assist with their goals and seek complete transparency.
- Your client may not remember everything and can only record the information they can recall and see as relevant.
- Your client is not an expert and may not be aware of or perceive certain risks. Some of these risks could be significant and detrimental to them pursing an exercise programme.
- The information given can become out of date very quickly. Take for example a non-smoking client who subsequently takes up smoking. A client who likes the occasional drink who is experiencing a particularly stressful period and finds themselves drinking more frequently in larger quantities. If you complete the PAR Q at the initial consultation and then neatly file it away it serves little but a short term purpose. For this reason information on the form should be revisited at 6 to 12 monthly intervals or at any point that you become aware of a lifestyle or health related change.
We have seen that the PAR Q is a key tool in a Fitness Instructor’s or Personal Trainer’s repertoire. It facilitates effective client screening and safe effective exercise prescription tailored to client goals and objectives. Most clients PAR Q’s will suggest they can start an exercise plan without any cause for concern however, as the qualified professional always be on the lookout for contraindications and seek medical guidance where necessary.
PAR Q Questions and Answers
Is using a PAR Q a legal or insurance requirement?
We always advise that you arrange for your clients to complete a par q tailored to the fitness activities you offer. The health and safety of your client is paramount and PAR Q completion shows you have adopted a diligent process every time. Pick up on any red flags and act on them accordingly, seeking medical clearance as necessary. It is also worth carefully checking the wording of your fitness insurance so you are clear on anything relating to PAR Q requirements in the small print.
How do I obtain a questionnaire or form template?
Best practice would be to design your own PAR Q form relevant for the exercise activities that will be undertaken. If you’re not sure where to start check out our templates and resources section on this page.
How long is a completed PAR Q valid for?
In general, the PAR Q is valid for up to twelve months. The client declaration should also state that if their circumstances change that they inform you. After twelve months your client should revisit their form and make any alterations and date and sign it, or complete a new form.
How do I refer my client for medical clearance?
Most personal trainers will simply ask their prospective client to obtain a medical clearance letter from their G.P. or specialist. It is also really professional and great customer service to provide a request form or letter for your client to take along. Medical clearance isn’t always a simple yes or no and will always depend on specific circumstances. For example, the specialist may ask you to take blood pressure readings before and after exercise. Or, they may ask you to limit the exercise program to certain activities or ask that the client uses a credible fitness tracker so that heart rate activity can be monitored.
What should I do if my client refuses to obtain medical clearance?
Have a friendly chat and stress the importance of making sure they exercise safely. Subject to their agreement you can also offer to work with their medical advisor so that their fitness programme is tailored to their needs. Unfortunately if they still refuse you should probably not work with them as it is not in your or their best interests to do so. What’s more you may be compromising your insurance policy, hard earned reputation and potentially opening yourself to legal action should something go wrong.
Is there a standard PAR Q form for personal trainers?
Try to avoid using standardised PAR Q forms for screening your PT clients. Whilst these are a great source of ideas they aren’t tailored to your business and the personal training services that you offer. This means you may leave yourself open to missing important questions that as a qualified fitness professional you should have asked. See our templates and resources section for ideas to get you started.
Templates and Resources
Find out more about industry recognised PAR Q examples with our handy resources. You can also broaden your knowledge by browsing the Health Commitment Standard (HCS) which is UK Actives evolution on the PAR Q, developed with a range of industry experts.
About the Author
Peter is Head Tutor at the Academy of Fitness Professionals with a passion for developing the highest calibre of student talent for entering the fitness industry.
He is a highly experienced Personal Trainer and Functional Movement Specialist with a career spanning over 25 years. Particular interests are programme design and delivery, strength conditioning techniques and optimum nutrition.
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