Screening is a key part of the initial introduction and assessment process that all qualified Fitness Instructors should adhere to
Fitness Instructor Factsheet
Exploring the Importance of Client Screening
One of the most effective screening tools is the Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire or PAR-Q as it’s commonly known.
This questionnaire asks pertinent questions that will enable 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 training or if based on the information given it is advisable for them to seek qualified medical advice prior to exercise participation.
There are a variety of templates used by different gyms, leisure centres and fitness organisations that fulfil the purpose of the PAR-Q. Whilst the layout and content of these will differ the overriding purpose will be to enable you to easily gather facts about your client focused on their occupation, objectives, medical history and lifestyle.
What’s in the PAR-Q Questionnaire?
At this point you are just getting to know your client and are simply gathering key lifestyle facts. These are mainly focused on smoking, exercise, weight and dietary habits. Naturally as a qualified Fitness Instructor or Personal Trainer there will be much more that you wish to know and understand about your client’s lifestyle but your initial assessment should be concerned with key fact gathering to assess their readiness for exercise participation.
Medical History Questions
The medical history section of the PAR-Q is the litmus test for whether your client is able to participate in exercise and if so whether 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 PAR-Q shows all is well (green) then you can start to discuss exercise programme design and next steps.
Beyond the Questions – Your Fitness Instructor Role
The great thing about this simple easy to use PAR-Q 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 via the PAR-Q screening and you may 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 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.
Nothing is without potential limitations and the PAR-Q is only as effective as the way it is used by the Fitness Professional. To end our look at this highly important client screening tool we will therefore take a look at some of its limitations.
- The form depends on complete client honesty from the outset. A quick glance through medical sites such as WebMD affirms that telling a little medical white lie can be pretty common. 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.
As we have seen 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 PARQ’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.
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