What is your assessment process like with your athletes and clients?
New and old, alike.
A questionnaire? An initial consult? Some air squats, push-ups, and plank holds, then just dive right in?
Far too often, coaches, don’t do postural assessments.
Now, there are one million and one ways to assess clients, generally speaking, but by not tapping into how your athletes are truly moving, carrying themselves (and their loads) and where there may be potential body break-down, underlying weakness or pain, you certainly are missing a mark.
Specifically speaking, many coaches don’t know how to look at something and know what’s going on.
Knowledge is power and the more you can teach yourself, and learn from others (other coaches, specialty courses and certifications), the more comfortable you will become with this necessary assessment process. It is imperative that you and I as coaches know how to fix this stuff.
First things first, look at your client’s movement patterns (or pain points) from an objective point of view. Ask the questions: “Are you in pain because you are moving poorly? Or are you moving poorly, and causing yourself pain?” It’s really a matter of which came first, the chicken or the egg?
Keep in mind that this perspective only looks at pain from a mechanical point of view: The athlete is loading a joint improperly and/or does not know how to move properly. Ultimately, “pain” can mean many things; sometimes underlying physiology has gone awry and needs to be addressed.
Assess and, if you don’t know how to assess, then take a course. (Or get a free introduction to assessment here.) Anything that helps you understand movement in general. If you don’t understand movement (and where pain may come from as well), then you can’t look at it from an unbiased point of view.
During many assessments, sometimes I will have athletes roll or crawl on the floor (primitive movement patterns) and, from that, I can usually tell how they are going to move in other fashions such as the squat or deadlift. Generally speaking, when looking at movement, I don’t care to look at individual muscles—I look at patterns (patterns over parts). I ask: Is this pattern good enough or not? Is it not good, but not painful? Or is it not good and painful? Find where to pick and choose your battles, and where to start first during your assessment.
It might look like this: A client says, “I can’t touch my toes because my back hurts” which limits their ability to deadlift, snatch, or clean and jerk. But they are pain-free when they try to lean backwards. With that information, since they are pain-free in hyper-extension, focus on breaking down that movement pattern first. If you fix the reason why they can’t lean back pain-free usually the painful pattern is no longer painful which means they can start lifting again. Understand the principle: generally, start with patterns, then from there, break out the fancy biomechanical assessments (take courses on this as mentioned above). You’ll save lots of time, energy, and you will get your clients back to high levels of performance sooner.
I have four principles I adhere to when I work with every client:
This is the assessment.
Isolate or wake a muscle up or make it stronger. Clamshells are an example of a gluteus medius isolation exercise. My joint replacement clients right out of surgery that are cleared to exercise or begin rehab typically fall into this category of exercise.
This is when we start trying to get the brain to make the muscles work together. Side plank clamshells are a great example of this. Try them out, if they don’t make your glutes AND core burn, you probably aren’t doing them right. These are the exercises I love to give all of my clients, high-level athletes and stay at home moms alike, for parts of their warm-up.
Generally speaking, this is where most of the FMS, SFMA, DNS, PRI etc. stuff gets put, and it’s fast acting. If you don’t see improvement fast, then you can safely assume it’s not what you need to do. How fast do you ask? So fast that I usually see pain reduction, movement improvement, and performance enhancement in the first training session. In some ways, these exercises are also an assessment, because they give almost immediate feedback.
This is my favorite part of the process. After all, I’m a professional strength and conditioning coach. I’m here to get you stronger, faster, more athletic, that contract, or that six-pack. I can’t do that very well just giving you some side plank clamshells, dead bugs, and some dumbbell external rotations. I get you to your goals by making you squat heavy, picking heavy stuff up and moving fast and powerfully. This is the sexy stuff, but I wouldn’t be doing anyone any good if I skipped steps in the process and started to load dysfunction. If I did that, then injury likely can occur and then you miss more training, lose that contract, don’t get to compete, or just all around get bummed.
One final note I will say: Generally speaking, you should not load dysfunction. If you can’t squat properly, I am not putting a bar on your back until you can. Respect the process of learning and integrating proper movement patterns in your athletes and non-athletes alike—and helping guide them in that process. Learn the basics of the OPEX Assessment in this free coaching course.