Testing for, and tracking, the quality of movement aids members and clubs
“If you’re not assessing, you’re guessing.”
So says Paul Chek, a holistic health practitioner, neuromuscular therapist, corrective exercise specialist, and the founder of the C.H.E.K. Institute, based in Vista, California. His institute trains health and fitness and professionals in exercise and lifestyle coaching, corrective exercise, and high-performance kinesiology.
Chek believes that developing a training program for a client before you’ve evaluated them completely is, quite simply, a big mistake. Trainers who fail to do so may, in fact, be putting people at risk for injury.
Another highly qualified fitness professional concurs. Gray Cook is a board-certified orthopedic clinical specialist with the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), and a certified strength and conditioning specialist with the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). “You first want to get your clients to move well, and then get them to move often,” he advises.
Cook describes his philosophy clearly in his book, Movement: Functional Movement Systems: Screening, Assessment, and Corrective Strategies.
Clubs that don’t utilize some sort of assessment system are also be missing out on an opportunity to serve their members better, and, in the process, differentiate their business in their respective markets.
Although more clubs are exploring and implementing comprehensive, functional-assessment protocols, many continue to operate without them. Why?
It’s a case, on one hand, of standing at the beginning of a new learning curve, and, on the other, of lacking, until fairly recently, the necessary assessment tools. “There hasn’t been a system to help us gauge movement quality before we gauge movement quantity,” Cook points out. That, however, is beginning to change.
Cook’s solution, developed in partnership with Dr. Lee Burton, the athletic program director at Averett University, in Danville, Virginia, has been designated a functional movement screen (FMS). A seven-step testing process that can be competed in less than 15 minutes, it allows trainers to effectively identify “functional asymmetry or major limitation in functional-movement patterns.”
The assessment generates a Functional Movement Screen Score, a baseline that can be used to target problems and track subsequent progress. The system is tied to corrective exercises that can restore mechanically sound movement patterns.
FMS is now being marketed by Functional Movement Systems, Inc., in Chatham, Virginia. Practitioners learn the process at the company’s workshops or through home-study, and make use of a prepackaged kit that includes a measuring device, hurdle, and measuring stick. These products, along with an instructional DVD, are also available for purchase from Perform Better, an IHRSA associate member based in Cranston, Rhode Island.
Clubs that have introduced functional-assessment testing have discovered that it can add significant value to memberships, leading to greater brand loyalty, improved retention, and an increase in the sale of personal training services.
For Equinox Fitness, the Manhattan-based chain with 56 upscale locations in major U.S. cities, the testing has been a “game-changer.” That’s the conclusion of Geralyn Coopersmith, the national director of The Equinox Fitness Training Institute (EFTI), the company’s in-house educational arm. “I’ve been in this industry for over 20 years, and this is the single biggest paradigm shift I’ve seen in my career,” she enthuses.
She says that training clients without evaluating them first is an unfortunate example of “shooting in the dark.” She also regards it as a huge missed opportunity for clubs that have yet to get onboard. “To not do our due diligence is ridiculous,” she claims.
Equinox employs the FMS approach.
Coopersmith’s enthusiasm and conviction is based on the results she’s seen. Equinox has been conducting functional testing at select clubs for just over five years, and, this year, will make it de rigueur at all its facilities. Every member will undergo a functional screen as part of the one-hour, Equi-fit introductory evaluation.
“It’s proven an amazing sales tool,” Coopersmith reports. “In just minutes, we can give members more details about their body than they’ve ever gotten from anyone else. We’ve seen a sort of culture develop around the program—members become invested; they see their results, and are driven to improve them over time. In addition, they tend to trust their trainer more. They think, ‘This person is on a different level and really knows what they’re doing.’
“Testing has led to a clear buy-in on the client’s part.”
The numbers bear it out.
“We conducted several pilot studies to see if this sort of testing would improve our personal training figures. It did—and even more than we’d expected. In one study, we found the number of people signing up for extra training sessions increased 40%-50%. It’s truly remarkable when you realize that such a small tweak can produce such a significant difference.”
Observes Cook: “These clubs are literally operating with a much higher degree of information than their competitors. They’re differentiating and distinguishing themselves. They’ve individualized the club/client relationship and made the member feel special.”
Fitcorp, a full-service corporate chain with 12 locations in the greater Boston area, is another business that’s successfully capitalized on functional assessments. Sam Berry, the company’s director of personal training, explains that they were introduced by Fitcorp five years ago, and have recently become standard at all its facilities.
“All members are offered testing at no added cost,” says Berry, who, in addition to overseeing the training staff at each site, also maintains his own client base. “We want to ensure that everyone gets the best return on their investment.”
The results the tests produce, he points out, beget more results.
“Thanks to the data we gather, we can get members moving better nearly immediately. Often, it takes only a week for them to notice a change, and that immediacy gets them hooked,” he says. “Alternatively, weight loss, body-composition changes, and other improvements might not become visible for weeks or months, and, by then, a lot of people, having become disenchanted, will already have dropped out.”
Such outcomes are, predictably, a boon for business. “We’re seeing less attrition and more referrals,” reports Berry. Personal training revenues are also on a steady, upward trajectory.
Championing a cause
Of course, simply introducing assessments into a club isn’t a surefire recipe for success. In each case where they’re worked very well, there’s been a champion for the program. At Equinox, it’s Coopersmith, who’s been described as an “evangelical force.” At Fitcorp, it’s Berry. And, at The Toronto Athletic Club’s (TAC) Clinic for Sport Medicine, Chris Broadhurst, the clinic’s director and head athletic therapist, is the one who’s ignited and is now keeping the assessment torch burning brightly.
The TAC, a well-appointed facility located in a penthouse high atop a building in downtown Toronto, features state-of-the-art equipment, a full-service restaurant, a rehabilitative clinic, and functional testing. The system has been in use at the clinic for approximately one year, and, because of its effectiveness and popularity, has now been introduced to TAC’s main fitness floor.
“With any kind of paradigm shift, there are growing pains,” reflects Berry. “If the owners and managers understand the importance and recognize the value of a program, that understanding will trickle down.”
Broadhurst prizes functional testing not only for what it does do, but also for what it prevents—namely, injuries. Assessments can uncover a variety of problems that, otherwise, might remain hidden. Movement patterns have been steadily eroding for decades, and people have compensated for the changes more frequently and to a greater degree. Today, even fitness professionals can find it difficult to spot the subtle dysfunctions.
“Interestingly, even elite athletes can score poorly,” says Broadhurst. “It’s unexpected, but it clearly demonstrates the need for this sort of testing, because, without it, you’re putting clients at risk.” Skipping this important step is “bad for business,” he suggests, because clubs could, conceivably, wind up hurting people. “Most exercises can be good,” he says. “However, if a particular exercise isn’t a good match for a given client, it can become downright dangerous.”
Broadhurst also appreciates the fact that functional assessments allow him to test the efficacy of prescribed regimens. “In the past, we lacked a definitive way to verify whether or not an exercise was performing as expected.” Now, he and his team can retest to see if they’re on the right track. “It’s really helped us to evaluate ourselves, and that, in turn, has led to an improvement in our interpretations and recommendations.”
As far as Coopersmith is concerned, a functional-assessment program represents a clear “win-win” for all parties involved. “It’s taken me to a completely different level,” she attests, “and I think it can do the same for everyone.”