Trainer Tools

Using Assessments to Determine Phases of Training


When designing a client’s program, the phases of training provide a framework for an individualized fitness program which can be progressed safely, based on the client’s individual goals and needs. So, how do you use assessments, to select the appropriate phase and how do you work within the different phases of training to safely progress the client’s program?

Assessments are only one component of the big picture. As you determine in which phase of training to begin, there are several factors, to keep in mind, which influence the direction the program you implement.

Along with assessment outcomes, other key factors are:

  • Building trust and rapport
  • The client’s goals
  • Prescreen results (risk, health history, par-q, etc.)
  • Previous and current activity
  • Fitness level

If you are an ACE Certified personal trainer, using the ACE IFT as your program framework, as a reminder there are two components to the model, the Functional Movement and Resistance Training and the Cardiorespiratory Training component.

Establish a Baseline

Assessments establish a baseline for the client to measure progress in their program. With multiple assessments at your disposal, it is essential to select the most appropriate assessment, based on the client’s needs. This is critical to creating success in their program and for building confidence and adherence.

Once the most appropriate assessment/assessments are selected, there are few questions to ask, before choosing the phase of training. What are your observations based on the assessment protocol? What are the interpretations of that assessment? What are the results of your interpretation?

As a note, while, most clients will be open to assessments, the reality is, not all clients will be receptive. Therefore, apart from the traditional approach, to guide the program design, be prepared to perform an informal assessment. For instance, making observations on posture, movement mechanics, etc. during a complimentary workout session, may be a more viable option.

Select a Phase

After the assessment, how should you proceed? Once your evaluation is complete, select the appropriate phase.

Take note of all assessment results or outcomes along with the other factors mentioned above. This is your basis for selecting the phase of training. As an example, if your client is new to exercise, desires to lose weight and to improve endurance, then a postural and/or a movement-based and a basic cardiorespiratory assessment like the talk test, are most appropriate.

If your assessment outcomes reveal notable or obvious postural dysfunction or movement inefficiencies, and limited cardiorespiratory ability, the Mobility and Stability Phase, and Aerobic Base Phase are the most appropriate starting points. For the mobility and stability phase, the objective is to address dysfunction before adding dynamic movement or resistance training with an external load. Exercise selection should be made, based on assessment results. That is exercises for strengthening weak muscle and flexibility exercises to improve joint range of motion.

To improve cardiorespiratory endurance in the Aerobic Base phase, the client’s program objective should be to work towards completing up 20-30 minutes of continuous cardiorespiratory activity, at their current capacity. The cardiorespiratory activity selected, can be based on what the client comfortable with performing (walking or running on a treadmill, elliptical, etc.)

Determine the Duration

How long the client spends in each phase, depends on the frequency of sessions and individual improvements. Look for the specific markers of improvement before advancing to the next phase of training, by reassessing the client. Reassessment may be done formally or informally (i.e., observing them for improvements, during sessions, through the different exercises performed)

While the phases of training is a framework for programming, keep in mind that this process is not black and white and the layout is not absolute for program design. This is an integrative model. There may be situations when combining aspects of more than one phase, may be needed.

A client may begin in the mobility and stability phase; however, aspects of the movement or load training phase may be integrated. If a client exhibits efficiency in some movements or desires the addition of movement-based exercises or resistance exercises to their program, beginner exercises can be implemented, while in the mobility and stability phase.

The takeaway is, within the framework provided, use the best judgment based on the goals, needs, and capability of the client.