Assessing for Retention
Richard J. Bloomer
Each New Year, thousands of individuals begin a fitness program as part of their "resolution." Unfortunately, the majority of these individuals fail to continue with their program beyond the initial six to eight weeks. This may be due to lack of success in achieving their goals, which can be associated with not having measurable variables to assess actual progress. Most individuals focus exclusively on body weight/body fat as their indicators of success. Yet, while some members, indeed, experience a rapid and significant decrease in these variables, which can improve training interest and motivation, others do not. And these individuals are often frustrated by their lack of progress and give up.
While a change in body weight/body fat may be most important for many people, it is certainly not the only variable on which members should focus. Trainers should educate members about other important health and performance variables that can serve as indicators of program success, and should be included as part of an ongoing assessment plan. These assessments should be performed on an individual basis, depending on member needs and desire for improvement.
Member retention often depends on member success in achieving their fitness goals. Having more than one measurable goal increases the chance of overall success and compliance with any given fitness program. Following are other ways that fitness and health can be measured to show clients and members that their programs are working.
Cardiovascular markersLowering resting heart rate and blood pressure, as well as the heart rate and blood pressure in response to submaximal exercise, are favorable adaptations to regular exercise training. However, many members and trainers put little emphasis on these variables. Consider measuring a true resting heart rate and blood pressure (preferably with the member in a seated position and rested for five to 10 minutes). In addition, measure members' heart rate and blood pressure at different submaximal workloads during exercise. Lastly, measure their one-minute recovery heart rate following a standard exercise challenge. A lower resting and exercise heart rate and blood pressure, and more rapid heart rate recovery following exercise, generally suggest an improvement in cardiovascular health.
Blood markers of healthBlood markers include fasting cholesterol, triglycerides and glucose. For diabetic members, testing should include hemoglobin A1C (glycosylated Hb). It is well known that regular exercise can favorably alter these important biomarkers. In addition, regular exercise can help to prevent the oxidation (damage) of cholesterol and glucose, which commonly leads to promotion of atherosclerosis (arterial plaque formation). Members can be referred to their physicians or local clinical labs to conduct these routine tests. Upon completion of testing, they can bring test results to the fitness center for inclusion in their records. A certified and qualified trainer should know how to interpret these labs, as familiarity with this information is a requirement for all reputable certifying organizations. An alternative would be to use one of the automated chemistry analyzers (e.g., Cholestek), which can be purchased relatively inexpensively, with testing conducted by a trained staff member (only a finger prick of blood is needed for full testing capabilities). These parameters provide important data related to overall health, and can be easily included as a component of the assessment plan.
Sport-specific skillsSport-specific skills may include a wide variety of activities, such as shooting baskets, rope skipping, rock climbing, kickboxing, running, swimming, etc. Having an athletic-skill-related goal rather than simply focusing on "getting fit" or "losing weight" certainly makes regular exercise more enjoyable and rewarding for both members and trainers. It also allows members to develop a sense of mastery, which may be equally as rewarding as developing an aesthetically pleasing physique.
Balance and coordinationBalance and coordination are routinely overlooked when developing a fitness program, yet both are of vital importance. They may assist in the improvement of many sport-specific skills and activities of daily living. Consider such tools as exercise balls, balance beams, wobble boards and step boxes, while having members perform both bilateral and unilateral exercises, using both upper- and lower-body movements (with eyes open and eyes closed). Consider timing members in an attempt to measure their ability to perform these tasks. Also consider having them perform traditional weight-training exercises while incorporating balance drills into the movement. Doing so can make exercise more enjoyable and challenging for members. In addition, consider using agility and speed drills, which can easily be set up in any group exercise studio using cones, step boxes, etc. Be creative and challenge members with these tasks.
Range of motionMany members perform stretching exercises as a component of their workout, but trainers should consider placing greater emphasis on this aspect of members' fitness plans, as almost all individuals can improve a good deal in this regard. This may be accomplished by getting members involved in a class targeted at improving flexibility (e.g., yoga, Pilates), or simply designing a detailed stretching program to perform at the conclusion of their workouts. Set measurable goals for range of motion, as would be done for other variables. Range of motion in all major joints can be measured by a qualified fitness instructor with the aid of a goniometer.
Aerobic power and enduranceMaximal oxygen uptake (VO2max) is the best measure of aerobic power. Ideally, direct measurements of oxygen uptake are obtained during a maximal graded exercise test; however, you may also use submaximal tests to estimate members' VO2max. This can be done using a variety of laboratory and "field" tests. Two of the easiest tests to administer are the Rockport 1-mile walk test and the 1.5-mile run test. Various equations for estimated VO2max can be found online for these tests, or you can simply record both the time taken to complete the tests and members' heart rate at the conclusion of the test. These numbers can be compared upon serial assessment in order to determine overall improvement. This is an excellent way to estimate aerobic capacity in situations where direct measurement of expired gases is not feasible.
Muscular strength, endurance and powerTry the following assessments to determine members' fitness levels in these areas. Strength: Choose a variety of exercises and assess members' one-repetition maximum. Endurance: Choose any exercise and have members perform as many repetitions as possible until they reach a point of momentary muscular failure. Make certain they use proper form, including a slow and controlled tempo (e.g., two seconds up, two seconds down). Power: Have members perform a standing vertical jump test and measure the height of their jump. Alternatively, or in addition to the jump test, have members perform a sprint test on an appropriate surface. Calculate their muscular power using this equation:
Power = (Force x Distance)/Time
Body Weight (force) = 60 kg
Distance running = 100 meters
Time = 15 seconds
Power = (60 kg x 100 meters)/20 seconds = 400 kg-m/sec
Improved moodSeveral pencil and paper tests of psychological state and overall mood can be used to determine the effect of members' exercise programs on their overall mood (e.g., profile of mood states or POMS). These tests are easy to administer and provide information unrelated to physical attributes gained from the exercise program. For many members, improvement in overall mood is as important as or more important than any other variable. Although these types of assessments are routinely offered in exercise-related research studies, they are rarely considered in fitness settings. Adopt such assessments with members who you believe would benefit from these measures.
Exercise complianceOnce a member commits to a certain training schedule (or dietary intake), measure compliance. This may include a simplistic assessment of the percentage of program adherence. For example, if a member decides that they will exercise four days per week over the course of the next 10 weeks (40 sessions), and they actually complete 35 sessions, their overall compliance would be 87.5 percent. This is an excellent method to assess progress in many members who may have, in the past, neglected their training for one reason or another.
Final thoughtsWhen putting together an assessment plan for members, it is important to consider multiple variables. In this way, members have several opportunities for success. While loss of body weight/body fat is certainly important, and should be included as a component of the overall assessment plan, many members find extreme difficulty achieving success in these areas. If so, retention to exercise training may be poor. Inclusion of several other health- and fitness-related endpoints may improve member adherence and retention to training, and, hence, improve the overall long-term benefits of regular exercise.
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