By Pete Mccall
Starting a new habit can be challenging, especially when it comes to exercise. From joining a fitness facility to showing up for the first appointment, there are so many steps for beginning a fitness program that it can be overwhelming to take the first one.
Anything that you can do to help a client start exercising as soon as possible by removing obstacles could be seen as a good thing. However, there is one crucial step that we should never overlook: a basic health screen, which is where the Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire (PAR-Q) comes in.
Let’s look at just how powerful the PAR-Q can be as a personal training tool!
WHAT IS THE PHYSICAL ACTIVITY READINESS QUESTIONNAIRE (PAR-Q)?
The PAR-Q contains the following seven questions, which are an essential screen for identifying any pre-existing health conditions:
1. Has your doctor ever said that you have a heart condition and that you should only perform physical activity recommended by a doctor?
2. Do you feel pain in your chest when you perform physical activity?
3. In the past month, have you had chest pain when you were not performing any physical activity?
4. Do you lose your balance because of dizziness, or do you ever lose consciousness?
5. Do you have a bone or joint problem that could be made worse by a change in your physical activity?
6. Is your doctor currently prescribing any medication for your blood pressure or a heart condition?
7. Do you know of any other reason why you should not engage in physical activity?
These seven questions can help raise a client’s awareness about how his or her body might respond to exercise. The purpose of the PAR-Q, therefore, is to determine whether a client should have a complete medical evaluation before participating in vigorous or strenuous exercise.
The PAR-Q is entirely subjective and based only on the information a client provides as opposed to objective measurements like height, weight, or age.
WHY YOU SHOULD USE THE PAR-Q WITH YOUR CLIENTS
You should use the PAR-Q with your personal training clients because it can identify pre-existing medical conditions that might be aggravated by an increase in physical activity – specifically consistent exercise. This makes it an integral part of the onboarding process with new clients.
It can be intimidating to ask a client questions about his or her personal health history. The PAR-Q is a great way to break the ice and get an important health assessment in place. Really, the PAR-Q is a must use-tool for all (even first!) clients.
There is a reason why all NASM Certified Personal Trainers are required to be CPR/AED certified. They must know how to respond to a situation where an individual could have a heart attack as the result of exercise, making the PAR-Q a necessary screen to reduce the risk of that occurring.
With that being said, the PAR-Q is not an extensive medical history. Yet, the seven questions could identify whether an individual may have a pre-existing health condition that should be addressed by a medical professional before beginning an exercise program. A complete medical history can help you to fully understand a client’s specific needs.
THE LIMITATIONS OF THE PAR-Q
The PAR-Q cannot identify a specific pre-existing health condition nor determine why it may exist. It is merely designed to screen whether or not an individual faces a health risk for increasing his or her level of physical activity and should receive advice from a medical professional before beginning an exercise program.
Many clients may think, “it’s the only exercise, I can do it.” But if they have not exercised for an extended period, their body may not be able to handle the increased stress of starting an exercise program. These questions can help identify whether a more thorough exam is necessary.
However, reviewing one can be a lengthy process and create a barrier for starting an exercise program. The membership agreements and guest forms of most fitness facilities include these seven questions, so many clients have seen them before meeting you.
Meeting with a client is the opportunity to ask them again to ensure it is safe for him or her to begin exercising. If a client answers yes, he or she should see a medical professional or sign a waiver indicating they have been informed of an increased risk of exercise and should seek medical consultation.
HOW THE PAR-Q CAN PROTECT YOU FROM TRAINING LIABILITY
The PAR-Q can be used to help protect your personal liability. Every state has different liability laws, and it is essential to consult an attorney to get specific answers for the state in which you work.
In general, if the client fails to disclose a prior heart condition and experiences an issue when exercising with you, it could reduce your liability.
Finally, if you fail to use the PAR-Q with a client and he or she experiences a medical issue, it could be your fault for not conducting a proper screening before exercise.
HOW THE ASSESSMENT CAN HELP YOU ESTABLISH PROFESSIONALISM WITH CLIENTS
An important function of a personal trainer is to help clients remove any barriers or overcome any obstacles that could keep them from experiencing the benefits of exercise. However, the PAR-Q is a tool that could save a client’s life and is not a step that you should remove from the process of starting an exercise program.
Besides ensuring that a client can safely begin an exercise program, a critical benefit of using the PAR-Q is that it helps a personal trainer establish professionalism with the skillset to help a client change his or her life through exercise.
IMPORTANT THINGS TO CONSIDER ABOUT THE PAR-Q
To recap, the Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire is composed of 7 questions for determining if your client is healthy enough to exercise. Because most clients don’t realize that exercise is physical stress, it is important to not skip the PAR-Q.
Stress increases levels of certain neurotransmitters and hormones like epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol that help to elevate the heart rate. A pre-existing medical issue like coronary artery disease could be fatal as the result of a sudden increase in heart rate.
Although the PAR-Q does not (and should not!) take the place of a comprehensive health exam by a medical professional, it can be the all-important first step for preventing a major health issue for your clients.