5 Common Assessment Mistakes

 By: Eric Cressey


Assessments are a hot topic nowadays, and rightfully so: they’re essential to creating a safe and effective training program and environment.  However, it goes without saying that not all assessments are created equal, and you can quickly go wrong with them in spite of noble intentions.  With that in mind, in today’s article, I wanted to highlight some of the most common mistakes I see in the fitness industry with respect to assessment.


Mistake #1: Not making an assessment specific to an individual.

It’s silly to do a VO2max test on a powerlifter, just like it’d be silly (and absurdly dangerous) to do a one-rep max squat assessment on a post-rehab hip replacement client.  At the end of the day, people need to realize that an assessment is in place to give you the information you need to write an effective program and learn which coaching cues will work best for that individual.  It’s not just in place so that you can say you did an assessment!


Mistake #2: Going overboard with assessment.

I think many trainers make the mistake of allowing the assessment to last far too long.  I’m amazed that there are people who spend in excess of an hour assessing a new client; if it takes you that long, then you need a more efficient assessment approach!  Additionally, every minute you spend assessing is a minute that you aren’t training clients and getting them closer to their goals.  At Cressey Performance, we prefer to get through the assessment in 15-20 minutes so that we can get to work at the task at hand sooner than later.


Mistake #3: Allowing an assessment to create a wall between the trainer/coach and the client.

I think some people need to put a different spin on how they use their assessments.  It should be something that educates and motivates new clients on how much you’re going to help them, not something that brings them down a peg as you point out everything that is wrong with them.  An assessment should not put up a wall between you and a client; it should help to create a bond based on your willingness and ability to help that individual.


Mistake #4: Mistaking joint hypermobility for good movement.

People with joint hypermobility (“loose joints”) will blow your mind with their overhead squats, shoulder mobility scores, and table range-of-motion measures.  Unfortunately, the excessive ROM that makes them look good on these tests is actually what predisposes them to a number of musculoskeletal issues, ranging from ankle sprains, to stress fractures, to hernias, to shoulder subluxations, to early osteoarthritis.  Also, these folks are more likely to have detached retinas and gastrointestinal reflux disorder (and a host of other issues), because collagen deficiency affects not just skeletal muscles, tendons, and ligaments, but also visceral organs (smooth muscle), skin, blood vessels, and the tissues of the eye.

The issue is that just because it looks good doesn’t mean it is good, as they may be “hanging out” on passive restraints at the end range of a joint. Uncontrolled ROM is more of an injury predisposition than a positive trait, so make sure your assessments test stability, not just mobility.


Mistake #5: Looking distal without looking proximal.

I’m a firm believer in starting at the middle of the body (proximally) with my assessment, so I always start by looking at core positioning. I don’t look at the arms, legs, or neck/head until I’ve evaluated the positioning of the lumbar spine (lower back) and rib cage.  In many cases, faulty core positioning can create excessive tone/stiffness elsewhere as a protective tension.

Interestingly, research has shown that just working on core stability can improve hip internal rotation without even stretching the hip into these new ranges of motion.  We can see similar changes to shoulder range of motion with various positional breathing drills, too.

Control for what’s going on proximally and folks often wind up looking better distally, believe it or not!

Both joint hypermobility considerations and this proximal-to-distal approach are heavily emphasized in my new resource, The High Performance Handbook, in the assessment portions, programs, and detailed exercise technique videos.

PS – Regardless of whether you’re looking for some direction in your own training or in your work with clients, this will be a valuable resource to which you’ll refer for years to come.  It’s on sale at a great introductory price through the end of the week; you can get it here.