The importance of properly evaluating an athlete prior to participating in a strength and conditioning program cannot be understated. Identifying your athletes’ strengths, weaknesses and chances of injury should be the first items on the menu for any strength coach or personal trainer.   To determine the best program to implement with your athletes or clients, we must first thoroughly evaluate them.

Identifying a risk of injury

The number one goal of any strength coach is to decrease the chance of injury on the team or the athlete they are training. In the original waiver form and PAR-Q (physical activity readiness questionnaire), there should be a section that lists previous injuries the athlete has suffered. This is the first item we must take into account prior to making the decision of how to evaluate the athlete. For instance, if an athlete mentions a past injury to the knee, the first test we will implement will be a functional movement screen or a Hop and Stop test to identify any weakness, dysfunction or compensation within their movement patterns. This will educate the athlete as to their own weaknesses thus empowering them to learn how to take care of their own body as well as help us determine if the athlete is able to participate in the strength and conditioning program or needs to be referred to an orthopedic.

These evaluations will help us prevent injury by giving us feedback on the athlete’s level of functional strength and help us prepare a program that will improve performance without putting the athletes at risk of injury. These tests will also help give us hard data to use when evaluating them in the future when attempting to measure results.

Identifying the culprit of poor performance
Athletes and parents of athletes will come in to Athlete’s Arena and say, “We need to sign my kid up for your speed and agility classes! He needs to get faster and quicker”. My initial response is, “You are correct, he or she does need to get quicker and faster but the class may not be the answer”.

Let me explain! Poor agility and speed is usually a symptom of another issue within the body. The athletes may not be strong enough (functionally) to become faster and quicker. There may also be an imbalance within the athlete’s posture (static or dynamic) that will lead to not only improper movement patterns but pain as well.  Many times implementing speed and agility exercises at full speed with out focusing on functional strength and movement exercises first will just add to any improper patterns the athlete has brought to the table.

Functional strength and power production test will help us identify the culprit of poor performance. Many times an athlete is not strong or powerful enough to be fast, quick or reverse direction. Thus we must implement a program focusing on improving strength and power. You see, a weak athlete will not improve speed without improving strength and power first. On the other hand we have had athletes come to us with the same goal, tested great in power production and functional strength test which showed us there is plenty of horse power in the engine. Our goal in his or her program would be to implement a program that would focus on improving proper movement patterns and technique in skills specific to the demands of their sports.

If it were not for our initial evaluation, we would waste a lot of time, the paying client’s money as well as delay results within our athlete. We would also not have any hard data to compare results to. Evaluations are the ultimate starting point we refer to, to determine the clients’ progress.

Identifying proper intensity and modes of training

Research has shown that the two words that attract athletes to performance program are “speed” and “plyometrics”. Oddly enough, the two most dangerous aspects of training when implemented prematurely are speed and plyometrics. Evaluating the athlete’s current strength level is important to determine the level and intensity of the training program. Implementing a plyometric program or focusing on speed to early will lead to injury, improper movement patterns, overtraining and poor training response.

Traditional training programs for athletes involve compound, multi-joint movements that improve full body strength, power and coordination as well as increasing bone density and decreasing chance of injury. While all these are necessary, we must first identify and implement proper progressions within these movements and determine “prerequisites” the athlete must achieve prior to participating in a progressive strength and performance program. We have had many athletes bring us programs they have copied from the internet or found in a magazine that they were not ready to participate in and in result hurt themselves because they were never  properly progressed through basic movements or were never evaluated to determine if they were ready for that level program.

Evaluating your athlete is essential prior to implementing any strength and conditioning program. Whether you are a personal trainer, a strength coach or just looking to help your son or daughter, a proper evaluation will help keep your athlete safe and progress through their sports career safely with sound results within their strength and conditioning program. At the private level, our clients come to us and purchase a “promise” that their son or daughter will improve; a proper evaluation will help us show an improvement between pre and post testing thus justifying our program and giving our client quantitative results.