Fitness: Readiness Assessment & Setting Priorities

My biggest concern as a personal trainer was always the safety of my clients – both physically and medically. Over the years a common theme emerged with each new client relationship that I developed and that was how unprepared people were to really engage in a significant training program and what skills and knowledge they would be required to develop for success. Physicians were often unprepared to advise their patients on what to do, how to proceed, or what limitations and issues needed to be acknowledged by their patients before engaging a trainer to help them “get to the next level”.

Often the people I interviewed were unaware of the impact of medications they were on and the physical issues that represented real risk. I had to “uncover” what I could in my interviews so that I could safely help them move forward and very often I had to ask them to “check in” again with their doctors with questions that I needed answered. It is in this spirit that I share with you my concerns and thoughts about starting and implementing a fitness program so that we can all agree that safety MUST always come first – and that we “look out” for ourselves in order to safely succeed. It is all about establishing proper priorities and finding a path to keeping them alive.

Readiness Assessment

Medical evaluations are a must if you have not been active for the past year or are over forty (probably 30 to be safe). If you have any significant medical issues that required intervention and treatment – surgeries, illnesses, injuries that required treatment, or any family history of heart disease and stroke etc., it is important to get clearance before proceeding. It is always advisable to receive a physical and get clearance before starting a fitness program if there is any doubt about your readiness to exercise.

Many fitness facilities have gotten less rigorous on requiring a medical clearance from physicians for their members. As a result I have seen people of all ages with all manner of challenges navigating the gym alone with no supervision. I see this every day in my facility and it concerns me deeply. There are people getting out of their cars who can barely walk upright going into the gym unsupervised and the staff barely notices. I find examples such as these to be unacceptable and totally wrong. I believe if you need help then ASK for it.

12 Readiness Red Flags

I have decided to share 12 important questions with you that most of us need to answer in order to properly prepare for starting a fitness program. Each one is potentially a “red flag” question and if you answer “yes” to any of them it is wise to check in with a doctor before proceeding:red-flag-908686_960_720

  1. Have you ever been told that you have a heart problem?
  2. Has your doctor ever told you that you have high blood pressure?
  3. Has your doctor ever told you that you have elevated cholesterol?
  4. Have you ever had chest pains?
  5. Have you ever experienced dizziness or fainting?
  6. Has your doctor ever told you that you have diabetes mellitus?
  7. Do you have any bone or joint problems?
  8. Do you smoke?
  9. Have been sedentary and are over 40?
  10. Are you currently taking prescription medications?
  11. Do you have a family history of coronary heart disease?
  12. Has your doctor ever told you that there is a physical reason why you should not exercise?

If you answer yes to any of these questions, DO consult a physician before beginning an exercise program and be sure to find out what limitations and or cautions you need to be aware of so that your program is safe and effective – and meets your needs and goals. Fitness professionals MUST address these and other issues before proceeding. Unfortunately, I see a lack of effort every day at my club and it concerns me because lives could be at stake. This is why I am emphasizing this information up front here in this article to ensure that you know that it is always “better to be safe than sorry” and that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”!Nick

Prioritizing and Accepting your Limitations

There are 7 keys to fitness:

  1. power
  2. speed
  3. quickness
  4. strength
  5. endurance
  6. balance
  7. flexibility

These keys form the foundation for fitness success because where you find your weakest link you will find your “point of access” on how to proceed – and your first priority. Setting proper priorities and knowing your limitations is important for positive growth and change to occur in your body. Many older clients that I trained had balance and strength issues so I was constantly reminded to ensure that significant training time was dedicated to specific exercises and balance drills that would improve those two aspects of their fitness profiles.

Let me highlight for you some of the keys to identifying priorities that make sense and how to work with limitations that might have hindered in the past. First, remember performance. What are you trying to achieve? Walk around the block or walk five miles? Climb stairs without pain or prepare to climb a mountain? Ride a bike around the neighborhood or compete in a 100 mile bike race? These and other examples can guide you to decide just what you want to achieve through your training.

How I learned to prioritise in my evolving landscape

My example is probably one that can resonate with you and is easier for me to explain to you because I have been evolving my program over decades.

In the 60’s, I ran for stress relief in college. I was far from home and had no car so I started a running program. It became a part of my routine and then in my last 3 years of college I trained with the Syracuse University varsity football team because they befriended me as a result of my commitment to learning how to lift weights and become stronger. I guess they respected my desire and I appreciated their help. I made some good friends and learned a lot of the principles I still use to this day in my own weight training program – over more than half a century.

In the 70’s, I ran because I didn’t belong to a gym and had no other specific goals in mind other than occasionally entering a 5 or 10 Km race. I loved the freedom running gave me so I ran on the roads and occasionally at high school tracks. I still remember running at Westminster High School in LA, taking my daughter Lisa in her stroller and parking her on the side of the track. I would run around the track and she would cry when I left her and stop when I came around again. It is memory I will always carry.

In the 80’s, I joined my first gym and found weightlifting again but this time with machines. I continued running to help with my stress levels (which were very high because of a number of personal problems). Exercise had become about survival. I probably could have died of a stroke or heart attack or some other catastrophe if I had not “worked out” so hard. I was not training at all – just surviving.

In the 90’s, I started working with clients in their homes as a REAL personal trainer and even though my life was still unsettled, I remained committed to my own health and fitness needs. I started a journey which would last more than two decades consisting of living and being alone. In the 90s, the stress was to learn to be a good role model for my clients. This challenge entailed changes that were being implemented sometimes thoughtfully but also at times just by pure “guesswork”. It is thanks to this constant effort to inspire others that I realised I was valuable: I ran and lifted weights and felt physically and mentally stronger. But I still needed to find my life purpose. This is the toughest part about life: there is no readily discernable path you can identify and that adds mores stress to life.

By the 2000’s, I begun a new chapter in my life because I HAD survived. It suddenly became very clear to me that I had maintained a high level of fitness for a reason – to get to this point in time so I could finally share what I had learned and help people NOT make the mistakes I had made. I found my direction in wanting to inspire people of all ages to carry their lives forward with INTENTION and PURPOSE because it is through finding your true purpose that life opens up for each of us. Therefore, I begun to write my first book, Healthy Aging & You ( with the intention of showing people that there is a better way of living. Learning about yourself is the greatest gift you can give yourself because it’s through learning who we ARE that we become free. This is the REAL gift of the fitness life – we get to LIVE our life!

Shakespeare said it best: “To thine own self be true”.

Setting priorities

I am writing this to you – my reader – to let you know that there is a light at the end of what seems like an endless tunnel and there is NO train coming at you. I believe in prioritizing daily because “change is the only constant in the natural order” – remember from my last article? Nothing ever stays the same in life and our bodies are aging – whether we train them or not. What I did for my body and mind over the last 50 plus years was to give myself a chance to find out WHO I am and WHY I am here. You can too and there is no time like the present to START!

Now my priorities are simple and I repeat them every day. I pray and meditate up to an hour (when I feel the need), I train my body for up to two hours each day for strength, power, speed, balance, flexibility, endurance and quickness/agility. Finally, I eat as best as I can – with treats of course – and drink water, 1% milk, and enjoy my occasional A & W Diet Root Beer and of course orange juice. Mind, body and spirit are my focus now in order to help life be better than I found it and the purpose behind these activities is the deep desire to help people live more fulfilling and healthy lives.

Modern life is full of distractions: the more we welcome technology in our life, the more difficult it will become to find the “space” for some quiet time. I can honestly share with you that I am not ever going to be “tied” to technology because I value my “me” time and the places where I can access peace and harmony – and that is within me. My advice? Don’t take my word for it – try it! Spend time asking yourself:
“What do I want my life to become?”
“Am I willing to put the effort into whatever activities will enable me to get where I want to be?”

Only you can answer these questions but they are well worth asking!

Tips from your coach Nick

  1. Take time to reflect on your priorities, devise a plan that will allow you to address your most important needs and schedule it. Life is precious – don’t let a day pass without THOUGHT!
  2. Take your physical, emotional and spiritual needs seriously and make sure you DO something each day to support them.
  3. Identify “stress points” in your life and find ways to alleviate their negative impact on your life. Unresolved anger, hate, resentment and bitterness etc…have a way of harming our health – and our bodies. DEAL with them!
  4. Get up and MOVE – sitting is literally killing us. Researchers say we are literally “sitting our way to an early death”.
  5. If you have bad habits that need changing – taking drugs, smoking, judging others harshly, being vindictive or hateful (there is a lot of that going around these days) – make a point to “change your ways”. Don’t be a victim of circumstances but the “agent for change in the world.”
  6. This is my priority every day – “to be the example of the change I wish to see in the world”. When I am lifting weights, running or otherwise thinking about my role in the world, I am activating my subconscious mind to help me evolve into the human being I wish to become. I am a “work in progress” and will always be adapting and changing to insure I am being the “guide and coach” that will be my most influential and inspiring.
  7. Finally, take time to express your love to those who love you and remember “today is all you have: so make the very best of it!”

To read my previous tips, click here or if I can help you with any fitness questions, leave a message in the box at the bottom of this page and I’ll get back to you.