One of the most frustrating situations for a personal trainer is meeting a new client whose body is not physically ready to do challenging exercise, but he/she wants to lift heavy weights and do high intensity cardio training.
In my opinion, physical readiness means the following:
1. The client knows how to breathe using his/her diaphragm. Improper breathing means the diaphragm (which is an inner core muscle) is not working optimally, and therefore, the other inner core muscles, transversus abdominus, multifidi, and pelvic floor muscles will not work optimally either. These muscles must be activated to provide spinal stability and maintain a neutral lumbar spine, which is necessary for almost all exercise movements.
2. The client has no major muscular imbalances or asymmetries while walking, squatting or standing on one leg. While no one is perfectly symmetrical, significant asymmetries are usually indicative of overuse of stronger (sometimes tighter) muscles, and inhibition of weaker (sometimes over-stretched) muscles. If better balance is not achieved before heavy resistance or high intensity exercise, the imbalances will be exacerbated and become worse; therefore, setting the stage for injury.
3. The client has good (not perfect) postural alignment. Once again, perfection is impossible (and should not be the goal); however, most postural misalignment can be improved to some extent, and focusing on postural improvement should be an early goal. Poor posture is usually a result of muscular imbalances caused by activities of daily living: therefore, a review of daily activities and focusing on ways to improve movement through modifications (i.e. limiting amount of time sitting at a computer) is a necessary step toward improving exercise readiness.
Corrective exercises, which are specifically designed to help the client attain these basic exercise readiness factors, are the best way to begin an exercise program. Patience on the part of both the trainer and client need to be part of the first training sessions. Many of these exercises can be simplistic and unexciting, but the longer term benefits are immeasurable.
Once all the basics are achieved, more challenging exercises can be done safely and more effectively for better results without the risk of injury.