When you sign up to work with a personal trainer, or running coach, or even join a new gym, there is a good chance that you will be asked to fill out various paperwork.
In addition to the basic intake forms that capture your demographics, training background, and current fitness goals, another mainstay form that you will find in intake paperwork for fitness programs is the PAR-Q.
In this article, we will discuss what the PAR-Q form entails, when and why you may be asked to fill one out, and how to fill out the PAR-Q for exercise.
We will cover the following:
- What Is a PAR-Q?
- What Is the Purpose of the PAR-Q?
- What Questions Are On the PAR-Q?
- How Are My Answers to the PAR-Q Form Questions Used?
- Is the PAR-Q A Helpful Tool?
Let’s jump in!
What Is a PAR-Q?
The PAR-Q is a standardized form that adults fill out prior to beginning a physical activity or exercise program or when switching training programs or gyms.
PAR-Q stands for Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire. As such, the PAR-Q form includes some basic screening questions to assess an individual’s safety and readiness to begin physical activity.
The answers to the yes or no questions on the PAR-Q will inform the personal trainer, strength coach, gym staff, or other administrators if the individual has a low risk for participating in physical activity (and is thus cleared to begin after signing a waiver) or if further medical evaluation and clearance is necessary before doing so.
You may also be asked to fill out the Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire prior to doing a fitness test like the Bruce Protocol treadmill test or a VO2 max test.
Unlike objective measurements like body weight, height, blood pressure, or metrics such as age, the answers to the PAR-Q are considered subjective because they are provided by the client rather than directly measured or observed by the coach, trainer, or fitness professional.This form was created by the British Columbia Ministry of Health and the Multidisciplinary Board on Exercise.
This form has now been endorsed by nearly all major fitness organizations, such as the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), and the American Council for Exercise (ACE).
What Is the Purpose of the PAR-Q?
Essentially, as a Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire, it is a basic screening form to identify any pre-existing health conditions that may potentially increase your risk of exercising.
Therefore, the overall purpose of the PAR-Q form is to determine whether you should have a complete medical evaluation for further testing and to obtain medical clearance before participating in vigorous or strenuous exercise.
Filling out this form can also help alert you of potential risks of vigorous exercise to help bring your awareness to underlying health conditions that may need to be addressed and/or how they may affect your body during exercise.
We often hear about how wonderful exercise is for the body and all of the many physical and mental health benefits of being physically active.
While all of this is true, there is some inherent risk to vigorous or strenuous exercise, particularly for those with pre-existing health conditions.
Filling out the PAR-Q form helps bring that awareness to a beginner or someone who has been inactive for some time so that appropriate precautions or safeguards can be put into place or further medical evaluation can be implemented to help mitigate some of these risks.
Plus, even if nothing can be done about some of the risks you may have, you deserve to understand the potential risks and what you may feel in your body due to your pre-existing medical conditions when you exercise before you do so.
Physical activity, especially if strenuous or if you are deconditioned, can aggravate various underlying health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, rheumatological conditions, etc.
What Questions Are On the PAR-Q Form?
The standard PAR-Q form contains seven questions that are specifically chosen to help screen an individual prior to beginning a physical activity program in order to identify any pre-existing health conditions.
Each question requires a “yes“ or “no“ response with a space at the bottom of the form to elaborate on “no“ answers, if applicable.
Here are the questions:
- Has your doctor ever said that you have a heart condition and that you should only perform physical activity recommended by a doctor?
- Do you feel pain in your chest when you perform physical activity?
- In the past month, have you had chest pain when you were not performing any physical activity?
- Do you lose your balance because of dizziness, or do you ever lose consciousness?
- Do you have a bone or joint problem that could be made worse by a change in your physical activity?
- Is your doctor currently prescribing any medication for your blood pressure or a heart condition?
- Do you know of any other reason why you should not engage in physical activity?
How Are My Answers to the PAR-Q Form Questions Used?
So, how are your answers to this form used?
Remember, the goal of the PAR-Q is to help stratify your relative risk for engaging in strenuous exercise, so the answers are used to evaluate this risk.
Basically, if you answer “yes” to any of the seven questions, you are then asked to fill out the PAR-Q+ form.
The PAR-Q+ includes ten follow-up questions that are more in-depth than the basic screening questions. These physical readiness questionnaire questions ask about whether you have specific health conditions, such as osteoarthritis, heart disease, or cancer.
If you then answer “yes” to any of the 10 PAR-Q+ questions, you will need to get a medical evaluation and clearance from your doctor before doing a fitness test or engaging in a vigorous exercise training program.
On the other hand, if you answer “no” to all of the regular questions (and potentially the PAR-Q+ follow-up questions), you should be safe to begin exercise training with a low risk of any adverse events.
However, even if you are cleared to exercise via the PAR-Q if you have other concerns that you’d like to discuss with your physician first, you should still feel comfortable doing that before doing a fitness test or starting training.
Is the PAR-Q A Helpful Tool?
The PAR-Q is an integral part of the intake process for new clients when working with a personal trainer or coach.
It can help protect the personal liability of the trainer or coach who is planning to work with the client.
Failing to have a client complete the official PAR-Q form as part of the intake appointment and evaluation opens the door for potential liability issues should the client experience an adverse health event while training.
As a physical activity readiness questionnaire, the PAR-Q is helpful in that it is very brief and to the point, saving time relative to filling out long, extensive medical history forms.
This is beneficial for healthy clients and fitness professionals who want to streamline the intake process and get started training as soon as possible.
With that said, while the PAR-Q does serve its purpose as a quick, baseline screening assessment to identify risks, it is not a thorough medical history, nor does it provide objective information.
This can be problematic for the personal trainer or fitness coach because they are relying on the client, to be honest and forthcoming about pre-existing medical conditions.
It is just as easy to circle “no” even if the client does indeed have one of the issues addressed in the seven questions on the PAR-Q form.
Although any fitness professional hopes that prospective clients are truthful when filling out the PAR-Q, there is no way to ensure that this is indeed the case.
From the perspective of the client, the PAR-Q form can be helpful in terms of raising awareness of pre-existing medical conditions that may affect the safety and experience of engaging in vigorous exercise.
However, not all clients are particularly attuned to their medical history, and just because you answer “no“ on every question and do not have any pre-existing medical conditions does not guarantee that you will not experience adverse problems when exercising.