Update 12/22/23. The PAR-Q or Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire is a health form that helps fitness centers know who are at the highest risk of injuries from exercise. It's a series of 7 questions that quickly allows fitness centers and personal trainers to highlight people who should be seen by their doctor before they start an exercise program. It's a very important health form. But, some fitness centers don't use it. These include some of the biggest names in the fitness world. So why don't gyms use the PAR-Q form? The answer may surprise you. I'm about to tell you the dirty secret fitness centers don't want you to know. If you go to a fitness center or are about to join one, you need to know this.
What's The PAR-Q?
The Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire (PAR-Q), also called “PAR-Q And You” is a single-page health history form that lets fitness staff at a glance, see who should go to the doctor before they begin an exercise program. The PAR-Q can be used with people ages 15-69 years of age.
It's a great tool for not only personal trainers but also those who teach group exercise classes too. It's a series of test 7 questions that are designed to highlight people who have the greatest risk of health problems during exercise.
Here are the 7 questions in the Par Q:
1. Has your doctor ever said that you have a heart condition and that you should only do physical activity recommended by a doctor?
2. Do you feel pain in your chest when you do physical activity?
3. In the past month, have you had chest pain when you were not doing physical activity?
4. Do you lose your balance because of dizziness, or do you ever lose consciousness?
5. Do you have a bone or joint problem (for example, back, knee, or hip) that could be made worse by a change in your physical activity?
6. Is your doctor currently prescribing drugs (for example, water pills) for your blood pressure or heart condition?
7. Do you know of any other reason why you should not do physical activity?
Click here to download a free PDF of the PARQ Form from Florida Gulf Coast University.
The PAR-Q document is so important that it's taught to every student majoring in health and fitness. Most fitness organizations – such as ACSM, AAAI, ACE, NASM, NSCA, ISSA, WITS, etc. – include this in their textbooks.
Why don't fitness centers use it?
Here is the dirty secret the gym fitness centers don't want you to know…
Why Fitness Centers Don't Use The PAR-Q
I want to tell you about a conversation I had with a friend who used to run a well-known fitness center. I won't tell you the name of the fitness facility because I promised her I wouldn’t. Trust me when I say everybody has heard of this organization.
She told me how they used to issue a PAR-Q when new members joined. But, they stopped using it after they talked to the lawyers who told them – and I'm going to quote her here – “the less you know, the better.”
That's right. The lawyers told the gym the less they knew about their members, the better off they were from a legal perspective. They had less of a chance of a successful lawsuit if they did not know the information.
Basically, the lawyers were saying that if something ever happened – like a medical emergency – it would be harder for someone to sue a fitness center if the gym did not know about any pre-existing medical/health conditions their members might have.
I previously suspected this was happening, but this was the first time someone had actually spoken it to me.
From a legal perspective, I can understand why lawyers would say this. Nobody wants to be sued, and the lawyer's job is to protect their clients. I get that completely. But, from the standpoint of the gym members -that means you – I cannot support this policy.
While I understand fitness clubs are a business, they are also in the business of health. Part of that mission must be the health and safety of those who go to the facility. Having a policy like the one just described is like saying, “Sure, we'll take your money each month but we don't want to know anything about you; if you get hurt, you're on your own.”
When did we stop looking out for each other?
Implications For Personal Trainers
Consider this scenario: you're a personal trainer working with someone who has a serious health issue, like say, heart disease. Suppose your client has a heart attack during a training session. If you knew about the heart disease beforehand, you could, in theory, modify the training so as to reduce the risk of a heart attack occurring hopefully.
If members of those gyms had filled out the PAR-Q when they joined, they could have at least been sent to their doctor first to see if it was OK for them to start exercising. Not knowing about the health issues of gym members severely limits the ability of fitness trainers to do their job effectively.
But There Is Something Else To Consider
Let's look at this from the perspective of the personal trainer
You, the personal trainer, just witnessed your client having a heart attack. You may have had to do CPR on them or use the AED. You might be emotionally damaged by this incident. The personal trainer might even now suffer post from traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Think about it. It was a traumatic incident for you!
This scenario is very real. I lecture to thousands of people who want to be personal trainers. Some of them are already fitness trainers. Many of these people are very young. When I bring up the idea that people can die during exercise, many of them are shocked!
The owners of gyms often don't tell employees about medical emergencies or death from exercise. This is even true for the front desk staff of the gym too. Many fitness centers don't even have an emergency procedure in place, either!
Considering that many gyms hire very young/inexperienced people, I sometimes wonder about the legal options of fitness staff who get blindsided by such a scary situation they were not emotionally prepared for. The same thing goes for sexual harassment in the gym too.
I have spoken with personal trainers who have come face-to-face with people having heart attacks and strokes during exercise. But, I've never heard of any legal cases of trainers taking the fitness center to court over PTSD or other emotional trauma that resulted from those incidents.
What Is The Fitness Industry Doing About This?
Nothing. I've not heard a peep out of anyone in the fitness industry about this. Everybody talks a good game about how great the PAR-Q is but nobody wants to talk about why fitness centers don't use it. This topic has never come up at any fitness conference I've attended. Likewise, I've never seen this issue addressed in fitness trainer journals, either.
I've also never seen any fitness organization (ACSM, ACE, NSCA, NASM, WITS, etc.) tackle this. Either the fitness industry is asleep at the wheel or they are looking the other way. By not addressing this issue, they have failed fitness trainers and the American public.
Do Any Fitness Centers Use The PAR-Q?
Yes. I know some do. I distinctly remember being given the PAR-Q when I joined LA Fitness years ago. Update. I have not seen any surveys of health clubs on who uses it and who doesn't so I can't give you a list. The only way to know is to ask.
Update: when I rejoined LA Fitness in 2019 I was not issued a PAR-Q. Why? In fact, the salesman who signed me up, did not even know where the AED was located. I had to point it out to him.
What Can You Do?
I believe the PAR-Q should be standard in ALL fitness centers. If you work at a gym, ask the fitness director or owner why they are not using this valuable document to help ensure the safety of their members. Leave a comment below and tell me what they said.
If you are about to join a gym, you should be given a series of documents to complete such as a waiver. In addition, there should also be a health history form and Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire too (also called PAR-Q and You”). If you don't see either of these health forms – if the fitness salesperson just has you sign a waiver and take your money – stop and inquire why they are not asking questions about your health.
I recommend you NOT Join ANY fitness center that doesn't have you fill out a health history form and PAR-Q. Don't give them your money. They don't care about you. They only care about your money. Joining these kinds of fitness centers puts your health at risk.
Any Questions or Comments
Thanks Joe. At the top of the PAR-Q, it says “A Questionnaire for People Aged 15 to 69.” Can this form be used for individuals over 69 or is the PAR-Q + recommended in those cases?
Judy, the “regular” PARQ form also says to be used for people age 15-69. My guess is the thinking is those over age 69 should see their doctor first. That said, sometimes consulting a doctor can be a barrier to starting an exercise program. I looked into this for you. I found a paper from the ACSM (PDF document) that sais if the PAR Q says they are ok then it’s ok to start an exercise program slowly
Thanks Joe. The page was not found, and I can’t find a relevant page when I search the resource library.
Here is a link to the PAR-Q + that further breaks down the questions if someone answers “yes” to any of the PAR-Q.
(page not found) This is what the Cooperative Extension Offices (Penn State and others) give to participants for the LIFT program. I suppose I could use this for the class.
Along similar lines, this article goes over the PAR-Q and physician follow up. https://hfjc.library.ubc.ca/index.php/HFJC/article/view/270
Interesting that none of the Zumba Gold instructors I have spoken to use the PAR-Q, even though the Zumba training recommends it.
Judy, I emailed you the ACSM doc that did not show up here. You have it now. Thanks for that link to HFJC library! So interesting Zumba Gold recommends using PARQ and yet gyms don’t require them to use it in their Zumba classes. Have you asked them why they don’t use it?
Hi Joe, your link to the PAR-Q goes to a URL that is “not found.”
Would you use the PAR-Q in any situation, even if you are teaching small group fitness classes as an independent contractor?
Hi Judy, I just fixed the link. Thanks for bringing this to my attention! I think the PARQ is helpful in small group settings where people can just drop in and you don’t know anything about them.
Thanks Joe. I have an opportunity for small group training for seniors in apartments, and I spoke to the director about the PAR-Q. She’s alright with me presenting it to them. I have the basic one pager as well as the PAR-Q +.
I’m also going to be teaching a strength building program for the Cooperative Extension, and they have used the PAR-Q +. Matter of Balance (MLH and COSA) use the shortened PAR-Q.
Judy, that is great! I did not know there was a short version of the PAR-Q! I looked it up. I like it. It has the same 7 questions but its more user-friendly looking.
I like it!
You’ve got a typo in the last paragraph- should say “I DO NOT recommend you join…” Feel free to delete my comment once you edit it! just thought you should know 🙂
Hi Chelsea, thanks so much! I fixed it. I made it all the way to the last paragraph! I’m getting better 🙂