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An Undereducated and Unregulated Workforce

The major problem with the current fitness system is that even though there are numerous college degrees relating to fitness that can be obtained, the people that have these degrees represent less than 5% of the entire fitness work force. So who is teaching the public about fitness? Lots of undereducated people. The majority of these people are unqualified personal trainers. The truth is that unlike the “Health” industry, there is absolutely no governing body or organization in the “Fitness” industry. It is essentially a “free for all.” Any one can and does call themselves a personal trainer. What qualifications do they need to do so? None. While different persons or institutions may have their own qualifications or standards, there is no set guideline that everyone must adhere to. If my 95 year old grandmother wanted to, she could open a gym tomorrow, call herself a personal trainer, and start teaching her members that they have 3 shoulders, their abdominals are located on their legs, and that everyone has to do 1000 push-ups a day. It sounds ridiculous, but there is absolutely no one that can prevent her from doing this. While probably not to this degree, these types of things are going on in thousands of health clubs, and with thousands of personal trainers all over.

There are personal trainer certifications that can be obtained, but of the dozens of certifying institutions, most of them should be considered a joke. Just as anyone can call them selves a personal trainer, as long as proper business procedures are followed, any organization can become a certifying institution. If my grandmother wanted to, she could literally be certifying personal trainers. The term “Certified Personal Trainer” sounds very official. When most people hear the word “certified,” they immediately assume that there is some validity as to a trainers credentials, but you have to look at who is certifying these people. To anyone that is really educated about fitness, most personal trainer certifications are worth about as much as the paper that they are printed on. Most companies that can issue a certification are primarily concerned with making money from study materials and exam prep courses, the actual cost for the certification exam or membership fee, and annual income for continuing education courses and certification renewals. Therefore, most certifying institutions are going to make obtaining a certification very easy. If these companies set higher standards for becoming certified then they are limiting lots of potential income for themselves.

At present time there are only two major certifying institutions
that require a Health Science degree before you can become certified. They are the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). Besides these two certifications (which I consider to be the only true certifications) there are four other major certifying institutions. They are the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), the International Sports Science Association (ISSA), the American Council on Exercise (ACE), and the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFFA). Although these organizations may be headed by fitness professionals that do have health science degrees, they do not require the same standard for people that wish to become certified through their organizations. How easy is it to become a member of one of these organizations? First, consider that all of these personal trainer certifications can be obtained in three days or less. Then, consider that more than half of all certified personal trainers in this country are going to be certified by one of these four organizations, (hundreds of thousands of trainers) and in 15 years in this industry, I have never heard of a single case where someone attempted to become certified through any of these organizations and was not successful in doing so. I have however, heard of numerous cases where people were unsuccessful in trying to pass an ACSM or NSCA certification. I am certainly not saying that everyone who does possess a Health Science degree is going to be the perfect personal trainer, but to me a degree should be at least a minimum requirement. At the very least, you can be certain that the information that someone with a degree has learned, is based on collective scientific theory, and not ones own personal theories. Lots of personal trainers will claim to have many years of experience. Certainly, experience is important, but where that experience comes from and what it is based on is much more important. Trainers that have not gone through formal education are almost always going to be only experienced with their own philosophies and training methods. In most cases, trainers assume that if it worked for them, then it will work for you. Unfortunately, the human body is a little more complicated than that.

The problem becomes that until the general public demands a higher standard, there is no reason for the existing industry to want to change. Lets say that you owned a fitness facility and could pay a college student or housewife, that just passed a weekend personal trainer certification, $15/hr. to train people at your facility. Why would you then want to employ someone with an exercise science degree, and have to pay them $30/hr, when most people do not know what credentials to look for in a trainer anyway? This is how gyms and health clubs increase their profit margin. They are not going to charge more money to the consumer for their personal training session. They are going to make more money for themselves by paying less money per session to the trainer. How do you pay less money to a trainer? You lower your standard of trainer. To me when it comes to something as important as your health, nothing less than the highest standard should be acceptable. The problem is that most people that own gyms and health clubs are business men first, and fitness professionals second.

Unfortunately, most of the general public does not realize the value of properly educated fitness professionals because they are being fooled by a trainers “image.” Most people assume that the trainer that looks the best is going to know the most. They are more likely to take advice about fitness from a celebrity or someone that looks great, but has no real fitness education, before they would take advice from someone that may not look as good but does have a PhD. in Exercise Science. This is because most people fail to understand that a person’s ability to look good or be healthy themselves, and their ability to help others achieve the same results, are two very different things. Some people are going to look like they are in good shape regardless of what they eat or how they exercise; just like some people will never look like fitness models regardless of how hard they try. More people need to understand that exercises that work for one individual may not necessarily work, or be appropriate for someone else. We are all unique individuals with various strengths and weaknesses. We also have different abilities and limitations. Variables like age, gender, genetics/family history, injuries, medications, fitness level, time, and most importantly, individual needs and goals should always be considered when developing a fitness program. However, due to the limited knowledge in some of these areas by most fitness professionals, these individualities do not get considered. There are very few trainers that will take the time to assess you, see what makes you different from someone else, and then actually design a program for you specifically. Most personal trainers will simply show their clients part of the fitness routine that they use for themselves, regardless of who it is that they may be training. You can not train a 20 year old male athlete the same as a 35 year old pregnant woman, or a 50 year old male with high blood pressure and a hip replacement. When trainers only rely on their own experiences and interpretations, they are not going to be able to effectively deal with anyone that is different than they are. Most trainers are relatively young and in good shape, most people that go to trainers are not. So if you are 50 years old and your trainer is 25, he has obviously not experienced the physical differences between the two of you, and if he has never been formally educated as to what those differences are, how can he train you differently than anyone else? Now consider just a few of the major health conditions like neck/back pain, injuries/surgeries, diabetes, and hormone imbalances that affect millions and millions of people, but probably not a young and healthy trainer, and ask yourself how can they deal with these issues? Usually they cannot, but they are going to try to make you believe that they know what they are doing. At the opposite end of the spectrum are very conditioned people or athletes. Very few personal trainers have been elite athletes, and the ones that have been, were not elite athletes in multiple sports. So again, if they have not experienced elite athletic training themselves and they have not been formally educated as to how you should train athletes, they are not going to be very effective in their methods of “Athletic Training.”

The next problem, that is a direct result of all the unqualified trainers out there, is what I call “cheerleading.” Since most trainers do not possess the knowledge needed to properly educate their clients, they try to push, motivate, and over train them into results. These methods can be very dangerous, and can result in more harm than good. Motivation is important, but it is only one of many components needed for a successful fitness program. Is it worth paying a trainer $50- $150/hr. to simply be motivating you? More importantly, is it worth paying someone that amount of money when they have no more formal education about fitness than you do?


An Unregulated and Undereducated Industry
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