Personal Trainer Job Boom Raises Questions About State Licensure Requirements

Catherine Rampell with the New York Times wrote an article several months ago about the personal trainer job boom and the cross-section of people joining the ranks.  Ms. Rampel raised an interesting point that barriers of entry to personal trainer jobs are low because the number of organizations certifying newbies are plentiful, and the process is quick, cheap and easy.  And she quoted Mike Clark, CEO of the National Academy of Sports Medicine, who appears to favor states moving toward personal training licensing requirements.

It wasn’t long ago that there was a massive influx of people into a job boom that was unregulated – the mortgage industry.  The unscrupulous practices that enriched mortgage professionals at the expense of homeowners have been well documented.  Undoubtedly shysters were attracted to this industry because of the real estate boom that was fueled by lax lending standards and homeowners’ misguided belief that home values would continue rising, and that the industry was unregulated (both oversight and no licensing requirements).  The health and fitness industry faces similar issues with the personal trainer boom that is being fueled by ever expanding waist lines and low barriers of entry, but with a much different set of consequences.  Namely, that screwing up a client’s physical health due to serious and permanent injuries is far different than screwing up his or her financial well being.  You can’t discharge an Achilles tendon rupture in bankruptcy.

Why State Licensure Requirements Are Needed

State licensure requirements are needed.  Ms. Rampell’s article points out that education, knowledge and sheer competence have been deemphasized and “productivity” emphasized.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with using productivity as the benchmark.  Fitness and training businesses desire to make money.  But productivity for newbies is more a function of schmoozing and up-selling clients than it is by offering a quality service and attracting clients through word-of-mouth reputation.  Developing a reputation takes time.  Therefore the “productivity” benchmark is valuing and rewarding the personal trainer who has mastered the art of bull shitting at the expense of one who refuses to engage in aggressive sales tactics but who understands and has competence in basic areas such as proper form and technique, scaling load and volume based on a client’s ability and conditioning level, and rest/recovery.  State licensing requirements will help weed out those with sales skills but who lack this basic knowledge and competence.

Eight Additional Reasons State Regulation is a Good Thing for Trainers

Here are eight additional reasons why regulating the personal training industry will be a good thing for everyone involved:

– Accountability – Licensing boards will establish requirements for personal trainers to keep his or her license and establish disciplinary procedures.

– Training – A baseline level of education and/or knowledge demonstrated to obtain a license (i.e. recognizing certifications from the most reputable organizations) and the need to fulfill annual continuing education requirements.

– Safety – Safety is the most important.  The baseline level of education and/or knowledge to obtain the license, annual continuing education requirements along with accountability increases the likelihood that personal trainers will make sound decisions when taking clients through an exercise and training regimen.

– Reputation – As it stands now, obtaining a personal training certificate is as easy as obtaining one from opening a Cracker Jack box.  That’s not good for the industry.  Establishing requirements to obtain and keep the license will only enhance the reputation of those personal trainers who do so and create a more professional level of trainer.

– Quality – Only the most reputable certification programs will survive, because state licensing boards will likely only recognize and accept certification programs from these companies.

– Consumer Protection – The average person doesn’t distinguish or appreciate the difference between a CSCS certification and a CJB (Cracker Jack Box) certification.  And do not make well informed decisions when hiring a person rendering a service that can cause serious and/or permanent injury.

– Incentives – Companies offering personal training certificates that desire to be recognized by state licensing boards will have more incentive to create solid programs with tougher standards.

– Uniformity – While there will likely be differences between states, most states tend to follow a model rule or set of regulations outlining what’s required to obtain and keep a license.  And there will definitely be more uniformity among states than there are among the hodgepodge of certifications existing today.

What are some other good ideas that can be implemented to better the personal training profession overall and protect the public?

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