Unfit fitness trainers to be weeded out

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The Independent Online
The fitness industry is to establish the first register of fully qualified instructors and personal trainers in an attempt to weed out cowboys who are putting clients at risk.

The Exercise Association of England and the Association of Fitness Trainers will next month announce the establishment of a nationwide register to come into force in January.

A large number of Britain's estimated 20,000 fitness instructors have either unsuitable qualifications or none at all.

"Anyone can put an ad in the local paper and say they are a fitness instructor or personal therapist," said Dr Andrew Craig, chief executive of the EAE. "Some of them are genuine, some may not be. People don't have any way of finding out. No one even knows how many instructors there are."

Certificates that show qualifications such as "Jazzercise Instructor Certification", "Diploma in Sports and Personal Therapy", or "Instructor Training Health and Fitness" do not always mean the instructor has done much more training than the client.

"There are a lot of random courses floating around. The expression 'personal trainer' covers anybody. I've had one personal trainer whose 'qualification' was that they had done a one-day course. Two-day courses are not unusual," said Marilyn Luscombe, the AFT's national director. "We get a lot of people who've gone to a gym then gone to a YMCA fitness instructor course, or an exercise to music course. They are roughly equivalent to an 'A'-level, and involve around 80 taught hours. Our diploma, in contrast, lasts one to two years and covers 960 taught hours."

The course taught by the AFT includes anatomy and physiology, stress management, business skills and working with GPs. Anyone applying to the register has to carry appropriate insurance and have gained qualifications equivalent to NVQ level three. "It's not something you can get on a two- day course," said Ms Luscombe.

As the fitness industry has boomed, so have the rewards. "You can start up after a two-day course and charge pounds 35-pounds 40 an hour in central London. I know people who work in gyms who see 10 clients a day and charge that amount to each," Ms Luscombe said.

Uninsured and unregulated instructors leave unhappy clients little recourse if the worst happens. David, a 30-year-old lawyer, joined a central London gym to build up his "weedy" physique. "Within the first week this ridiculous beefed-up guy wanted me on free weights. I didn't know anything about it. I was doing bench exercises where you lift dumbbells andslipped a disc," he said.

"It has cost me hundreds of pounds in physiotherapy over the last two years. My doctor says I could need surgery."

Until the register comes into effect, people joining a gym or hiring a fitness trainer are advised to look at certificates and know what the qualifications mean. Check for valid insurance and a cardio-pulmonary resuscitation certificate.