Fitness trainers lack certification standards

By Mara McCallen

A lack of certification standards for personal trainers across Canada means that it’s currently left up to clients like Maggie Lawson to ensure their trainers are properly qualified.

Lawson is just one of many people who join a gym with the hope of getting into shape. She became a member of Florida Fitness on Queen Street in June 2002, enlisting the help of a personal trainer to design a program and motivate her.

The problem is there is no single set of criteria required within the industry for becoming, or hiring, personal trainers in Canada. This leaves no distinction between the qualifications of personal trainers at gyms.

While some gyms may require potential employees to have a basic certificate that can be acquired over a weekend, others also require some sort of educational background in a fitness-related field.

The YMCA, the Canadian Association of Fitness Professionals (Can-Fit-Pro), the American Council on Exercise (ACE), and the Sports Performance Institute (SPI) offer the most widely recognized personal training certification programs.

All of these programs require successful completion of a written exam to be certified, most taken over the course of a weekend, while ACE is based on a longer program from a text book. Also, they all include, or recommend, a practical hands-on component.

After taking just one of these certification courses, an individual could be certified as a personal trainer.

Rick Roy, the owner of Personal Health Fitness on O’Connor Street, says some of the dangers associated with improper qualifications or lack of experience are inappropriate exercises and wrong nutritional advice.

“People may not know the technical aspects of lifts they are teaching,” says Roy.

Trainers applying for a job at Florida Fitness on Queen Street are required only to have a basic certification in personal training, like Can-Fit-Pro.

Lawson, who trains there, doesn’t feel that a formal educational background or extensive certification is as important as having experience in the field and in motivating clients.

“I don’t really have a problem with it because my personal trainer was fantastic, I saw results,” she says.

“There are people out there who are completely trained and educated but are horrible because they don’t have the personality or the drive.”

Dan Groulx, one of three in-house personal trainers at Florida Fitness, says an educational background is beneficial, but training courses are also necessary to ensure the programs being assigned aren’t based soley on theory.

Chris Graham is a fitness buff who hopes to one day become a personal trainer, and feels that having some sort of educational background is important.

“You can’t learn how to suit everybody’s needs, training-wise, in one short certification course,” says Graham. “A higher level of education, kinesiology, or human fitness course is needed. It’s nearly impossible to get everything you need from a Can-Fit-Pro type of certification.”

Roy also feels that without some education, a personal trainer is overlooking important knowledge on body physiology and nutrition.

“Anybody can call themselves a personal trainer and not have any training whatsoever,” says Roy, who has a degree in physical education management and is certified through the Sports Performance Institute.

Another problem Roy foresees is that gyms sometimes hire based on physique rather than qualifications.

“Some gyms require what you look like as a qualification as opposed to level of knowledge.”

Tracy Beardsley, owner of TJ Fit on Somerset Street, is ACE certified and requires potential employees to have a similar certification, and then complete an eight-week apprenticeship with her that ends with an evaluation.

“It would be nice to have some sort of physical education background but it is not a prerequisite,” says Beardsley. “I care most that people care about the clients.”

Roy and Beardsley agree that the role of a personal trainer is to assess a client’s goals and lifestyle and design a program suitable to meet those needs.

In the end, each individual has to choose which gym and personal trainer “fits them the best,” says Lawson.