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Move is on to ensure trainers are fit to teach

A new college-level certification program will be the first step toward standardizing the industry.

July 21, 2003|Jeannine Stein | Times Staff Writer

When it comes to hiring a personal trainer, many people have faith that the person teaching them how to do a lat pull-down knows what he or she is doing. While many trainers are knowledgeable, competent professionals, some have scant educational backgrounds and experience.

In a major step toward bringing some consistency to personal training instruction and careers, the American College of Sports Medicine is developing university and college programs that would be used to accredit fitness professionals. The physicians' group is also setting standards for two new health occupations: health and fitness specialist and clinical exercise specialist.

The health and fitness specialist title would apply to trainers who would work at the university, corporate, commercial or community level, and the clinical exercise specialist would work in rehabilitation programs and medically based fitness centers. The Indianapolis-based ACSM is working with the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs in setting up the program. The group hopes to have a curriculum approved and in place by fall 2004.

University degrees in exercise science, exercise physiology and kinesiology have been around for decades, but they vary in scope and content. This new plan, which will include undergraduate and graduate programs, will set a national educational standard for those wanting to be trainers.

"It's creating a foundation that should have happened a long time ago," says Cathy D. Stewart, national director for ACSM's certification and registry programs. "You can have any education and call yourself a trainer. This is all in the name of safety for the consumer."

Stewart adds that the new curriculum will probably include basic course work in exercise physiology, risk factor identification, anatomy, nutrition, biomechanics and hands-on training.

Personal trainers have become increasingly popular with the gym-going crowd, and most fitness buffs are familiar with trainer certifications, which require some study and hands-on experience. But few are aware that some of those certifications can be obtained with no related educational background and little study or experience. There are more than 200 certification programs in the U.S., some of them available online.

The ACSM, in creating uniform academic requirements and establishing defined occupations, hopes to improve the overall level of training and raise gyms' awareness of the need for well-trained specialists. Some in the industry are watching to see if this acts as a catalyst for standardizing certification programs and licensing trainers.

"Anything that protects the consumer while adding to the ease of the evaluation of the trainer by health club owners is a positive step," says Helen Durkin, director of public policy for the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Assn., a health club trade organization.

The new program, says kinesiologist Paul Juris, director of the fitness training institute for Equinox Fitness Clubs, "is going to challenge those people who wake up one day and decide that they want to be a personal trainer. I don't think most trainers are educated well enough. If this is an impetus to get people interested in this career, I think it's a positive thing."

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