Regulations For Personal Trainers? Good or Bad Idea?D.C. Considers New Rules for Trainers

The Washington Post ran an article this week about proposed regulations- which will include licensure- for personal trainers/coaches in D.C. You can read the full article HERE.

They haven’t set anything in stone yet, but the regulations might become a model for the rest of the country to follow.

From my perspective, as a strength coach, this is what the fitness industry desperately needs. Our industry has no standard for certifications, no licensing procedure, and little to no standard regulations between gyms and their training staff.

Sure, there are definitely some certs that are more “respectable” than others, for example certifications from NSCA, ACSM, USAW, or RKC are widely recognized in the field as certifications that have a higher level of education (typically a four-year degree) and experience (i.e. RKC is a mentally and physically demanding course) required to pass. However, Joe Schmoe who’s looking for some training has no idea the difference between someone who has one of those certs vs. someone who took an online course of the weekend and can now call themselves a “trainer.” Those types of “certs” have a ridiculous low-barrier to entry (do you have a computer?) and since there is no governing body for the fitness industry, the quality of those certification’s information is on the same level as poop.

In part, regulations will protect the consumer from trainers who, really, have no true understanding of strength training and will more than likely wind up hurting people inadvertently. From the article:

“First and foremost, the purpose of the law is to enhance consumer protection for the residents of the District of Columbia,” he said. Melstrand said industry estimates show 40 percent of all trainers have no gym affiliation, meaning they are accountable to no one even though they are often in positions of authority with clients… “We all have heard anecdotal reports of injuries, sexual misconduct and misrepresentation of titles by persons claiming to be competent in that area,” Simpson testified before a D.C. Council committee. She called the lack of any registration or licensure of personal trainers “a nationwide failure.”

I could not agree more! The regulations can at least propose and uphold a standardized amount of knowledge and understanding in order to be a licensed trainer.

In contrast to those low-barrier certifications, the coaches at SAPT all have four-year degrees in exercise science, have undergone internships, and at least have 2-3 specialized certifications. The top names in our field (Eric Cressy and Co., Mike Robertson, Alwyn Cosgrove, Dan John, Bret Contreas, Jen Sinkler… the list can go on) all have degrees, numerous certifications, and hours upon hour upon HOURS working with people and honing their craft. There needs to be a way to identify those trainers who take an online, weekend course and those of us who truly own this profession and take pride in continuing our education.

The most outspoken opponents of these regulations: Greg Glassman, CEO of Crossfit (and I imagine many his affiliates).

Do NOT read the following statements as a “let’s bash Crossfit” fest; Crossfit has many positive attributes. However, the fact that they’re strongly opposing regulation sounds fishy to me. Why wouldn’t we want this industry regulated like physical therapy or doctors? We work with injured people, healthy people, we offer nutrition advice, and we evaluate and correct movement dysfunctions. When I see a physical therapist, I have the peace of mind knowing that they’ve had to pass a licensing exam and they at least have a basic working knowledge of the body. Why wouldn’t we want this for trainers too?

And we work with the little ones too!

And we work with the little ones too!

suspect it comes down to money.

The tab for revamping CrossFit’s training courses could run into the tens of millions of dollars if the company is forced to do so nationwide, says its chief executive.

Hmmm. They don’t want to change their training course? I think that would, actually, be a stupendous idea.

Here’s an example: Crossfit utilizes olympic lifts in most of their workouts. O-lifts are extremely technical, take years to perform or coach well, and should NOT be programmed for the masses especially in the context of a WOD or AMRAP (as many reps as possible). Yet, Crossfit claims that their Level 1 coaches are fit enough to teach the O-lifts. I would beg to differ by the plethora of YouTube videos of athletes with atrocious form (while being cheered on by the coaches…).

Slightly unrelated note: I read an article by Dr. Adam Schulte and his review of the Crossfit Games and the appalling and dangerous treatment of their athletes during the Games. This definitely bolsters my confidence in Glassman’s “emphasis on safety” claim. (that was sarcasm)

Again, I’m not trying to bash Crossfit, but I think there NEEDS to be more regulation in the fitness industry. There NEEDS to be a standardized, minimum level of education for trainers.

Do I think that everyone needs a 4-year degree? No, in fact Eric Cressey wrote a good article about it HERE. However, if we can create a licensing procedure for trainers that requires pertinent educational courses (like anatomy, exercise physiology, kinesiology etc), number of hours interning under professional coaches, and a set amount of continuing education credits it will raise the bar of our industry. I’ll let Graham Melstrand sum it up:

Melstrand said the issue is bigger than concerns about CrossFit. It’s about finding ways for the profession of personal trainers to mature into more respected health-care roles.
“At the end of the day, all of the fitness organizations are looking for the respect of practitioners,” he said. “As our space is maturing, there have to be greater expectations around the people who are practicing our craft.”

I want to be taken seriously and I want my clients to know that I take my job seriously.