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Certifiably Safer in the Fitness Industry

By David L. Herbert

JoAnn M. Eickhoff-Shemek, Ph.D., FACSM, a well-known fitness educator and fitness risk management expert has stated the following:

Most individuals that become CPTs prepare for the certification exams by reading recommended resources, attending workshops, or participating in online programs. It is the opinion of this commentator that this is not nearly enough. Formal education along with supervised practical experience is needed to prepare personal trainers for all tasks they perform, not just fitness testing. Currently, none of the NCCA accredited certifying organizations require completion of any formal education or evaluation of practical skills prior to sitting for their CPT exams. In addition, none of the standards in the NCCA's Standards for the Accreditation of Certification Programs require candidates to possess any formal education or practical experience prior to sitting for an NCCA accredited exam.viii

Anthony A. Abbott, Ed.D., a Florida exercise physiologist and frequent expert witness in fitness litigation, has also stated:

…just because one is certified does not necessarily equate with his or her being qualified. To become a truly qualified personal trainer requires an in-depth knowledge of anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, biomechanics and principles of exercise science coupled with considerable hands-on training.ix

Gary Pitts, a prominent Canadian sports and fitness attorney, has stated:

Perhaps the most serious deficiency of many certification programs is the lack of practical testing and/or a 'hands-on training component,' which is not provided by some certifications. For example, would you hire a pilot who has not been taught to fly an airplane?x

Clubs and fitness facilities that establish hiring policies to allow employment for only those who are certified by passing but a written examination with no hands-on assessment or testing of their practical skills are probably increasing their legal liability exposures. If such employers hire only fitness instructors who have not demonstrated their ability to perform necessary practical services such as screening, prescription, leadership and supervision of clients then those who confine their hiring policies only to written exam takers will have very little room to argue that their employees or contactors were properly put in charge of other human beings. Participation in exercise and fitness activities has inherent risks of injury and even death; the addition of fitness instructors without proven practical skills to the mix of risks only increases those risks. If no one has any practical training, who will be at the wheel—those with no proven ability to be able to safely drive?xi

To be sure, certification of fitness professionals has come a long way since the early 2000s, but the question remains: Does the present certification process, some of which includes only a written examination, provide the requisite skills necessary for screening, prescription, leadership and supervision of consumers involved in fitness and exercise activities? Time and the number of relevant claims and suits on the subject will tell the tale. But remember that between 2007 and 2012, injuries related to exercise and exercise equipment have risen nearly 60 percent. Related fitness liability insurance premiums have risen 6 percent with some insurance companies each year during the last two years as well.xii While it appears that certification helps in providing a safer environment for consumers, more is needed. Practical, hands-on training and testing should address the foregoing concerns put forth by many, including industry experts.


David L. Herbert, is an Attorney at Law, David L. Herbert & Associates LLC, Attorneys & Counselors at Law in Canton, Ohio. He also is editor for "The Exercise, Sports and Sports Medicine Standards & Malpractice Reporter," PRC Publishing Inc. in Canton, Ohio (www.prcpublishing.com). Visit www.herblaw.com for more information.


i See, https://www.facebook.com/crepusreps - Posting dated October 30, 2014.

ii See, http://www.afaa.com/ and http://www.issaonline.edu/ - There are probably more such certified professionals based upon the number of other organizations which have also become accredited by the DEAC.

iii It may seem somewhat incongruous to some that NCCA accredited fitness professional certifiers require hands? on practical testing of fitness professionals for cardiopulmonary resuscitation but don't require any practical hands-on testing for the actual certification of those same professionals as personal trainers or group instructors. In this regard, even those seeking driver's licenses are required to pass a hands-on driving test in addition to a written test before they ever operate a vehicle on public streets pursuant to the issuance of a regular driver's license to them. In this regard, many may wonder if they would ever get in a car with a driver who had only passed a written test. Are fitness professionals equipped to screen, prescribe, instruct, lead and supervise fitness activity with no hands-on training?

iv Isn't it Time for Education & Evaluation of Hands-on Competence in Personal Training? A Call for Dual Accreditation of U.S. Fitness Professional Certification Programs, Vol. 32, No. 4: 38-42, AMERICAN FITNESS, (July/August 2014).

v See, http://www.nbfe.org/.

vi See supra, footnote 4.

vii Consumer Product Safety Commission's National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, cited in, Maechel, Amber, "Health Club Operators Must be Aware of HIT Dangers to Mitigate Risks," CLUB INDUSTRY, 21:49, January 25, 2015.

viii Eickhoff-Shemek, J.M., Ph.D., FACSM, "Potential Issues with the Job Task Analysis", THE EXERCISE, SPORTS AND SPORTS MEDICINE STANDARDS & MALPRACTICE REPORTER, Vol. 2, No. 4 (July, 2013):54-57. Footnote in original omitted.

ix Abbott, A.A., Ed.D., FACSM, FNSCA, "Fitness Professionals: Certified, Qualified and Justified", THE EXERCISE STANDARDS AND MALPRACTICE REPORTER, Vol. 23, No. 2 (March, 2009): 17, 20-22.

x Pitts, G., "Choose Your Certification(s) Wisely!" Vol.2, No.6 :22-26, FITNESS TRAINER (June/July 2014).

xi See supra, footnote 3.

xii Email correspondence by author with Ken Reinig, fitness industry insurance executive, January 29, 2015.