The fitness industry is blooming across both sides of the Atlantic. In the United Kingdom, for example, there are more than 30,000 registered fitness/exercise professionals, that is one for every 2000 people. In the US there are 267,000 instructors, that is one for every 1200 people. That’s almost half the number of practising physicians.
Clients believe that if a fitness professional has a good body they must be a skilled trainer.
These days, personal trainers take on a whole new range of roles from teacher and trainer to supporter, nutritionist, biomechanist, bodybuilder, life management advisor, weight controller, personal life consultant, business person, and physical fitness advocate.
Whilst there is effective regulation on the technical aspects of personal training, the other are roles that personal trainers adopt are largely unregulated. A large Canadian survey found that many of the fitness professionals across all education levels work outside of their scope of practice, in particular, around protein supplementation and dietary advice.
Motivation and support for clients seeking to maintain optimal fitness must be a good thing. However, it is a long way from providing the kind of specialised advice that nutritionists, pharmacists and psychologists can provide.
The impact of the broader roles that trainers are assuming must be regulated as occurs for other health professionals. This cannot be left to individual clients. Research shows that clients are not very discerning. They tend to believe that if a fitness professional has a “good body,” then this signifies a high level of professional knowledge. Another study found that participants would readily seek advice from their trainers on very personal issues, such as family struggles with weight loss.
It may be time to increase the pool of professionals working to improve health and prevent illness. Certainly, promoting physical activity and providing exercise education shouldn’t just be the purview of the health sector. However, with expertise comes increased responsibility to ensure competent and ethical practice.