The feedback from my last article titled "Careful of Those So-called Trainers" was quite interesting. To my surprise, there was much support and it seems that many people are frustrated by the lack of quality trainers and have become aware of the dangerous practices of unqualified individuals plying their fraudulent trade in gyms. Others, not quite as aware, still quietly noticed questionable activities but nonetheless continued to accept them, because "de trainer must know what he doing." My inbox contained e-mails from professionals lamenting the grim situation, and from fitness enthusiasts seeking qualified trainers to help them reach their goals. Obviously this is a hot topic, with many questions, experiences and complaints; so I decided to research and delve a little deeper into what exactly is occurring and why these quacks are as rampant as mosquitoes in a dengue outbreak in the rainy season. Today, there is a huge demand for personal trainers. With society's "thin-is-in" fixation, and with the explosion of the incidence of lifestyle conditions like diabetes and heart disease, the need to get fit and stay healthy is not only a matter of aesthetics, but one of life and death. Who better to serve that demand, than the personal trainer!
But demand does not warrant a supply of frauds and my research has led to some interesting stories and revelations that explain the current glut of incompetent trainers. I found out that it is exceptionally easy to masquerade as a trainer. I discovered that in many gyms, there is no effective screening process for what is called a "floor trainer," the person who orients new persons to the gym, shows them how to use equipment, and assists people with exercises. If the gym has a vacancy and a buffed individual "applies," he is simply shown how to use the machines and miraculously becomes a "floor trainer" despite the fact that he has no background in training principles or exercise prescription (don't get me wrong, there are a few who have this background and are qualified). What then occurs, is that he begins "training" clients as he would train himself, without even taking a medical history. He begins prescribing bending and twisting exercises for osteoporotic Margaret who has low back pain because "he does do dem and dey does help his back."
He sees Bob, a qualified personal trainer, giving his young athlete a complicated multi-directional medicine ball core movement, and repeats it with first-timer Jane, who has no control of her pelvis and trunk. So our floor trainer has gone from simply showing people how to operate machines to developing fitness programmes. Why shouldn't he? After all, there is little supervision and no practice guidelines for such individuals. Floor trainers with no qualifications are attracted by the attention they receive from the gym goers. The questions about exercise programming, nutrition and muscles, the requests to "spot" (assist), all create a feeling of importance, feed the ego, and all too soon our floor trainer has clients of his own whom he is "training" with a lot of blue smoke and mirrors. It is just too easy. These guys are exceptional actors. It is no wonder that many of them feel threatened by anyone offering sound information and advice. This deceit and bravado explain the antagonism among "trainers" in some gyms. "Big egos are shields for lots of empty space."
It is vital to the well-being of the public that we demand to SEE, not HEAR about, the qualifications of the trainers with whom we work.
Indeed there are exceptional qualified personal trainers in Trinidad who can easily produce this paperwork.
But do not be fooled by complicated, technical speeches of grand results from others because "empty vessels make the most noise." But beware! Another reason for the glut of poorly qualified personal trainers is the presence of sham institutes that claim to certify personal trainers. Many "trainers" send fees to these fraudulent associations for "credentials" which they flash at their unsuspecting clients. "My trainer qualified man! He show me his certificate!"...which he got without lifting a finger! This brings me to yet another reason why there are so many schemers plying their snake oil trade in the fitness industry...the general public. We let them do it! I think we are allergic to accountability, because we run from it with our tails between our legs like pusillanimous puppies. Once we SEE the trainer's credentials (as we should with any health care professional), we need to go home, get on a computer and research the institution from which he got them to validate his claim that the association is authentic. It is truly a matter of OUR health and safety! From what I have been told, there are about 15 accredited organisations that certify personal trainers in the United States.
They include National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), American Council on Exercise (ACE), Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AAFA), American Sports and Fitness Association (ASFA), Cooper's Institute, and National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) to name a few. There are also others in different countries. The situation of personal trainers in Trinidad is really a shame, and those frauds should feel ashamed. It is the public who suffers, yet we are the ones to blame. Personal training is a noble and necessary profession, a vital component of the health of our community; yet we are reducing it to a disreputable joke, where clowns and buffoons reign supreme. Accountability is the mother of caution, and if we neglect to hold our personal trainers (and anyone in any profession for that matter) responsible for their actions, then we shall continue to live in a comedy where people are injured and the joke is on us.
Carla Rauseo, P.T., M.S., C.S.C.S. is a state registered and licensed Physical Therapist and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist at Total Rehabilitation Centre.