// Warming up

by Greg Hurst


Warming up features the opinions of prominent people within the fitness industry. Here, Greg Hurst, CEO of the Australian Institute of Fitness, looks at the scrutiny to which our industry has recently been subjected.

Are under-qualified fitness professionals the biggest threat to community health since swine fl u? Can only allied health professionals save the general populace from the terror of personal trainers? What can the ‘one or two’ good PTs in Australia do against such an army of miscreants?

I recently had the pleasure of participating in SBS’s Insight program in which the qualifi cations and practices of personal trainers were under the spotlight. It started like most TV tabloid journalism with the intention of discrediting PTs and their qualifications via secretly shot footage of trainers doing their evil deeds, accompanied by hyperbolic commentary from a self-described expert. For ten minutes it looked like the sky would fall in on the fi tness industry with all personal trainers exposed as frauds. The most damaging statement came when the ‘expert’ claimed that out of 20,000 plus registered fi tness professionals she could only recommend one or two. Thank goodness the country has three saviours!

Fortunately, before the fi tness industry was mortally wounded some true industry experts including Andrew Simmons from Vision Personal Training, Dominic dos Remedios from Fitness First and Lauretta Stace from Fitness Australia, among others, pulled it back to reality. The fi tness industry we spoke about was strong and underpinned by thousands of well trained, appropriately qualifi ed, professional and caring personal trainers. Phew!

Let’s set the record straight. Firstly, some scrutiny is welcome. A minority of personal trainers have no qualifi cations, are not registered and do not have the skills to deliver safe and eff ective practices. However, that does not negate the good work of the signifi cant majority with qualifi cations, who are registered and do provide professional services. We should welcome government regulation of fitness professionals. Fitness Australia does a good job of administering self regulation, but the industry would be strengthened with the backing of government regulation. In fact, it would be a pleasant change if federal and state governments invested any money or attention in the fi tness industry.

Secondly, we should never put another obstacle between the average person and physical activity by scaremongering the dangers of personal trainers and instructors. There is more danger in being physically inactive than there is in being active. Of course personal trainers should screen, refer when necessary and ensure that exercise is appropriate – but this is not rocket science.

Thirdly, critics of personal trainer courses and qualifi cations should become more familiar with the national standards and protocols before denigrating the great work being done. I am currently the CEO of Australia’s largest and most successful Registered Training Organisation (RTO) and therefore declare my vested interest. The Australian Quality Training Framework (AQTF) ensures that all RTOs comply with standards. Course length is not as important as relevance of curriculum, quality of lecturers and thoroughness of assessment. The Australian Institute of Fitness offers 8, 16 and 52-week courses to suit student experience and mode of delivery. Students must meet acceptance criteria and gain preparatory experience. For those who choose an intensive course, the eight weeks only represents the formal training and many students take longer to complete. It is equivalent to one full semester in a university degree. One critic’s assertion that everyone passes a PT course is evidentially false.

More than 20 per cent of Institute students do not meet the criteria at final assessment and require several weeks further study to complete. Stringent AQTF criteria ensures that more than 10 per cent never make the grade. The show ended up being a reasonably balanced discussion on the state of the personal training sector.

Yes, the focus on a few allegedly bad examples of exercise prescription gave the impression that personal trainers are risky, but this type of ‘exposé’ will always hype the bad at the expense of the good. What can we learn from it? We need to understand the facts and be cautious about media hatchet jobs. It is every fi tness professional’s responsibility to be constructively critical and positive about ourselves, other fi tness professionals and the industry. We should never promote ourselves by denigrating others or the industry. We are all warriors against sedentary death syndrome and we should stay focused on the real enemy – physical inactivity.

Greg Hurst
Greg is the executive director of the Australian Institute of Fitness (NSW) and was a founding director of Network, Les Mills International, Zest Health Clubs and Healthy Inspirations. He has competed internationally in kayaking and was the first Australian National Aerobics Champion. Greg served on the boards of Fitness Australia and Fitness NSW and has been the recipient of a Fitness Australia Award for Outstanding Services to the Fitness Industry.