Personal Training: An International Perspective

Every country is known for something unique that people remember when they visit.  In Australia, it might be the kangaroo, some 2000 species of spiders, warm weather, or even advanced medical standards and training in medicine.

At the top of the list for me were the highly trained and well respected physiotherapists(physical therapists). As both a physical therapist and personal trainer who has been in Australia pursuing postgraduate studies to advance my knowledge, refine my evaluative and treatment skills and learn all I can about clinical reasoning, chronic pain and the latest research with evidence based application, one thing is clear: Personal trainers’ are clearly at a different level then American personal trainers.’ How? Read on and the following may — or may not — surprise you.

From my observation, there are distinct similarities and differences between both the United States and Australia with respect to standards, perception by the consumer and professionalism. This article is about providing you the reader with an international perspective on the personal training industry. Personal trainers’ are an importantpart of the health professional team in any country, but particular, the United States.

To date, there are approximately over 100 personal training certifying agencies that certify personal trainers. Are they reputable? The American College of Sports Medicine(ACSM), National Strength & Conditioning Association(NSCA) are the two fitness certification agencies that come to mind that conduct research, print and disseminate the information not only to personal trainers’ but also to all health professionals.

They both certify individuals to become personal trainers’ and require a rigorous and diligent testing process.

Educational Standards/Background

To date, there are no requirements for personal trainers’ to obtain a college degree as part of the training to become a personal trainer. Should there be? In the six states that I have worked as a personal trainer in various gyms, health clubs and wellness settings over the last 15 years prior to coming to Australia, I have noticed one thing only. All personal trainers’ I have worked with have been certified. Some had college training, may or may have not been CPR/First Aid certified, but only the very basics were present. Advanced credentials were sparse and few and far between but present(ie. CSCS, CHFI).

In contrast, in Australia, the personal trainers I have met thus far all had college degrees in varying subjects: Exercise science, kinesiology, exercise physiology, etc. As a matter of fact, exercise physiologists(who study the bodies response to exercise focusing on the various energy systems: ATP-PC, glycolytic and Aerobic system) in Australia who typically have a Bachelor’s and more commonly a Master’s degree, are viewed higher with more respect, then those who are personal trainers. Why is this?

The reason that I can think of and after talking with the medical community, is that exercise physiologists do a lot more than American exercise physiologists. They perform V02 MAX testing, work in all different settings(laboratory, clinics), consult with the medical team on improving an athlete’s performance, just to name a few. This by no means discounts the training and aptitude of exercise physiologists in the U.S.

However, they are utilized differently and both the medical and regular community know of their skills and abilities quite clearly.

Regulation

In the United States to date, there is no regulation, set standards or licensure required for personal trainers.’ Unlike other professions such as physical therapy, law, medicine, dentistry, occupational therapy, which require college training, advanced studies and those to pass a national and state board to practice within their respective field. In Australia, personal trainers’ are regulated to some extent. All personal trainers must register with either Fitness Australia or Kinect Australia. Fitness Australia is a national health and fitness industry association committed to achieving a Fitter, Healthier Australia. Their mission is to raise industry standards, support, promote and represent the fitness industry. Kinect Australia introduced the Kinect Registration System in 1982 by the Victorian State Government as VICFIT to establish appropriate standards of fitness instruction.

In 2005, the Kinect Australia brand was adopted nationally to further facilitate support for active and healthy living and the administration of the National Registration System. Over 30,000 fitness professionals have participated over the last 25 years.

The table below outlines the levels of progression with training.

PT Education Levels in Australia

  Non AQF Cert. Cert. 3 Cert. 4 Diploma Degree Post Grad
Provisional 0-2 yrs.          
Level 1: Introductory 2+ years 0-2 yrs. 0-2 yrs. 0-2 yrs. 0-2 yrs. 0-2 yrs.
Level 2: Intermediate   2+ yrs. 2-10 yrs. 2-8 yrs. 2-6 yrs. 2-4 yrs.
Level 3: Advanced     10+ years additional CECs 8+ yrs. 6+ yrs. 4+ yrs.

Once a personal trainer becomes certified according to the table above, they are considered “provisional,” for the first two years of their experience. The personal trainer compared to the U.S. system is encouraged and needs to pursue higher training(Level 1 to 3) which increases their knowledge base, skills and raises universal fitness standards. It also increases their ability to earn more. So you can see from the table that if a personal trainer gets certified and continued to pursue additional training and college training, they are raised to another level, but then are held to a higher standard with CEC requirements. Is this a good thing?

If a personal trainer is to be considered a health professional, they must have solid training and have a strong base knowledge in anatomy, physiology, pathology, exercise prescription, a base understanding about marketing, periodization training, safety, and be accountable. From what I have seen particularly in the last five years in the U.S., this is not the case. This does not mean that Australian personal trainers are smarter or better. It means that they are definitely trained at a different level. This is something we should all think about and begin to start to look at the “big picture.”

Professionalism

Professionalism in any field is one of the most important things I firmly believe. It is comprised of how you appear/dress, communicate, document, plan and help your client or patient. The personal trainers’ that I have seen in my short stay here in southern Australia in the gyms I have visited have all been professionally groomed, tidy, have a clipboard and timing device, exude very good communication skills, document the exercise plan with their clients,’ seemingly plan and conduct themselves professionally. Again, from my working in six different states over my 15-year career as a personal trainer, I have not seen such consistency with those colleagues I have worked with. Why? I firmly believe that attitude has a large place in the equation. Most recently in Maryland at a gym I was working out for the past two years as a member, as a whole I witnessed some shocking things. I would see consistently training staff not monitoring their client’s form, breathing as well as work: rest ratio, texting on their phone while training, not documenting, and sometimes wearing jeans while training client’s. Is this professionalism? No. Again this is observational information that I witnessed not only in Maryland but in other states in which I worked.

Conclusion

The fitness industry is exciting and needs those individuals who care about helping people achieve their personal goals safely. The fact is education is truly necessary just like any other field. The more someone knows, the more they can help someone. Also, things change and the medical field is always changing, requiring those in medicine to continue to learn and update their skills. Regulation in the medical field has been around for decades, why not the fitness industry? Professionalism again is expected in medicine and the fitness industry.

It is something that we don’t see consistently in the U.S. and hopefully with time, discussion and articles such as this, change will occur with one client at a time.

About the Author

Chris Gellert, PT, MPT, CSCS, CPT is uniquely both an experienced physical therapist and personal trainer with over 19 years experience. He is a passionate author, dynamic presenter, entrepreneur, and committed to continual learning.

Chris Gellert, PT, MPT, CSCS, CPT is uniquely both an experienced physical therapist and personal trainer with over 20 years experience. He is a passionate author, dynamic presenter, entrepreneur, and committed to continual learning.
 
View his Author’s Profile and other articles published in Personal Trainer Today.

 

 

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These resources are for the purpose of personal trainer growth and development through Continuing Education which advances the knowledge of fitness professionals. This article is written for NFPT Certified Personal Trainers to receive Continuing Education Credit (CEC). Please contact NFPT at 800.729.6378 or [email protected] with questions or for more information.