For the vast majority of the population, the benefits of exercise far outweigh the potential risks. Nevertheless, incidents of musculoskeletal injury, adverse cardiovascular responses and even catastrophic events do arise in conjunction with exercise. Unfortunately, some of these misfortunes occur under the direction of unqualified or under-qualified, and often overzealous, personal trainers.
Club owners, managers and fitness professionals must be proactive to identify potential risks and take appropriate steps to eliminate or minimize these liability exposures. One component of a comprehensive risk management plan is to ensure your fitness team is adequately educated and appropriately certified to deliver safe and effective programming.
Many states have proposed legislation attempting to regulate the credentials and scope of practice for exercise professionals (e.g., personal trainers). However, by and large, the fitness industry continues to be self-regulated through guidelines and standards established by authoritative fitness organizations (e.g., ACSM, IHRSA, MFA, NSCA).
Although not legally mandated, over the last decade it has become widely recognized that fitness professionals should hold an accredited certification specific to the nature of services provided. “Well-qualified” exercise professionals may be viewed as those who have successfully completed a certification exam that has been accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA), the recognized standard in the U.S. for validating the assessment of professional competence.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Registry of Exercise Professionals (USREPS) was launched by the Coalition for the Registration of Exercise Professionals (CREP). CREP is made up of exercise certification organizations in the U.S. that have certification programs accredited by the NCCA. The USREPS registry provides a resource to verify an individual’s credentials for a variety of roles that have been vetted against a uniform standard consistent with the accepted best practices for other allied health professions. USREPS can be accessed at www.USREPS.org. There, visitors can search for exercise professionals via both first and last name. Each individual’s record includes the NCCA-accredited certification(s) that he or she holds through a member organization and the duration for which the certification is valid. Exercise professionals may also be queried geographically by zip code or state.
In our litigious society, it is important to take every measure possible to minimize liability exposures. In the case of a negligence lawsuit arising from injury to a patron, it is likely that qualifications of the fitness staff involved will be heavily scrutinized. Although earning an accredited certification does not guarantee client safety or immunity from litigation, appropriate credentials does demonstrate compliance with recognized standards and best practices within the industry. Lack of appropriate certification creates an unnecessary and potentially expensive liability exposure. In addition to minimizing foreseeable risks, well-qualified exercise professionals are more likely to deliver effective programs that will support positive health and fitness outcomes for club members, thereby enhancing retention and club profits.
Michael Iserman is the director of personal training for the National Exercise Trainers Association (NETA). NETA offers NCCA-accredited certifications for both personal trainers and group exercise instructors. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.