Many gyms are willing to employ fitness instructors who have little or no training according to research published by Health Which? A Health Which? researcher went under-cover to apply for jobs at ten gyms.
She had no training or gym instructor qualifications yet half the gyms were still prepared to consider her for a job as an instructor – one gym in even went as far as interviewing her for the position of gym manager.

Health Which? researchers also posed as potential customers and called 50 gyms across the UK to try and find out what qualifications the instructors held. Although all claimed that they employed qualified instructors a third were unable or unwilling to say what these qualifications were. Twelve per cent admitted only some of their instructors had first-aid certificates. Yet a third of people over 35 who go to a gym have a medical condition such as high blood pressure or heart disease (1). It is essential that gym instructors can advise these people on how to adapt their fitness routines to avoid putting their health at risk.
The worst offenders were the gyms attached to hotels. A Kent hotelier asked our researcher what job she’d like. While a Manchester gym manager said: “I wouldn’t see a lack of qualifications as a hindrance at all.”

Independent gyms were also a cause for concern. The manager of an independent gym in Kent (who did not have any qualifications himself) was not troubled by the researcher’s lack of training, commenting: “It doesn’t matter as long as you are capable of giving an induction and can show people how to use the equipment correctly. There is a course you could do, it only takes a day.”

The chains gave a mixed response. A gym manger in Kent made the reassuring comment: “No-one is taken on here with experience only” but then added “it’s not worth spending money on courses you don’t want to do. There is an NVQ but I’m not really into that side of it to be honest with you.” But in Manchester the manager of a city centre chain commented: “You would stand a better chance of getting a job having a qualification.”

The confusion over what level of training gym instructors should have is exacerbated by the sheer number of qualifications that currently exist for fitness professionals. Courses vary in length from a thorough four weeks offered by the YMCA to a mere weekend offered by the British Weight Lifters Association.

In January this year the fitness industry launched a Register of Exercise Professions (REPs) in England – with similar schemes launched in Wales and Scotland. Yet, membership of the scheme is voluntary and so far it only covers about 50 per cent of the instructors working in the industry. In fact two thirds of the gyms called by Health Which? seemed unaware of the register. And REPs itself admitted that finding an appropriate course was quite ‘mind boggling’. The register recognizes around 25 different awards from 14 different bodies.
Felicity Porritt, Senior Researcher, Health Which? said:
“People using gyms should be able to feel confident that fitness instructors have adequate training but our research has revealed that this is not the case.”

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