By Ken Reinig
There is some good news in the health club industry these days. Personal training is more prevalent today than ever before and the trend is very likely to continue for several years. Personal Training and Group Exercise Instruction has evolved into true profit centers for clubs and has created a whole new workforce of quality fitness professionals that can finally look at their passion for fitness as a career rather than just a hobby.
Like with any trend or surge of popularity, it is inevitable that some individuals in our industry will attempt to take short cuts in education, training, and certification in order to jump on the personal training band wagon. Since there are no licensing requirements or even a true consensus on what the industry “standard” should be to hold the title of Personal Trainer, the temptation to take short cuts will continue. There are several great certifying agencies that understand the importance of educational accountability and really give “teeth” to the designation of Certified Instructor. It is up to us in the health club industry to hold ourselves accountable and set the level of professionalism to the highest standard we can. By doing so, we are not only delivering a service that provides the best possible fitness education to our clients, but does so in the safest possible manner. By requiring all trainers and instructors to be “certified” we are establishing the fundamentals of risk management. Should a lawsuit be filed against the club and/or the trainer, you now have the backing of the certifying agency to show that you have acted within the professional guidelines established by their educational criteria.
Another short cut that inevitably occurs is the absence of trainers and instructors having inadequate insurance or not being insured at all. Even with the low cost of obtaining professional liability insurance for a trainer or group exercise instructor, it still amazes me how many “fitness professionals” in our industry go without liability insurance coverage. I cannot stress the importance for club owners to make sure that their instructors are covered either by making them employees so that they can fall under the definition of “who is an insured” on their club’s liability insurance or they have a current certificate on file verifying that their trainers and instructors are insured. It is also important to make sure that the certificate of insurance NAMES the club as an “additional insured”. Without this wording, the certificate is basically worthless.
There is a lot of debate about the importance of having a Par-Q or medical questionnaire on our members. I recommend the standard Par-Q (Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire) as the industry standard. If you or your trainers want to expand the questions or conduct your own personal assessment of the member’s physical condition…watch out. You have now set the bar even higher for professionalism and you better have the credentials to back it up. Trainers who do blood analysis should have their own heads analyzed. Unless you have an MD after your name, you better stick to the basics. By following the protocol established by your certifying company, you can greatly reduce your liability exposure.
Trainers and Instructors also, at times, have the desire to create their own “signature” workout. That is fine as long as you are not modifying existing pieces of workout equipment or having your client perform a maneuver that is potentially unsafe or beyond their ability. Some trainers, unfortunately, treat all their clients the same. You know who you are…get over yourself.
If you are providing nutritional advice or selling supplements, be sure to consult with your insurance representative to make sure that you are covered for this exposure. This is EXTREMELY important. Most insurance policies exclude this entirely for the policy.
My final piece of advice for establishing a good risk management protocol for trainers and instructors is: DON’T DATE YOUR CLIENTS. I don’t think I need to explain the importance of this little statement. Let’s just file this as a “no brainer”.
The first responsibility of any trainer, instructor, and club owner is to ensure the safety of their members and clients. By sticking to the protocols established by your certifying agency/company, by making sure you have the proper insurance coverage and holding everyone accountable to keep their policies in force, and by practicing good common sense, you can avoid the unpleasant experience of being sued. Even if you are sued, you can rest a little easier knowing that you have done everything by the book and that you have proper insurance protection.