In the last five years, the number of people choosing specialty gyms such as kickboxing, crossfit, boot-camp and small group classes has sky-rocketed. It makes sense. Personal trainers, depending on years of experience, location and clientele can range from $50-100 per session. And that’s the low end of the spectrum. Quality trainers with multiple certifications and loads of experience can charge upwards of $100 an hour. Individuals are finding they can get a great workout from a small group class at a fraction of the cost.
Trainers aren't struggling as an outcome. They’re getting in on the business, opting to teach small (or large) group classes and typically making about half of what the facility brings in. If the trainer is running the class independently, depending on the location, it might even be all profit. Very popular trainers with a steady following are able to teach one or two classes and call it a day. That’s not to say that the income is not well-earned- it is. Gaining credibility through years of hard work, multiple certifications and experience with all skill levels, ages, body-types, even disabilities is a trainer’s most valuable asset. It prevents clients from injury, breeds a sense of understanding, and certainly makes the trainer more in-tune with the way different bodies work.
But certified trainers from nationally recognized organizations such as ACE, NPTI, and ACSM aren't the only ones teaching small group classes. In fact, most specialty gyms only require their “coaches” to go through the training specific to their exact class type. Meaning, they aren't certified to instruct on an individual basis or put you through a one-on-one personal training session. But shouldn't they be? In most cases, those trainers are the ones pushing clients to extremes that we see on shows such as The Biggest Loser and Extreme Weight Loss. What we don’t see on those shows is the dozens of specialists on the side-lines taking precautions against injuries. In fact, clients on reality TV are put through rigorous testing before even beginning training to minimize the risk of injury.
The Biggest Loser mentality of pushing to your limits is valuable and clients thrive off of it. Having a trainer push you farther than you thought you could go is a powerful feeling and keeps customers coming back. But what if the one pushing you wasn't a trainer at all? In many cases, this is the exact reality many clients are walking into. As a result, rapid weight loss and strength increases are not the only thing participants are getting from these workouts- they’re also getting injured.
The fact of the matter is that at many specialty gyms, one or two day certifications is all it takes to "train" clients in a group setting. For example, the Crossfit Level I course is typically two days. This is also the case for many "small group training" certifications. And if you take yoga at a large chain fitness center, it's possible your instructor is not even an RYT (Registered Yoga Teacher). One or two day certifications are all it takes to teach a yoga class at some fitness center, much unlike the 200 and 500 hour requirements it takes to be certified through Yoga Alliance.
While you can undeniably be motivated by an enthusiastic coach no matter what their background, can a person with such limited qualifications really keep you safe? Most personal trainers and yoga teachers everywhere are saying "no." Jayne Bernasconi, advanced Yoga Instructor and owner of Yoga on York in Baltimore, Maryland believes when it comes to choosing your yoga teacher, you should be cautious. "Yoga is a 5,000 year old tradition and to try to wrap it up into a neat little weekend training package is ludicrous." In that same vein, if an instructor of any kind has never been trained to modify for specific injuries, limitations, or range of motion issues, how could that person possibly be expected to help clients avoid injury, especially when it comes to older participants?
While controversy over Crossfit is widespread for causing urinary incontinence and weakening the pelvic floor muscles among female participants, other injuries are piling up, too. Experienced trainers blame the minimum qualifications of coaches and the competitive nature of such activities for the rise in injuries. While listening to your body seems the common sense way to prevent them, the competitive spirit takes participants out of the natural fear that keeps them safe. While muscle soreness is sometimes necessary for strength gains, pain is your body's way of telling you that something is wrong. And when clients listen to under-certified trainers, instead of their own bodies, injuries undoubtedly arise.
While there are thousands of well-trained yoga teachers, Crossfit coaches and small group trainers alike, with such ease in attaining certifications, knowledgeable instructors are becoming hard to come by. A tip for the wise- do your own research. If certifications aren't visible in training centers, look online. Certifications should always be posted on a facilities website or hanging on the wall. If they aren't? Ask. If there is no certification from a National training organization (ACE, NPTI, ACSM, etc), or worse, nothing at all, exercising caution might be even more valuable than the workout.