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Who’s training you?

As you make your way back to indoor fitness this fall, pay attention to who is training you. “Fitness professionals” are not required to have any type of certification or education to train you. Someone can wake up one day, walk into a gym and apply to be a trainer. It is up to the gym’s policies and standards to decide if they are allowed to work with your body.

When taking fitness classes it’s critical to realize the level of care you receive is directly decided only by the owner of the facility where you are attending. They set the standard. In a medical practice there is a state licensing board or degree qualifications, but those don’t exist in the fitness industry. Your group fitness instructor could have been a student next to you in class yesterday and be leading the class with no additional training or knowledge today.

Why does this matter? Working out with someone who is unqualified can lead to life-changing injuries. Even something simple, like lifting weight, can end up changing the course of your life. Case in point, my dad.

Ten years ago, when he was in his early 60s, I had him work out with a trainer at a local gym to get stronger, because weight loss and increased muscle density would help his diabetes. At the time, I didn’t realize that a trainer could just be a gym junkie, so I failed to carefully vet his trainer’s credentials.

My dad liked the guy and was happy lifting with him. Every week he’d tell me how excited he was to lift more, with pride in his voice, but there was a little nagging worry in my head about if that was the right training plan for my elderly dad. I thought for the elderly training wasn’t about increasing weight, like with a teenager, but about achieving higher reps for stability and stamina.

But I assumed the trainer knew more than I did, since free weights were his area of expertise and they weren’t mine. I was wrong.

My dad came home one day with a torn rotator cuff. It hurt, but wasn’t horrible, so he didn’t have surgery. He went on being a stoic midwestern male. Except now, 10 years later that shoulder is shot. The tear that wasn’t repaired has now caused the entire joint to loosen and he is in extreme pain.

The only option now is a full shoulder replacement, which would dramatically change his quality of life and the activities to do and is more dangerous at his now 70-plus age. All because a trainer treated a 60 year old the same as a teenager and didn’t have the proper knowledge to work with an elderly man.

Your trainer’s expertise matters. The education and training they went through to teach you matters. Before starting with one, ask questions about how long they trained to be a fitness expert. At my gym, I do all the hiring and set the policy of what our instructors must complete before working with the public.

My requirements are that trainers complete a group fitness certification program, have CPR or safety certification, train 3 hours a week with my current staff to practice spotting, complete a 6 month training program with over 200 hours with me, co-teach extensively with my current instructors and complete a pole or aerial certification at a program outside of the studio.

Those are my minimum requirements to work for my company. So with those in place, I can say with confidence that my instructors are knowledgeable and committed to leading your fitness journey.

My companies have always had this standard for our instructors, and over the years we’ve watched students leave our program and teach in another program a week later because they meet that program’s standards. Many places allows students to be teachers without additional training.

To me, that is abhorrent. Someone is not ready to lead a fitness class just because they have taken that class a bunch. Being an instructor when someone’s body could be permanently, life-alteringly damaged, gives you a great responsibility. Since you cannot trust that a gym has your best interests in mind, you have to ask the questions about qualifications yourself to protect yourself and your future. n

Dr. Paula Brusky is the founder of Aerial Dance with locations in Appleton & Green Bay area. Aerial Dance is a sanctuary for women; their playground includes pole fitness, the aerial arts of hoop, hammock and silks, as well as a robust fitness, dance and flexibility program. For more information go to or call 920-750-1441.

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