When starting a new exercise programme, many people put their faith in exercise professionals to help them meet their goals and form new habits. Bad technique or inappropriate exercise choices can derail those plans, by being ineffective, dangerous, or both. Qualified instructors are trained to deliver safe, effective and appropriate exercises to their clients. However, in the UK, fitness instruction is not a regulated profession. Anyone can legally set up and teach a fitness class, or call themselves a personal trainer or Pilates teacher. Although they are unlikely to get insurance without appropriate qualifications, they won’t be prosecuted for earning a living by running classes or posting workouts online.
The main problem with unqualified teachers is that they have not necessarily learned an appropriate level of anatomy and physiology for the exercises that they are teaching, so they may not be aware of what to look out for to ensure that you are exercising safely and effectively. But that's not all. They may give - with all the best intentions - false or misleading information based on their own experiences, which may not apply to everyone. They may not have been taught how to coach and motivate, risking leaving you confused and disheartened. They may not have had First Aid training.
As fitness instructors progress through the levels of qualifications, they are increasingly able to accommodate people with injuries or medical conditions which need extra care. But note where the professional scope ends. As I am always at pains to point out, although your fitness routine may support your general wellbeing and recovery from injury, the fitness instructor’s job is to accommodate your injury (perhaps in conversation with your physiotherapist, or other medical professional) to allow you to exercise safely, and not to diagnose, treat or prescribe. Unqualified instructors are not bound by this professional code.
A simple way to tell whether your teacher is qualified is to check if your instructor is a registered exercise professional. REPs, the Register of Exercise Professionals, was developed to protect the public from trainers who do not hold appropriate qualifications and to recognise the qualifications and skills of exercise professionals. REPs members must keep their skills up to date with continuing professional development on approved courses.
Not all qualified fitness professionals choose to be on the exercise register, so for non-members, here’s what you need to look out for: a group exercise teacher or gym instructor should hold a minimum qualification of a Level two certificate; personal trainers, yoga and Pilates teachers should be qualified to Level three. For exercise referral for specific medical conditions, you should look for a level 4 specialist qualification (Level 3 for pre- and post-natal). If you are unsure about whether the qualification that your instructor holds are valid and trusted, you can search the Register of Regulated Qualifications. Regrettably, some institutes offer certificates for superficial online courses without adequate assessment procedures. These will not be listed on the Register.
Finally, remember that a person’s body is not their fitness qualification. There are plenty of excellent instructors out there who aren’t supermodels. Genetics, diet, age and medical history all play a part in the appearance of your body, and having a lean torso is no indication of whether a person is able to teach exercise.
Fitness and Pilates instructor with a passion for science.