The State of the Fitness Industry: Australian Edition – Part 3

Today’s post is the last of this instalment on my overview of the Australian fitness industry.
In Part 1 I gave a broad overview of the major issues in the Australian fitness industry as I see it, and in Part 2 I outlined each of the major scenes that make up the fitness industry, from commercial gyms and bootcamps to cults such as CrossFit and Zumba.

Today, I’ll offer my perspective on what represents the grassroots level of the industry for those who work within it – the registered training organisations (personal training schools) and governing bodies – and what I feel needs to occur for us to improve and be recognised not only as the fitness industry, but as the fitness profession.

Registered Training Organisations (RTOs)

At the grassroots level (that is, registered training organisations (RTOs) who certify fitness instructors and personal trainers) the standard simply must improve.

Today, the overwhelming majority of RTOs offer an eight week course.
That’s right, eight weeks to go from most likely zero, to apparently now understanding anatomy, biomechanics, client screening, program design, exercise technique, special populations training and basic nutrition.
Yeah, good luck with that.
And after the eight weeks, newly “qualified” PTs are kicked out the door and into the workforce and off to inflict untold damage train paying clients who are none the wiser.
So how exactly do they cram all that in to an eight week course?
Well, they don’t.
And I’m open to any RTO calling me out and insisting I review their criteria (I would love to!) but from what I’ve learned anecdotally through hundreds of PTs and several RTO staff, the courses merely brush over the above components (if they are even addressed at all) and oftentimes place a greater emphasis on “team building” games, sales and marketing, and how to dress for your job interview.
Yes, I’m serious.

Once again, there is of course a discrepancy between the exact protocols of each RTO (a problem in and of itself) and with that I’m more than willing to play a little name and shame.
Though I have heard that the quality varies significantly from state to state (I’m based in Victoria) of all the fitness RTOs the Australian Institute of Fitness (AIF) is the biggest and baddest. Literally.
Backed by a massive marketing campaign that includes Michelle Bridges (of television’s The Biggest Loser fame) as an ambassador on TV and radio adverts, and a partnership with a massage institute, the AIF has well and truly won the RTO race to the bottom.
The AIF are by far the most expensive course on the Australian fitness market. For this near worthless experience you can expect to fork out over seven grand last I checked. (Comparatively, the going rate with most other RTOs runs from approximately $1500 to $4000).
Credit to their sales team as they are the most successful of all Australian RTOs (but don’t misinterpret this: their success is solely a product of aforementioned sales and marketing nous and saturation, and does not reflect their quality of work).
This position as an industry forerunner placed such pressure on other RTOs that almost all competitors buckled, and followed the AIF’s lead in the creation of the now ubiquitous eight week courses.
The result?
The AIF is the current leader in churning out hoards of overhyped and underprepared PTs into the overcrowded fitpro vocation.

AIF students are easily recognisable once you become familiar with their clones:

– All will wear a full suit to every interview. “Dress what you’re worth”, their mantra. (Dress for your environment, my rebuttal)
– All will write an identical program for every client, every time. Leg press, chest press, seated row for 3 sets of 10. Every. Time.
– All will complete a very basic and outdated pre-exercise screening process for each client: Blood pressure, girth measurements, weight, sit & reach test.
– All will stare blankly when asked to assess shoulder range of motion, or to name the major muscles responsible for creating hip extension.

Now of course, I’m being facetious. A little bit.
There are obviously plenty of great trainers out there doing great work despite a crappy initial education – AIF included – because they’ve taken it upon themselves to seek further knowledge and continually get better at what they do. I include myself in this category (while I wasn’t an AIF student, by my present standards and with the benefit of hindsight I can write off pretty much the first two years of my PT career as being a particularly craptastic trainer, also a story for another day).

Unfortunately, there are also plenty of trainers (trust me, I’ve seen many) that have come from this poor foundation and are still stealing taking money from people to perform personal training services despite never having attended a seminar or course, nor picked up a single text book, training DVD, or anything remotely educational outside of Muscle & Fitness or Oxygen magazine.

To end on a positive note and offer a ray of light, just as I’m prepared to call out AIF and their ilk, I’m more than happy to promote the good guys too, despite having no affiliation or vested interests.
The Personal Training Academy (PTA, from whom I also did not receive my PT qualification from) is far and away the most professional RTO that I have encountered. I’ve sent numerous prospective students to them and have met with some of their course facilitators.
PTA do not offer an eight week course, and their qualification is so thorough and time consuming relative to the alternatives, that on more than one occasion I’ve heard from students who were studying under PTA while their friends simultaneously studied at lesser quality organisations. Upon comparison of each other’s coursework they were both utterly shocked at the other’s – one for the sheer volume and depth of work (PTA) and one for the lack thereof.
PTA is the only one of the major RTOs, to my knowledge, that places an emphasis on functional anatomy and, with it, the concept of multiplanar movement and the fascial system. These are concepts that are rarely, if ever, even mentioned through most other RTOs.

And this isn’t to say that I agree with everything the PTA teaches either. But I know that if I wanted a PT to train my mother, then I’d be pretty comfortable with the trainer who at least has a basic grasp of the concept that the human body is a three dimensional creature. Meanwhile our AIF counterpart, despite his snazzy suit, will have to rustle up other means of funding his Muscle & Fatness subscription.

Summary:
RTOs need to be held to a higher standard of course implementation, and this standard needs to become consistent across the board.
I’d encourage any prospective trainer to avoid AIF like the plague. Presently, I’d place PTA as my top pick for a PT certification.
However, regardless of where a trainer may or may not have been certified, after their initial course they still have a lot of work to do to truly become fitness professionals.

Mentorships

In just about any other profession there exists a mentorship, an internship, an apprenticeship or any other process or program by which an inexperienced and minimally qualified individual is integrated into the profession under the guidance of a successful and experienced industry leader, to better grasp the finer points of their field and practical applications of their trade.
Once again, the fitness industry is lagging miserably in this regard, with little to nothing readily on offer.
A few trailblazers in our industry have set up their own form of these mentorships. Typically, however, two major shortcomings stand out:

1) These are neither recognised nor promoted by either governing bodies or RTOs.
2) The majority that currently exist do so in the area of fitness marketing and business coaching rather than focusing on developing the PT craft itself.

Summary:
A gaping hole exists in the Australian fitness industry infrastructure with a need for quality mentorship programs to be established and recognised.

Governing bodies

Fitness Australia (FA) is far and away the most widely recognised governing body in the Australian fitness industry, and one suspects that if they had it their way, they’d lead you to believe they were the sole authority of such.
Physical Activity Australia (PAA, formerly known as Kinect Australia) also exists as a smaller not-for-profit organisation. While not possessing the sheer manpower of FA, I and trainers I’ve dealt with have found PAA a relative delight to deal with in contrast to FA.
Multiple governing bodies coexisting is obviously a superior scenario than one entity monopolising the position. Basic economics dictates this.
However, substantial room for improvement exists within both organisations.
For PAA, this is primarily in regard to the lack of reach and exposure I already alluded to and, by extension, slower pace of action.
The present flaws with FA appear far more concerning in my view. The chief issue from a trainer’s standpoint is the seemingly haphazard approach to continuing education credit (CEC) courses.
I don’t claim to be privy to the inner workings of FA, but their claim of operating as a not-for-profit organisation is a particularly hard pill to swallow. This is an organisation that has repeatedly presented themselves as the nation’s premier fitness authority and one committed to improving the quality and professionalism of its members. Yet it fails to promote or offer CEC points on many high quality fitness education opportunities – certain courses on functional anatomy, track and field, and established world leader’s in sports science, implement training, nutrition etc.
Meanwhile, it promotes an influx of laughable trainer “education” gimmicks in the form of tool-based courses: that is, courses that are focused on the use of a single, extraneous, recently developed piece of equipment. BOSU, GymStick, BodyBlade, and various forms of wobble boards are but a few examples that immediately spring to mind, the theme being a tool that does not directly help a personal trainer become better at their craft, and one that serves as a tangible medium for generating ongoing sales for the tool’s brand. And one wonders where FA might fit into the deal, too.
Again, I don’t claim to know so am merely speculating, but this screams “royalty agreement” to me.

Clearly, a problem exists at this level whereby failure to pay attention to the science aspect of our field, or to align with recognised world leaders in this aspect, is setting trainers up to follow fads and gimmicks rather than to garner a deeper understanding of the fundamentals of what we do.

Summary:
The notion that merely holding registration with a governing body automatically deems a trainer as high quality, or even competent, is false.
And my absolutely biased recommendation is for Australian trainers to at least peruse PAA’s registration program rather than assume FA is the only option.

Take home points for the consumer

If you’re a fitness enthusiast or prospective client, the message is fairly straightforward: Caveat Emptor applies here.
Doing anything for your health and fitness is clearly better than nothing, so please don’t let my critique paralyse you and prevent action being taken.
And, is hiring a personal trainer to oversee your health and fitness needs a worthy investment? Absolutely.
Just understand that this here industry of mine, unfortunately, is far from a systematic affair.

You enter a McDonalds restaurant (actually if you’re reading this, you probably don’t, right?!) and order a medium Big Mac meal. Regardless of whether you are in Melbourne, Sydney or Perth, the meal you receive is exactly the same. That’s the end result of a system: reproducible results.

Hiring a personal trainer is probably more akin to buying a souvlaki at 3am: some will hit the spot just right and will be everything your inebriated little heart ever desired.
Yet others will be drowned in a dodgy garlic sauce that will leave you worshipping at the porcelain altar for the next three days.
That’s the current scenario in the fitness industry. Kinda.

And for the fitness professional

Whether you’re a personal trainer, a strength coach, or anything related in between, becoming great at what you do is part Science, part Art, and part Marketing and Sales.

I firmly believe that Science must serve as the foundation upon which to build.
When entrusted with the safety and performance of a human body, a sound scientific understanding is paramount.
Science is the area in which RTOs must prioritise.

Art then, is the knowledge and intuition of how and when to modify and to tweak, to simplify or to add flair. It is knowing when to follow the rules and when to break them.
However, without a foundation grounded in Science, Art becomes nothing more than a random affair, a whimsical outing at the gym.
Artistry is gleaned from experience, from mentors, and is continually developed throughout a blossoming PT career.

Marketing will let everyone know that you are indeed an efficacious blend of Scientist and Artist.
Salesmanship ensures you get people through the door to experience it.
Yet without the requisite components of Science and Art, you’re engaging in false Marketing, and Selling a lie.
Marketing and Sales skills may be picked up from myriad of sources – there is certainly no dearth of folks willing to teach you the “secrets” for $199 a month. These are then coupled with a little social intelligence, a basic understanding of behavioural economics, and plenty of action.

Now please, commit to perpetual improvement, and go and become great at what you do.

20 thoughts on “The State of the Fitness Industry: Australian Edition – Part 3”

  1. Straight shooting Will. If there is any sign of shuddering and shaking of heads coming from PT’s, RTO’s and FA, it’s because they are in denial of what you said! I agree with what you have said and truly believe our industry needs a radical shake up so that it becomes consistent across the country and for that fact, the world. When I left my RTO I felt I knew nothing and had been left to hang! Fortunately I found a studio (new) that looked after my needs and provided a mentor who taught me more than I had at the RTO – so valuable! On CEC’s I do them, but feel they are a rip off as they don’t provide great content, just good basic content. However they do help with furthering my education (somewhat), even if over priced! We really do need overhauling!! Thanks for the straight shooting.

    1. Thanks Martin!
      Unfortunately the story from PTs of completing their course yet feeling they’ve learned nothing is all too common.
      A big concern of mine on CECs is simply that of the best courses I’ve attended throughout my career, many of them were not CEC approved. That’s why I much prefer PAA: Typically, I can complete a currently non-points approved course, but tell PAA about it and they’ll quickly allocate PDP points to it.

      1. That’s good to know, as I find it hard to choose a CEC course that is aimed at what I’m wanting to learn. I’ll give PAA a look as I’m with Australian Fitness Network! Left FA after one stint with them. Cheers

  2. I did a fitness leader certificate in TAFE back in the late 1980’s and then had to do a couple of more specific courses to work as a PT and Aerobic Instructor. All of these courses together took around a year a couple times a week plus on the job training to complete. At that time I didn’t stay in the industry but re-trained in the the early 1990’s and was then working in the industry for around 6 years. I then took a break to go into full time work after gaining a degree in another field. I recently (in 2007) wanted to re-join the fitness industry. I was faced with having to complete the course again from scratch. I was really disappointed with this as I had worked for such a long time in the industry as well as already retrained. There was no option for a refresher course or recognition of prior work experience of qualifications. It seems like there needs to be something like this. One’s anatomy doesn’t change and I was really annoyed to have to do this all over again. I totally understand the need to retrain when it comes to things like new training methodologies and developments in the comprehension of muscle building, fitness and weight loss but those things that remain the same, like anatomy…well. There seems to be a giant hole in the industry in terms of a effective governing body. I also went to AIF with the hope of retraining but yes the cost was prohibitive. I tried an online course through a major women’s fitness chain (one that promises foxiness) and the way the course is run is quite abysmal although more friendly cost wise. I really just want to be able to keep teaching group exercise classes…..I hope that soon there will be some way for those already trained in and wanting to re-enter this industry after a break will be provided with a less prohibitive way soon.

    1. Hi Rhonda, thanks for reading.

      I agree that there should be an element of recognition of prior learning (RPL) in the industry for those that have previous study in the area, and I do know that some RTOs provide this option. I originally studied the C3 in fitness back in 2003, and then in 2007 I got RPLs through Fitnation to get my C3 & 4. So I’m not sure why an RTO would not offer you some RPL credit if you have the necessary documentation. Granted, there may be a time restriction on that.

      I have to disagree about your take on things not changing, however. Re anatomy, sure, the anatomy is the same, but what we know about that anatomy is very different now to even just a few years ago. So I do believe it is good practice to ensure fitness professionals are staying up to date with new findings and evidence. As I mentioned in the article, I currently recommend PTA as my preferred RTO (and I have absolutely no affiliation and did not go through them myself) as they are presently the only provider to educate students on actual functional anatomy (as opposed to solely textbook anatomy) and with it, the fascial system, which is something that was rarely discussed in the mainstream before the 2000s.
      And as I also mentioned, I would definitely suggest steering clear of the AIF!

      Re the governing bodies in our industry, I’ve met and been in multiple discussions with the heads of both Fitness Australia and Physical Activity Australia to discuss issues from an “In the trenches” perspective, and despite the obvious problems (which they themselves do acknowledge) they actually are on the right track for the most part, but it’s going to be a long, slow slog.
      I’d like to put the onus back on the fitness professional within the industry to drastically improve the professionalism with which we deliver our services, as it is currently deplorable overall.

      Thanks for commenting and good luck with your fitpro revival!

  3. Very accurate article. I myself am a PT and I have been for about the last 10 or so years. A few years ago I came across a statistic that said that the PT industry is one of the least successful vocations around. About a 95% failure rate. From what I’ve seen I think that that statistic figure is been quite generous actually!….

    1. Thanks for taking the time to read it Tom!
      No doubt the attrition rate is huge in PT, the reasons for which being multifactorial in my opinion.
      First there’s those who don’t take it seriously as a career, but rather figured they could make some extra cash by hanging out in the gym and playing quasi training partner. They simply don’t have the work ethic to deal with the early starts, late finishes, split shifts and weekend work that is usually required when building a career in this gig.
      Then there’s those who simply don’t elevate themselves to a level proficient enough to warrant an adequate income to live on. This runs into my first point.
      Lastly, there are no doubt issues from the top, with nobody yet mapping out a legitimate career pathway within the vocation.
      Those 5% that get through and stick around usually (not always, some have scammed their way through, but usually) are the ones who deserve to succeed.

  4. Fantastic read! I’m shopping for my cert3&4 and am leaning towards PTA =)
    Have been talking to both PTA and AIF in the last week. Just needing to choose one now!

    1. Thanks for checking out the blog Aish, glad you found it useful.
      Of those two, I would DEFINITELY recommend PTA. While none of the certs are completely comprehensive, PTA is far more so than the others, and AIF is, in my opinion, the lowest quality and the most expensive.
      Choose as you wish but in my mind the choice is a no-brainer 🙂

  5. Thanks for the read and your insight Will. Since your last blog on this topic I have taken part in Skill Services Australia’s attempt to clean up the training of PT’s across Australia and also push the diploma. In Brisbane only 3 PT’s attended, the rest were all RTO’s. It’s only a small step, but it will raise the standard (somewhat) and ensure that ALL RTO’s are teaching the same content. On top of that was the idea of the students having to “do time” like an apprentice before they can go from cert 3 to cert 4 and then diploma (if they choose that option). I believe what they are doing will stop 8 week graduates from hitting the gym floors, but that won’t be evident until it has gone through it’s due process and instigated – better not hold your breath!

    The other thing I have put my hand up for is mentoring of students – through Australian Fitness Network. As a mentor you will be given a student (in close proximity to your gym/studio) and you then have to take them through various aspects of your set up and carry out tasks all set by the AFN. It’s very in depth and we have to sigh off on logs that the student has done the task. Again it’s another small step and one we will have to wait and see if it will change things.

    Bottom line for me is that the industry really needs to be regulated, but the time and money involved in doing so is prohibitive. Had I won the $70M in lotto maybe I might have started the ball rolling (or I might have just disappeared to live a life of luxury etc etc!). If we are serious about our industry, maybe it will happen! BUT, I believe it would be similar to our trying to get our clients to change in getting our industry to accept change that would be for the better – a bloody hard slog! Cheers

    1. Good stuff Martin, great to see you’re one of the fitpros out there actively trying to improve the state of the industry.
      As I’ve said a few places before, I’ve sat down with heads of both Fitness Australia and PAA, and have heard about the proposed quasi apprenticeship arrangement too. I do believe they’re headed the right direction, but as you rightly point out, it’ll be a very slow and difficult process.
      To be honest I’m less interested in what industry heads are doing about it these days. I’ll do my part, my way. I’ve also got interns working under me, and we regularly take on PT students for shadowing hours and try to help point them in the right direction. With quality online educational resources available now (such as the Elite Fitness Mentorship which I’m a contributor to; see the banner link on the left of this page), as well as in person courses – more of which I plan on organising myself – there is ample quality information out there for fitpros to adequately educate themselves if they really want to put in the work and become professionals.

      1. Hello Will, I have been reading through the blog and need help. I am 56, have been training with a PT for 3 years and now into bodybuilding. I am searching out the best CIII and CIV course around with my PT being my mentor. I live in Tasmania, so don’t have access to as many face to face options. Can you please give me a heads up as to the best value for money online course. Having trained for 3 years, I have good basic knowledge, but now want all the underlying theory to help further develop myself and also be in a position to advise others with correct knowledge.

        Thanks you very much
        Kind regards
        alison

        1. Hi Alison, thanks for checking out my blog.

          I still think that by far the best RTO for fitness in Australia is the Personal Training Academy (PTA). They are really the only ones who go beyond the superficial level in functional anatomy, and while obviously it is far from a complete education – no single course will be – it stands head and shoulders above any others I’ve seen, and having a mentor to guide you from there on is a great option. Of course from there, it’s just process of being diligent in continual education – reading, listening to podcasts, investing in seminars and workshops and digital products and subscriptions etc.

          Good luck with it all!

          Best,
          Will.

    1. Thanks Tania. To be honest, today there’s probably no one I recommend overly highly, unfortunately. I’m a bit too far removed from the RTO scene now to hold a strong opinion either way. I’d still maintain avoiding the rip off that is AIF, however.
      Honestly, the most important aspect is the continuing education. Get the most convenient certificate you can, but then make sure you read a few good basic text books on A & P and training in general (see my resources page) and then just constantly read articles, research reviews, blogs from good coaches, listen to podcasts, purchase DVDs and webinars, attend workshops, and talk to other trainers and coaches both online and IRL.
      That’s honestly the best advice I can give you right now. Good luck!

  6. Hi Will.
    Yeah, wish I’d known about AIF prior to October last year. They talked me into their Master Trainer and Fitness Business Manager programs, now they have shortened the time for me to finish the FBM program as they’ve changed it and I will not be able to do it, but they will not refund my $$$ at all as I have finished one assessment out of the whole program (2 Cert IV’s and a Diploma). I finished the Master Trainer on Friday just gone, but now am not sure what’s needed next, besides insurance.

    I used to train others for years, but have been out of it for about a decade. So, I asked at my local gyms and they all said I ‘needed’ to do Certs III & IV and register with FA; no mention of PAA. At this crossroads, I am just not sure. I thought by what I was told that during my absence from the industry that FA became the official governing body and that I could not work anywhere or get insurance. Now, after reading your great blog above, I am not so sure and am quite concerned about what I’ve gotten myself into. I’ve spent a fortune getting to here, have the business all set up, which cost a small fortune too as I’ve gone through uniforms, logo, accounting software, meetings with accountants, etc and was about to register this morning with FA, only to come across your blog.

    Feeling a bit worried.

    1. Hey Peter, thanks for checking out my blog.

      You haven’t really asked me anything here, but I’ll throw out a few thoughts.

      You’ve already paid for your course, so don’t stress about it. I’m well aware of the costs of starting up a business and a facility, having just opened the doors to my own less than three weeks ago! But it’s money spent now, so move on. You’ve got a qualification which covers the minimum standard and you won’t have to worry about that again, so move on.

      Re rego, I still recommend PAA over FA. If you haven’t organised that yet, get on to it. No employer is going to turn you down due to being with PAA instead of FA. If they do, it probably a laughable organisation that would serve as a red flag.

      Re education, if you’re worried about what you’ve learned through AIF, I really wouldn’t. All the education starts after the course, when you’re on the gym floor, when you’re at seminars and workshops and conversing with other trainers/coaches/practitioners both face to face and online. Continuing education is key, not initial education.

      In light of that, I admin what has become without doubt one of the best FB groups for fitpros. I monitor closely for spam, and only approve join requests to people that I can clearly see are fitpros or work in related health fields. It’s called ‘The Education of a Fitness Professional’ and it now has well over 4K members. If you’re interested, feel free to shoot through a join request and I’ll add you in. Just make sure I can clearly see on your profile that you’re a fitpro!

      Hope that helps.

      Cheers,
      Will.

  7. Hi Will,

    Thanks for the informative article. I have an Occupational Therapy degree but I’m wanting a career change. I have been interested in doing my cert 3&4 for some time but have been very confused as to which provider to go through. Would you still recommend PTA as the best (since article was written in 2013)? What do you think of the Australian College of Sport & Fitness? Several PTs have recommended FIAFitnation too, but I’m concerned at how quick your qualification can be achieved.

    Your advice would be appreciated.

    Cheers

    Kathryn

    1. Hey Kathryn, thanks for checking out my blog.

      You’re right in pointing out that this article I wrote is coming up on 3 years old now, and to be honest, in that time I’ve become far less involved in monitoring the local industry from a qualification and regulation standpoint. So I’m not really sure.

      I think PTA is still pretty good. But others may also suffice or even be better, now, or be newly formed. And I can’t speak of the ACSF as I’m not familiar with it at all.

      What I will still recommend with confidence is to avoid spending $6K on your course (ahem, AIF).

      The other consideration is that you’ve already got a degree in a field with some crossover. You know how to deal with people 1:1. That’s a big deal, and something that your qualification makes barely a difference to.

      Having a decent foundation in anatomy and physiology is a big deal. So consider how well-versed you are there too. Or at the least, if you’re comfortable digesting textbooks, (also, there’s a great basic ex. phys. for free on Coursera) you could self-learn very effectively. The certifications I’ve seen rarely if ever recommend texts, and most trainers won’t read them, especially now in the Instagram era with minimal attention spans. But textbooks should be a large chunk of you education.

      With that in mind, you may very well be in a position to just opt for the cheapest and fastest course you can do.
      Because after the foundational knowledge (which as I said, the courses are typically lacking in, and text books would pick up much of the slack), the rest is learned on the job. You’re not going to learn much if anything useful about coaching actual people during your certification.
      Regarding program design and exercise technique and modification, most of them are elementary at best, woeful at worst.
      And nutrition information is also highly lacking.

      This is all information you learn either on the job, from your own continuing education (provided you seek out quality sources), or both.

      I hope that helps at a least Katharyn.

      Cheers.

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