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