Friday, June 12, 2009
Photo by ericmcgregor
As obesity, physical activity, and proper nutrition have become increasingly important topics within our society, we are seeing more and more people claim to be "experts" in these respective fields. For example, the news clip I posted Wednesday regarding chocolate and weight loss, included an interview with a "nutritionist". Now that sounds pretty official - he must have some sort of training in order to be called a nutritionist, right? Wrong.
Anyone, and I do mean anyone, can call themselves a nutritionist. For example, "I, Travis Saunders, am a nutritionist". I just did it. I could put that on my business card or resume, and have no fear of ever being sanctioned, because the term can be used by anyone, regardless of education, knowledge, or experience. The title is completely meaningless, and please point that out to anyone who claims to be one. Now if I were to claim that I were a physician, a lawyer, or physiotherapist, there would be serious repercussions. Not so with nutritionist. The term personal trainer is exactly the same - it can be used by absolutely anyone, and just because someone calls themselves a trainer does not mean that they have any training or skills whatsoever.
Why do I bring this up? One of the main reasons that Peter and I started this blog was because we saw so many people promoting training programs and weight loss gimmicks that are misleading, or even dangerous. These people often hide behind terms like personal trainer or nutritionist, which sound official, but really mean absolutely nothing. I get very frustrated when I hear some of the things that personal trainers tell their clients - things that at best are funny and misguided, and at worst can be dangerous and turn people off of physical activity forever. Most major fitness chains require that their trainers have Can-Fit-Pro certification, which requires a whopping 2 days of training. If you have ever taken a CPR weekend course, think about how little you know about life-saving. That is the same amount of training that most personal trainers have. This problem is not trivial - there is much more to personal training than simply showing someone how to lift weights. You need to understand metabolism, common injuries, illnesses, drugs, and how these things should dealt with in an exercise setting. Those aren't things that you can properly address in a 2 day course. It's a similar story with most nutritionists who, in contrast to Registered Dietitians, may have no special training whatsoever.
Luckily, things are starting to move in the right direction. The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology offers two certifications - Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) which requires a minimum of 2 years of post-secondary education in Kinesiology, and Certified Exercise Physiologist (CEP) which requires a minimum of a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology, as well as requiring experience and core competencies in several areas. In the United States, the American College of Sports Medicine offers similar designations known as Exercise Specialist and Registered Certified Exercise Physiologist. These terms are regulated, meaning that you can only call yourself a CPT or CEP if you have the required skills and education, and have passed a qualifying exam, just like any other professional designation (and in contrast to Can-Fit-Pro, which requires no training other than their own 2 day course). These terms are also being increasingly recognized, and many hospitals and clinics will only hire trainers that have a CPT or CEP.
These new certifications are great for several reasons. First of all, if you are being trained by a CPT or CEP, your trainer is much more likely to have the skills and knowledge necessary to train you safely and effectively. Just as importantly, these new designations make a Kinesiology degree far more valuable than it was just a few years ago. What's the point of doing a 4 year degree, when you can call yourself a personal trainer while you're still in high school? Now that these certifications are being required for an increasing number of jobs within the fitness and health industry, suddenly the Kinesiology degree is far more valuable, because it actually prepares you for a professional certification (just like a physiotherapy or occupational therapy degree prepares you for those professional certifications).
So, if you decide that you want the help of a personal trainer as you become more physically active, ask about your trainer's certifications. If they don't have a CPT or CEP, there is no guarantee that they have the knowledge or skills required to train you safely and effectively. There are enough obstacles to a proper fitness program, your personal trainer shouldn't be one of them. For a list of Certified Personal Trainers and Certified Exercise Physiologists in your area, contact the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology.
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Have a great weekend,
Travis (Certified Exercise Physiologist)
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