The Scary Truth About the Fitness Industry

Bear with me here.

To work as a hair dresser here in Pittsburgh, you must first be certified by the Pennsylvania Board of Cosmetology. This requires 1,250 hours of cosmetology classes. To work as a real estate agent in Pennsylvania, you must complete 60 hours of instruction, pass an examination with at least an 80%, obtain a broker affiliation, and apply for state licensure. Heck, to work as a truck driver in Pennsylvnia, you need to, at the very least, pass both the written and practical commercial driver’s license exams through PennDOT.

So why the heck am I talking about hair dressers and truck drivers?

To work as a personal trainer, you are require to do… absolutely nothing whatsoever. Any Joe Schlub can wake up on any given day, and decide to call himself or herself a personal trainer. There is absolutely no law prohibiting it.

As someone who works as a personal trainer, I’ve taken the time to obtain certification as a master personal trainer from an NCCA-accredited institution. Moreover, in addition to maintaining my continuing education training, I’ve chosen to pursue multiple fitness-related specializations (performance enhancement specialist, fitness nutrition specialist, weight loss specialist, group personal training specialist… in fact, I’m currently working towards a behavior change specialization as well). All of this, of course, is in addition to my previously-held bachelor’s degree, including my college courses in nutrition, anatomy and physiology I, anatomy and physiology II, and health across the lifespan. Yeowza!

So I’m tooting my own horn quite a bit there, admittedly, but it’s all to prove a point about the regulation of the fitness industry. The fitness industry, as a whole, is entirely unregulated; when you choose a personal trainer… theoretically, you could be playing a grab-bag with your own health, fitness, and body. You could be working with too-many-credentials-to-fit-on-her-business-card Muddy Melissa (hey, that’s me!) or you could be working with I-woke-up-today-and-kinda-felt-like-trying-out-this-personal-training-“thing” Joe Schlub. The burden to do the legwork to investigate who’s who is left entirely up to the client. Getting your hair cut? The government wants to know that your tresses are in properly trained hands. Passing a truck driver on the roads? The government wants to make sure that truck driver can safely maneuver that vehicle on the roads. Buying a house? Well, the governments won’t let you buy a house through an agent who hasn’t proven their know their stuff.

This is high-quality artwork

This is high-quality artwork

Yet… the fitness industry, which can be downright dangerous when you’re working with someone untrained, has zero requirements at all. You don’t need to be certified as a personal trainer, although, likewise, you can’t call yourself a “certified personal trainer (doing this would constitute fraud— which is illegal, yet has zip to do with the fitness industry itself).” You don’t need to obtain liability insurance either, although not doing so can open yourself up to potential lawsuits for the damaging effects of your negligent training (it can, however, be argued that a client consented to the risks when working with a personal trainer who openly disclosed his/her lack of certification— making them not liable). Although there are a handful of uncertified personal trainers who never obtain “official” certification yet have done the work on their own to educate themselves in the fitness field, for the most part uncertified personal trainers are simply ineffective at best… and irreversibly dangerous at worst. As you can see, this leads to some scary possibilities here. When working with an uncertified personal trainer, there’s a high likelihood that you could become injured, and, if you do become injured, you may have no legal recourse to pursue the matter.

Imagine the horror of taking the steps to work towards a better, fitter, healthier you… then sustaining a life-altering injury in the process with no way to cover the costs of the bills for that injury. Yet that’s a reality for many; all due to the way the fitness industry is, for the most part, unregulated (and don’t get me started on the lack of regulation relating to other aspects of health, fitness, and nutrition OR the fact that the majority of people in the fitness industry are simply glorified sales reps trying to hawk a product to you!).

So what’s the point of all this?


As a highly-educated certified personal trainer, I… want to be recognized as such. I’m not sure how that sounds; some might find it conceited (which I understand), but, yeah, it’s how I feel about it. I’ve worked hard for my achievements, and I’m really proud of everything I’ve accomplished. To be lumped in with a pool of people who simply haven’t taken the time to educate themselves so they can best help others… well, it diminishes what I stand for and what I’ve worked for.

On top of all that, it makes my job harder. A huge part of my job is client education. Because of all these uneducated “personal trainers” out there, misinformation is rampant within the fitness industry. Carbs are bad. Fat is bad. Weight lifting makes you bulky. Cardio is the only way to lose weight. Etc. Etc. Etc. My job shifts from merely educating clients to, first, explaining WHY the information they’ve previously received is incorrect… then educating them accordingly. Simply put, it’s like being a solitary voice of reason amidst a thousand loudly-clamoring idiots.

Lastly— and, in my opinion, most importantly— people’s lives are at stake here. Okay, okay… that sounds way more melodramatic than I intended it to. But it’s true. People go to a personal trainer for one reason alone: to change their lives. Some want to be healthier and to live longer. Others want to get in shape and to improve their quality of life. To look better, to feel younger, to have confidence, to do the things you love, to get your life back, to feel like you again… so many reasons, but each and every one of these reasons has the potential to change somebody’s life. When you have these people floating around out there who are, as I stated earlier, ineffective and uneducated at best and dangerous and negligent at worse, people just aren’t being helped; lives aren’t being changed.

And isn’t that the whole point? To help? To change?

Just my thoughts!


Muddy Melissa

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1 comment

  1. Melissa,

    Love all your thoughts here. Changing your life is hard and finding someone you can trust who is qualified to actually help you and not hurt you is even harder. When I went through the changes I needed to make in my life to ensure I was around for my sons a few years ago, my doctor and a hospital certified nutritionist could help in many ways, but working through the physical aspects of health change was trial and error for me. So, honestly I write about it and other topics I struggle and succeed through.

    Knowing there are highly qualified personal trainers and what one goes through to become highly qualified would have been a huge help. That said, I have a suggestion. I know folks in your area can find you, how would folks in other states or countries know the difference between someone qualified like Muddy Melissa versus Joe-just-woke-up-and-decided-to-become-a-trainer?

    Would you post an questions to ask, what to look for, how to find, how to qualify? I’d be happy to cross-post back to you from my blog to help folks filing more qualified information.

    Keep up the awesome work!


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