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Are trainers killing people?  Well, it isn't always murder.  Sometimes it's up to the courts to decide, and sometimes . . . the clients even pull through.

In 2003 a woman named Susan Guthrie hired a personal trainer in her home town of Atlanta, GA.  After two workouts, during which she complained of exhaustion and excruciating pain, she wound up on life support with severe rhabdomyolysis.  That was a juicy lawsuit.  It came only a year after the infamous Crunch Fitness trainer was charged with wrongful death for recommending a stimulant supplement to somebody with high blood pressure.  That’s about the time it started.  Lawsuits related to personal training negligence and inadequate response are now commonplace.  In preparing for an interview I’m about to do with a high profile attorney who has prosecuted more than a few health club owners and personal trainer, I was stunned by the magnitude of the discernible error in most cases. 

The trainers clearly weren’t competent.  Is it the trainers’ fault?  I’m not sure.  As I read through some transcripts, there are times it’s clear the trainer is arrogant, underequipped for special circumstances, and naive to his or her shortcomings.  In other cases, I believe the trainer was a victim of a health club operation where a nonsensical certification process deemed the trainers “competent.” 

I will be preparing an article for Personal Fitness Professional about the liability issues, but reading between the lines, the message is . . . in an industry where standards are all over the board, where professionalism is yet to be clearly defined, and where, despite the pretense of business structure, most fitness organizations, behind the curtain,  resemble the Wild West . . . organizations need to self-regulate and provide continuing education and recurring assessment to ensure a standard that can be trusted.

A decade ago there were probably 60 or 70 insurance carriers that willingly wrote umbrella policies for health club and fitness centers.  As the lawsuits escalated, it became clear that the liabilities are excessive, not because of the inherent risks of exercise, but because of the reliance upon what members believe is “expertise.”  Today there are 6 or 7 insurance carriers that continue to write health club liability policies.  This is not a problem, but rather a symptom.  Compound the exercise related injuries with the drowning of a 4-year old in a health club summer camp program (supposedly supervised), a 7-year old who was killed by improper use of equipment as his dad performed cable crossovers, and a slew of injuries holding group exercise instructors liable, and it’s clear that the problem is one of control and standard.

The reality is this.  Personal Trainers, if they are to prosper and find career security, have to be responsible for their own self regulation, for setting the bar high, and for seeing the low barrier or entry into this field as a handicap for the industry but an opportunity for those looking to excel.

What do you think?  Are most trainers lacking in competence?  Should there be greater controls?  Is liability simply a side effect of what we do for a living?  How can trainers insulate, protect themselves, or raise the bar for the industry?

Please post your comments at the Every Personal Trainer Needs to Know page (if you aren't yet a member, and you are  personal trainer, sign up . . . it's free).  I'll consider your comments and/or ask the questions you post both during the interview and in the final copy of the article.  Comments are invited and appreciated.  Access the page here:

ALSO . . .  I have six remaining openings in my Be Better Project 2012.  The curriculum is built upon the highest standards of excellence.  It is unlike any other program in existence.  That I guarantee.  If you have any interest, read the following:

Be Better,

Phil Kaplan