Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Brains or brawn?

Certification more important than a six-pack when choosing a personal trainer

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You're not ready to give up on your resolutions yet.

So to continue your 2013 health kick, you're thinking about enlisting the help of a personal trainer.

But with so many options out there (it seems like everyone with bulging biceps calls themselves a personal trainer these days), who do you hire?

Barb Cajas, co-founder of the Manitoba Exercise Professionals Association (MEPA), has pushed for years to regulate the Wild West that is the personal-training industry.

The industry remains unregulated, but Cajas says the public finally understands not all personal trainers are created equal.

Here's what the University of Winnipeg kinesiology instructor and owner of CORE Training and Therapy had to say about the subject:

FP: When did you found MEPA and why?

BC: I think it was in the early 1990s, so almost two decades ago. We did it to give the professionals a place they could call home and to be out there in the public like other professionals -- like the medical community, registered dietitians. To have a presence for the general public so they knew they had a reputable, credible organization where they could get personal trainers.

FP: Since 2011, MEPA has evolved into the Manitoba Kinesiology Association. Why the change?

BC: Primarily to come on board with the rest of Canada. Kinesiology is a more global application of what we do. It's the study of human movement. It's not just about exercise anymore. It's about moving the body, just being physically active. Even in our field, we now know that even lower doses of physical activity are better than nothing at all. Most of the university faculties have changed. They used to be called physical education. Now it's the faculty of kinesiology.

FP: Is it true that anyone can use the title personal trainer in Canada?

BC: Yes. That's correct.

FP: Isn't that a scary thought?

BC: Yes. That basically means anybody who looks good in a pair of tights or workout wear can call themselves a personal trainer, charge whatever they want for the service and offer themselves up as personal trainers. They have no clue of the liability involved. I think Canada doesn't tend to be a litigious society. Even though people have gotten hurt by trainers who don't know what they are doing, nothing ever really gets done per se.

FP: Is there a region of the world that's ahead of the game in regulating its personal training industry?

BC: Ontario now has a Regulated Health Professions Act. Kinesiology is now recognized as a profession in Ontario. And in Manitoba, the MKA is continuing to push for licensing for the field of kinesiology.

FP: What's taking so long?

BC: It's normal government procedure. Anytime changes are being made at a government level, the changes take time. Until then, it is definitely, "Consumers beware." Until then, people need to make sure the personal trainers they hire do have a degree in kinesiology. And in Manitoba, the place to go for that list would be the MKA.

FP: Are you saying we shouldn't hire people who call themselves personal trainers if they don't have a kinesiology degree? Even if they even have decades of experience, along with other certifications?

BC: I wish it was that simple. But I would strongly recommend against hiring them, (because) there's less chance of the client getting injured or frustrated or having a negative experience. There are personal-training certifications that people can get from taking a weekend courses. But if they've never had educational training in physiology, the consumer is at risk. If somebody has osteoporosis or had a recent heart attack or is on certain medications, then the exercise prescription becomes a lot more tricky... Experience is valuable, but it needs to be supplemented with solid education as well.

FP: Have non-degreed trainers argued with you that they have enough experience and smarts to be a personal trainer, no degree required?

BC: Yes. I will not hire anybody unless they have their kinesiology degree and the Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology -- Certified Personal Trainer (CSEP-CPT) certification.

FP: What education should the consumer look for in a personal trainer?

BC: Ideally, a kinesiology degree and CSEP-CPT. The next level up is CSEP-CEP, which stands for certified exercise physiologist. The CSEP-CPT is the minimum standard that people should look for in a personal trainer in Canada. To get the CSEP-CPT, you need to have a minimum of nine (body science) courses taken at the university level. That's a lot of course work taken at the university level.

FP: Should people ask to see these certificates?

BC: In a credible business, those certificates should be up on the wall. And yes, they should ask. There should be no secrets. If somebody's lying about maintaining a certification, the client has every right to know and to not purchase personal training. They can also contact CSEP directly; they maintain a national list. CSEP membership also includes insurance coverage. That's protection for the consumer in case they are injured.

FP: Are people becoming more aware of what to look for in a trainer?

BC: Within the last year and a half, we've actually had people calling to ask if our trainers have kinesiology degrees. That's never happened before.

FP: What's the worst thing that can happen if you train with an unqualified personal trainer?

BC: Muscle strains and pulls are common, especially if the program was imbalanced. But people can get hurt if they hire the right person, too.

FP: How much should a personal trainer cost?

BC: From $50 to $100 an hour. Some companies will sell packages. Make sure you check to see if the package you purchase has to be used by a certain date.

FP: Is there value in group training sessions?

BC: Yes. The person who is running that group will be able to still help those individuals. It will never be the same as working one on one. But they will still be able to keep that program safe and progressive and those people will get to share a cost.

FP: How important is the style of the personal trainer you hire?

BC: Personalities can definitely play a role in your success. Some people prefer a trainer to be more serious and laid-back. Others prefer a more vocal, drill-sergeant style. If a client feels like they are going to be injured and the trainer doesn't give them the sense that they have the right to stop, that's a problem.

FP: Should every trainer perform an initial consultation?

BC: There should always be medical screening and some preliminary work to determine the client's goals and time constraints.

FP: Why are you so passionate about fitness?

BC: I've never had to worry, "I don't want to go hiking because I don't know if I can last," or "I don't want to waterskiing because I'm afraid that I might get hurt." I've never had to worry about things like that because I have enough physical ability. That comes from keeping the body in shape. It's not just looks.

I want to be able to help other people have that kind of power. To help them feel like they own their body they are going to be living in for the rest of their life -- and not trapped.

Have an interesting story idea you'd like Shamona to write about? Contact her at

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 28, 2013 D1

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