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Washington, D.C., Plans New Training Regulations, Shaking Up Fitness Industry

The city is planning a new set of regulations around the certification of personal trainers, setting up a battle with implications for fitness professionals—and their clients—nationwide.

Washington, D.C., is set to announce new regulations on the city’s burgeoning fitness industry—and they could have major implications for personal trainers nationwide.

The D.C. City Council has passed a law requiring the city’s Board of Physical Therapy to develop new regulations around personal fitness trainer certifications. In other words, the city will now define who can call themselves a personal trainer—and who can't.

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The board has held public meetings to determine what those regulations will be, soliciting input from trainers and certification associations around the city. The board isn’t releasing any information about the regulations until it formally presents them on September 22, so it's difficult to know how they'll affect trainers in the nation's capital. Once the board votes on regulations Sept. 22, the public will have another 30 days to comment and possibly ask for revisions before the rules take effect.

That’s when the real scrutiny begins and there’s a lot at stake for the city’s nearly 6,000 personal trainers, the gyms that employ them, and the people who hire them.

Proponents say the regulations will help ensure that personal trainers are competent, qualified, and held to a uniform set of standards across the industry. Some in favor of the regulations argue they would provide a unified framework to ensure trainers receive adequate training before they start getting people to pump iron or crank out pushups.

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“This is a way to help and protect the consumer. You want everyone to understand and respect what the ground rules are for being a professional in the fitness and training space,” says Wade Delk, the government affairs director of the Coalition for the Registration of Exercise Professionals, an advocacy group within the U.S. Registry of Exercise Professionals (USREP). USREP comprises many of the largest and most prominent organizations that certify trainers—including the National Strength and Conditioning Association, the American Council on Exercise, and the American College of Sports Medicine.

But critics say that unfairly restrictive regulations would do far more harm than good.

“We have so many titles in the industry that wrangling in one set standard is going to be pretty difficult without losing a lot of jobs,” says Phillip Godfrey, MES, a trainer at Medical Exercise Trainers in Washington, D.C., who has followed the proposed regulations closely in public meetings. “If the new standards say you have to have a degree and an NCCA-accredited certification, well, 75% of the market doesn’t have a degree. It would knock a lot of trainers out of the market.”



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