It may surprise many that I am against the licensing of personal trainers. I hold a Ph.D. in exercise physiology, have taught at the university level and believe that one of the primary reasons more clubs don’t succeed with medical referral programs is because many trainer certifications aren’t seen as credible by medical professionals.

Why, then, am I against the licensing of personal trainers? I can sum it up in two words: economics and politics. Let me explain:

The number one expense for club operators of all sizes is payroll. Historically, any time a person in any industry is professionally licensed, their salary and/or wages will increase. Regardless of which employment model that management has in place for their trainers (employees, independent contractors or subcontractors), the increased cost of payroll/trainer rates will ultimately need to be factored into the overall club profitability. The operator then has three choices: reduce margins, lower the number of personal trainers in their facility (or facilities) or pass on the increased cost to members.

In the economic climate of the past 18 months, I believe that many operators will choose a combination of trimming their personal training team and passing on the built in cost of licensure to members, should it occur. With current penetration rates for personal training at an industry average of 3 percent to 5 percent per club, it is likely that increased costs will result in even fewer participants. Whether the club has just three to 10 trainers or whether they are a large chain with several thousand trainers, the increased compensation due to licensure, the reduction in personal training revenue due to fewer trainers in facilities, and the increased pricing passed onto members will have a significant impact on top and bottom line profitability. These are the fundamental realities of consumer economics.

From a political perspective, licensure will bring more government oversight, bureaucracy and regulations to our industry. We could potentially have state and/or federal agencies mandating how we manage this segment of our business. Do we really want the government “policing” our industry? Most likely, we would face additional administrative requirements with more fees associated to pay for the infrastructure necessary to support this new system. With essentially every state looking for opportunities to raise additional sources of revenue, licensure has proven an easy option.

When an industry becomes regulated and licensure occurs, it often invites professional labor organization and/or unionization. This occurred with the airline industry, contractors, dental hygienists and massage therapists. If this were to happen, club operators could incur additional expenses and be subjected to unwanted intervention of union leadership, which can become political in nature.

When you combine the economic and political implications of licensing personal trainers, the result is a model that will drive down profits and increase regulation. Ultimately, we will end up with more challenges to our industry and most likely it will result in less productivity and consumption.

That said, I am not opposed to better organization of personal trainers in our industry. I believe this can be accomplished with the current resources we have available. At present, many personal trainers have four-year degrees in exercise science, sports medicine, physical education or a related field. We also have some credible national certifying organizations that do a great job of providing personal trainers with both the academic and practical education necessary to deliver safe and sound exercise program design within the agreed upon scope of practice.

If those in favor of licensure are concerned about the safety of consumers, then we as an industry need to do everything possible to prevent injuries and litigation. If club operators hire only trainers who have credible certifications, the end goal of licensure could be accomplished by a means that would not cause the above mentioned economic impact and the added bureaucracy.

Kevin D. Steele, Ph.D., has been in the health and fitness industry for the past 25 years. Currently, he is a principal with Communication Consultants. He speaks at conferences and works with health club operators worldwide. Dr. Steele can be reached at kdsteelephd@yahoo.com