BOSTON -- Last month, the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Public Health held a legislative hearing in Boston on Senate Bill 870, which would require the licensing of personal trainers.

The July 21 hearing was attended by about 50 personal trainers in Massachusetts. In addition, three industry representatives gave testimony against the bill at the hearing: Amy Bantham, the deputy vice president of government relations for the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA); Art Curtis, the CEO of Millennium Partners Sports Club Management, Boston; and Lisa Hufcut, the director of public relations for Town Sports International (TSI), New York.

“It seemed like this session went pretty well,” Curtis says. “The committee seemed receptive to what we had to say. There was a strong response from private trainers in Massachusetts.”

The bill would require license applicants in Massachusetts to:

1) Be graduates of an accredited educational program leading to professional qualification in personal training

2) Hold a certification accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA)

3) Pass an exam with oral and practical demonstrations of skill.

The exam must be approved by an independent licensing board composed of an exercise science professor, a practicing personal trainer with credentials and a member of the public.

Bantham testified that the personal training industry already has embraced accreditation as a means to ensure consumer safety through self-regulation. She cited a recommendation, adopted by the IHRSA Board of Directors in 2005, in which IHRSA member clubs hire personal trainers who either are certified through one of the 12 personal training certifying bodies accredited by the NCCA or have a certificate or degree from an educational institution recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and the U.S. Department of Education.

Bantham also testified that the bill’s educational requirements are unclear. She added the bill would in effect decrease the number of personal trainers providing services, increase the cost of personal training services and decrease the number of consumers wanting to pursue physical activity programs.

Curtis, whose company runs six clubs under the Sports Club/LA name, including one in Boston, testified that more clubs are adopting the IHRSA recommendation in order to remain competitive and that more members are demanding qualified trainers.

“The pool of qualified trainers has substantially increased as the availability of quality accredited certification programs has increased,” Curtis said.

TSI’s presence at the hearing was warranted by the fact that its Boston Sports Clubs chain is the largest operator of fitness clubs in Massachusetts, with 24 clubs, 250 trainers and 75,000 members. Hufcut testified that TSI already has embraced accreditation. Boston Sports Clubs requires all of its personal trainers attain an accredited personal training certification as a condition of employment.

Hufcut also testified that the licensing guidelines in the Massachusetts bill would not only increase costs to trainers but to the clubs that employ them as well. The guidelines in the bill may be unattainable for most personal trainers, who may be forced to set up their own personal training businesses outside of clubs, Hufcut says.

“The state has provided little to no evidence that an expansive and expensive regulatory regime is necessary to increase safety,” Hufcut said in her testimony. “Voluntary certification programs work and have worked with little evidence to the contrary for years. The expense to business and the consumer cannot be justified when a large body of highly successful voluntary certification programs has long ensured standards of excellence and consumer confidence.”