'Certified,' But Not Necessarily 'Qualified'

CAROUSEL - In a video made by undercover conservative activists, an employee of the anti-poverty and housing rights group ACORN (right) advises a woman posing as a prostitute about how to avoid paying taxes and secure a home loan.
Like anyone who has ever hired a certified personal trainer, Dr. Jacob Ulfarsson trusted his trainer completely. Trusted him even when an intense exercise called a step up began to cause him severe pain.

"He had excruciating pain in his lower back," says Ulfarsson's attorney Andy Custer. "He lost the feeling in his leg."

Custer says Ulfarsson injured a disc in his back that day, when the trainer urged him to ignore the pain.

The trainer, who worked at this Gold's Gym in Florida, denies the incident ever happened; but both his insurance company and the gym settled out of court. Ulfarsson did not want to comment. But his lawsuit raises a serious question: Is a "certified" trainer always "qualified?"

The trainer, during a pre-trial deposition, was asked what made him a "certified" personal trainer. He was certified he insisted, through a mail order course, consisting of a single text book followed by a four-hour exam.

"There is a very real risk of being injured," says professor Larry Hamm, who teaches exercise science at George Washington University.

He says health club consumers are on their own. With more than 200 certifications available, Hamm says some trainers are first-rate experts in everything from physiology to body fat composition. While others simply buy a credential online.

For $100 on the Internet, "you can end up getting a certificate in the mail you can put on your wall that claims you are a certified something," says Hamm.

In any gym in America, the certifications listed by the trainers are all over the map: From the National Academy of Sports Medicine to the National Certification With NSPA.

So many health clubs protect themselves, and clients, by using outside contractors like Wolf Gotchaulk to hire the trainers. He requires a college degree in exercise, not just a certification.

"There are so many acronyms out there for certifications and there is no industry standard into becoming a trainer," says Gotchaulk.

Other gyms train the trainers themselves.

In this billion-dollar industry where training can cost more than a $100 an hour, business is pumped. But high demand is part of the problem. Pretenders are blending with in the professionals.