x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

Gyms warned over 'rogue' instructors

People looking to get fit may be hiring someone who is unqualified or uninsured, licensed companies say.

Cory Oliver, personal trainer and owner of Original Fitness Co, says unwitting gyms and customers may be hiring unlicensed and uninsured fitness instructors.
Cory Oliver, personal trainer and owner of Original Fitness Co, says unwitting gyms and customers may be hiring unlicensed and uninsured fitness instructors.

DUBAI // Poorly qualified exercise instructors - described as "cowboys" by one expert - are placing clients at risk of serious injury because of a failure to enforce health and fitness regulations.

Dozens of fitness companies and instructors,lacking the required qualifications, licences or insurance cover, have begun operating illegally in free zones in recent years.

Authorities are poised to crack down on rogue instructors with the help of legitimate firms.

"The problem is there are freelance trainers out there in Dubai," Corey Oliver, founder of the Original Fitness Co, said. "Some have fitness certificates, but many do not and set up shop where they want."

Mr Oliver and representatives from other fitness companies are working with the Dubai Sports Council to raise awareness among customers and professionals.

"We want to get everyone regulated because at the moment people are running the risk of suffering potential injuries by training with people who have neither insurance nor the most up-to-date qualifications," he said. "A number of these so-called fitness instructors and companies have been popping up in free zones around Dubai and the problem has been getting worse."

Mr Oliver added: “I can only describe them as cowboys who are poorly qualified, if at all, and are risking the health of the people they train.

“They are going for the cheap option by not registering with Dubai Sports Council and that’s making it difficult for genuine instructors.”

Free zone fitness companies are illegal. Only sports services firms run as local companies are allowed to operate fitness businesses.

Rania Boucher is the managing director of Middle East Fitness Professionals (Mefitpro), which has been asked by Dubai Sports Council to draw up plans to help deal with the issue.

“The problem is that many of these instructors come over on visitor visas and then begin offering fitness classes on their own or through a free zone company,” she said.

Authorities plan to  educate fitness professionals on the documents and other requirements needed to operate in Dubai, she said.

“You might have a situation where people come over and have some kind of university qualification from a five or six years ago, but they haven’t kept their knowledge up to date.

“It’s important in our industry to be able to keep your skills as updated as possible, whether it be nutritional advice or exercise routines.”

Ms Boucher advised those without the necessary qualifications to sign up to the internationally recognised American Council on Exercise (ACE) certificate, which can be completed in four months.

Mefitpro is working with Dubai Sports Council, the Department of Labour and the General Authority of Youth and Sports Welfare to target private clubs.

“What is happening is that people are signing up to train with bodybuilders who probably have very little knowledge about fitness,” she said.

Official figures are unavailable on the number of instructors or fitness companies operating illegally, but the practice is believed to be widespread.

Al Moutaz Billah Sharif, sport activity co-ordinator at Dubai Sports Council, which is working with other government departments on the issue, said: “We carried out workshops at which an inspection team from the Department of Economic Development answered questions from private sports clubs.”

He said the department would be monitoring public areas and would arrest people who failed to follow the correct procedures.

Shafiq Hussain, a freelance fitness instructor who has been working in Dubai for two months, said he agreed with the crackdown on bad instructors.

“On the other hand just because you have a certificate that says you are qualified doesn’t necessarily make you a good instructor,” he said.

“I have seen so-called qualified instructors make basic mistakes when they are trying to teach other people.”

Mr Hussain said he would comply with any regulations the authorities imposed.

The Department of Economic Development was unavailable for comment.

nhanif@thenational.ae