x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Licence plan for fitness instructors

You don't have to jog far in Dubai to find an exercise instructor. Now proposals are being drawn up requiring them to hold a licence.

Bruce King, the founder of Goal Attained and a qualified fitness instructor, says trainers should keep up with developments.
Bruce King, the founder of Goal Attained and a qualified fitness instructor, says trainers should keep up with developments.

DUBAI // Leaflets advertising the services of fitness trainers are regularly slid under apartment doors in the emirate's residential towers, promising to help to whip the occupants into shape. Scores more internet advertisements from local trainers offer private sessions at their apartment gyms, public beaches or parks in everything from mixed martial arts to tai chi. Some list their qualifications, others simply refer to their years of experience. They tend to charge between Dh100 and Dh300 per hour.

The barrage can be overwhelming for the average person, who may want to work themselves into better condition but who probably has little knowledge of the fitness industry and the qualifications a trainer should have. That looks set to change as the Dubai Sports Council (DSC) considers proposals to regulate the sector. "We are thinking in the future [that] all the trade licences of private clubs will be issued by Dubai Sports Council," a DSC official said. At present, licences are issued by the Dubai Economic Department.

Eventually, the official said, every private fitness club, sporting event and instructor or trainer operating in Dubai would be subject to DSC regulations, which would be drawn up on the advice of industry specialists. "We want to regulate and set the criteria which will be applied before starting any physical activity business, club or small event," he said. Should such rules come into force, anyone found operating without a DSC licence or prior approval from the three-year-old sporting body would be punished accordingly, he added. The DSC and Dubai Health Authority try to promote healthy living and physical activity.

Last October, they launched the Dubai Pulse campaign to encourage everyone in the emirate to exercise for at least 30 minutes a day. Many people are willing to do so, but some say they are hesitant to hire a trainer on a long-term basis. Ziad Youssef, 29, used a personal trainer at a large fitness chain for two months. Inexperienced in gym work and keen to build lean muscle mass, the Palestinian sales worker initially found the experience helpful as he was taught the basics.

However, pressure to recommit to expensive lessons, along with doubts about the potential of the prescribed programme, led him to stop the private lessons. He now trains himself. "I would welcome any efforts to regulate the industry," he said. "After a few sessions I didn't feel it was very highly skilled and I didn't see a big benefit." Bruce King, the founder of the Dubai-based fitness company Goal Attained believes that, in the interest of safety, instructors should be certified by internationally recognised training bodies and encouraged to keep apprised of changes in fitness research.

"If you are not keeping abreast of all of the research, and are not well trained, then how do you know what to teach clients?" said Mr King, a former British soldier who has the kind of international training he espouses. As an example, he pointed to new data about the best ways to stretch muscles. Beverley Strathean, a UK-trained physiotherapist who has worked in Dubai for nine years, voiced concerns about personal trainers advising clients on the treatment of sports injuries.

"It is a bit disconcerting when someone says they have had a problem and the personal trainer told them to do this or that and the advice given is wrong," she said. "Personal trainers may have a basic interest or understanding, but many are not trained in tissue injury and don't have medical expertise." Internationally recognised fitness courses are now being taught in the UAE by companies such as MeFit Pro and the Abu Dhabi-based Impact British Training Solutions (IBTS).

Amanda Brewer, the IBTS managing director, said attitudes towards fitness training in Dubai were improving, with at least one large hotel chain and a fitness chain now sending all instructors for appropriate tutelage. "It will be wonderful if they [the DSC] do pull something together," she said. "It will be great and push the industry forward professionally, giving it a higher status." Corey Oliver, the managing director of Original Fitness Co, and the MeFit Pro team has discussed with local authorities in Dubai and Abu Dhabi ways in which the industry may be regulated to safeguard the public.

"The industry is really taking off now and to have no regulations is such a shame," he said. @Email:loatway@thenational.ae