As exercise professionals, we see individuals presenting with a range of injuries or illness.

Corinne Austin

In our position, we need to take the individual standing before us, screen them thoroughly, and generate a profile and risk stratification of their physical health to prescribe a programme that acknowledges their physical needs and contraindications and steers them toward their goals.

This is real science – science that I think is often misunderstood from those on the outside looking in.

For those of us with fit-for-purpose, recognised qualifications, there is an understanding that there is a science behind exercise prescription – it’s not just about ‘toning up, getting fit or losing weight’, it’s about keeping the exercisers safe, and doing the absolute best you can for their health.

We keep them safe while exercising, and understanding how to keep them safe is part of what makes a qualified professional stand out from someone without qualifications, who may be an experienced participant but lacks any formal training.

In the same way that we don’t allow anyone to prescribe a drug, we shouldn’t trust anyone to prescribe exercise. When an individual is in the hands of somebody with inadequate or no qualification anything is possible.

At this point in time anyone can set themselves up as a personal trainer or fitness coach with zero industry-related qualifications. This needs to be changed. Registration is part of this change.

In New Zealand, the Register of Exercise Professionals (REPs) operates a registration body for exercise professionals, exercise facilities and education providers. This means members of the public and other health professionals know that exercise professionals they work with meet a recognised standard to ensure safe and effective exercise advice.

REPs is recognised by many organisations, including Exercise New Zealand (the industry association), and the International Confederation for Registers of Exercise Professionals (ICREPs). The majority of those working in the exercise industry are reputable, honest and professional.

Unfortunately, like any industry, not all trainers or facilities are up to the required standards or professionalism. Therefore, REPs registration gives independent verification that a registered individual/facility meets the industry standards on an ongoing basis.

While exercise is an important part of injury prevention and rehabilitation ACC does not currently fund exercise professionals, however ExerciseNZ is currently working with ACC to identify causes of, and ultimately reduce injury rates of those exercising in New Zealand. A key part of any solution is likely to involve exercise professionals.

Registered exercise professionals understand their own scope, and refer to health professionals on a regular basis. This is about working together for the benefits of clients and allows health professionals to have a better understanding of the scope and role that exercise professionals can play in health too.

Whilst registered under REPS, trainers are required to refer on to other health professionals for any health concerns that are outside their scope of practice.
Exercise is a crucial element of an individual’s health and wellness programme; allied health professionals need to be able to know who is qualified and to what level so that they can refer on to the most appropriate exercise professional.

With collaboration between the varying health practices and professionals, there is greater room for successful management of a person’s health, leading to improved outcomes and personal success.

Many exercise professionals spend extended periods with their clients in a session, often on a weekly basis, this is more than many other allied health professionals can offer in terms of time, as well as frequency of sessions. Exercise professionals therefore hold a significant opportunity to not only educate and exercise, but to also build strong client/ trainer relationships on which behaviour change and better health can be established.

As our industry and roles have changed so have the titles we use to describe ourselves. Moving from ‘exercise professional’ to ‘health and exercise professional’ is about reflecting the reasons people use an exercise professional, rather than redefining the actual role.
People exercise for lots of reasons, and with the continual growth in lifestyle-type diseases and chronic illness, it’s become recognised that exercising is far more than losing weight or gaining muscles.

The term ‘health and fitness’ or ‘health and exercise’ professional has evolved alongside this, acknowledging that by prescribing appropriate and relevant exercise programmes we are affecting a person’s health (as well as their fitness), understanding that regular exercise and movement are non-negotiable aspects of our wider health practices.

Ultimately, it’s about exercise and health professionals working together for better health and exercise outcomes for kiwis.

Corinne Austin is a Whangarei-based, REPs-registered, Health and Exercise Trainer. In 2017 she took out the coveted Personal Trainer of the Year Award at the Exercise Industry Awards.

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