INSIDE EDITION Investigates: Are All Personal Fitness Trainers Qualified?

Americans may be getting heavier, but health clubs are now a $21 billion dollar industry and the demand for trainers has gone through-the-roof.  However, they're not always well qualified. INSIDE EDITION’s Lisa Guerrero went undercover and,

Each year, some 5 million people get whipped into shape with the help of personal trainers. Many trainers are experienced, certified and qualified.

Ava Cowan, a qualified trainer and fitness model warns, "Just because you are certified doesn't mean you are qualified. There's a huge difference."

Theresa Lynn of Coral Gables, Florida, wishes she would have checked the credentials of her trainer.

"I can't work anymore," Theresa told INSIDE EDITION’s Chief Investigative Correspondent Lisa Guerrero.

Lynn is a mother of three girls and is a former model. She used to be very active, but now she says she's disabled and blames her Florida fitness trainer, John King.

She said King told her that he was a certified personal trainer, but recommended improper exercises which caused a back injury so severe it required surgery.

"I said, 'I don't think I could do anymore,' then he said, 'Push through it' and I wish to God I had never done that," said Lynn.

Now, she's in constant pain and says she needs a regimen of painkillers including Morphine, just to get through the day.

An INSIDE EDITION investigation found not a single state regulates fitness trainers. In other words, just about anyone can call themselves one, including INSIDE Edition’s Lisa Guerrero.

Guerrero wondered if she could become a certified trainer. She admits that she hardly ever goes to the gym and has never studied exercise and fitness.  

First, she went online and found a certification course where, believe it or not, you don't pay until you pass. It took a couple of hours to easily pass the test and she was able to immediately print out an official-looking certificate.

It didn't take long to get a second certification. All she had to do was attend a one-day course in New York City and take a test.  She passed and received another official-looking certificate.

Now, with two easy certifications in hand, could Guerrero get a job?

First she put on a disguise to avoid getting recognized. That didn't work at one gym in Washington D.C.

"You're not Lisa Guerrero, are you?" asked the employee.

"Do I look familiar?" asked Guerrero.

"Yes," he answered.

At another D.C. gym, they didn't recognize her but weren't impressed with her certifications. "Neither of your two certs are in fact on the approved list," said the gym manager, who didn’t offer her the job.

But at a third gym in D.C., One World Fitness, her first interview went well, even though she told them she had no experience.

"I have two certifications for personal training, but I have never trained anybody. I haven't trained anybody specifically, is that ok?" asked Guerrero.  

"Yes," answered the woman interviewing Guerrero.

Believe it or not, I was invited back for a second interview, all the time being up front about my lack of experience.

This time the owner of the gym, asked, "Do you train now, are you?"

"No, I've never trained," said Guerrero.

"Never trained?" asked the owner "Never, ever, ever?"

"That's why I got both of those certifications," said Guerrero.
"I think that these certs, not because you've taken them, are crap, because certs to me are just, they’re just crap. It's just a legal thing.  We need a rudiment to allow us to have you insured," said the owner.

Even though he didn't think much of her certifications, an hour later Lisa received a call with a job offer. Of course she didn't take the position.

Fitness and exercise expert Anthony Abbott has a doctorate degree in education. He owns a company that instructs trainers called Fitness Institute International and says the public should be aware not every personal trainer is qualified.

“The public has this idea that if a person is certified that somehow the government has written off on this. There are no states or federal mandates for that certification,” Abbott told Guerrero.

Something Theresa Lynn unfortunately found out too late.

"It's taken the joy out of my life," said Lynn.

Theresa Lynn sued her trainer and he settled out of court. We tried to talk to the owner of the gym that offered Guerrero the job, but he refused to comment. They did tell her that she would shadow another trainer for at least 10 hours before she took on clients on her own.

Tips for Choosing a Personal Fitness Trainer from Consumer Reports

Credentials: Someone with a four-year degree in exercise science or a similar discipline is likely to have a better understanding of how the body responds to exercise than does a person with a less relevant background. Look for trainers who are certified by organizations such as the American College of Sports Medicine, the American Council on Exercise and the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

Experience and references: Ask for an updated resume and references. If you have any health issues or limitations, it’s important to find someone who’s knowledgeable in those areas.

Workouts: How will the trainer create a regimen specifically for you? And how will the program change to keep you interested and challenged? A good trainer not only measures objective results but also looks at other facets of your life, including your sleep habits and your energy level.

Style: Do you prefer a drill sergeant or a cheerleader?

Business practices: The trainer should provide you with a copy of all contracts and policies on billing, scheduling and cancellations. Also check if your trainer has professional liability insurance.