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Australian Personal Trainer Certification – A Must Read


Every personal trainer in Australia need to read and know this. Currently too many are becoming “qualified” without really knowing what their insurance covers and importantly also, not understand how little the body of knowledge they learn in this certificate is relevant to their future PT experience. Finally, many do not know what other avenues, that are far more relevant to their client base, there are in terms of certification and thus insurance. I hope to clarify much in terms of domain knowledge, further studies, governing bodies, scope of practice and insurance. By the end of this article the reader should have a new clarity and direction as to the best approach to their own professional development here in the Australian Fitness Industry. Certificate 4 in Personal Training is not worth the paper it’s written on. It is however, apparently at this point in time, a necessary evil in order to be able to cross the t’s and dot the i’s so to speak to be able to obtain further certification.

What you are going to learn

I am going to explain the following in this article:

  1. The 3 current Peak governing bodies in Australia
  2. Each of these governing bodies ‘scopes of practice’
  3. The necessity of insurance for the personal trainer in Australia
  4. The primary goals of 99% of personal training clients
  5. What Certificate 4 will legally entitle you to do with insurance cover
  6. What you could do instead that provides many advantages to the prospective personal trainer
  7. How to fast track your ability to be qualified to do the things requirement for clients to achieve their goals
  8. The costs involved with each route and therefore how much you can potentially save, whilst learning more.
  9. The differences in what you learn and the domain knowledge applicability
  10. Why you will be far more valuable in the fitness industry and more employable taking an alternative route and completing the Recomp certification.

Australia’s Current 3 Governing Bodies in “Fitness”

In Australia, the Fitness Industry is presently represented by Aus Active and Physical Activity Australia (among others). We then have ASCA, which stands for the Australian Strength and Conditioning Association and they represent the Strength and Conditioning industry. Then we have Recomp. Recomp is the Peak Body representing the Body Recomposition industry. I need you to re-read that paragraph and understand these 3 governing bodies clearly.

These are 3 very different industries, with very different insurances which allow, and disallow, different practices with different groups of clients. It is my experience that an alarmingly high number of personal trainers have no idea that they are not insured for what they do every single day with nearly all of their clients.

What do these peak bodies do exactly?

The primary function of Peak Bodies is to make relevant and affordable Professional Indemnity and Public Liability insurance coverage available to its members. You!

Peak Bodies define what tasks their members perform – their professional ‘scope of practice’ – and then negotiate with insurance companies to develop an appropriate insurance product. The resultant insurance costs for the personal trainers en masse is at a fraction of the cost as compared to if we had to apply for the insurance on our own.

In most cases (except fitness) the insurance saving is far greater than membership/registration fees. (Note: fitness insurance does not require any registration). But they won’t specifically tell you this. They will infer that you do.

Now. Peak Bodies do typically provide a valuable, viable service.

However, what seems to slip by unnoticed as you are getting qualified to be a personal trainer with Certificate 4 is that it is not mandatory to join. You are under no obligation to be registered.  There are a number of official industry registration bodies like Fitness Australia, Physical Activity Australia and Fitness Network you could potentially be registered with. Again though, you are under zero obligation to do so and by default, under no legal obligation to have to update CEC points. Nor does the fact that you are not registered with an industry body stop you personal training people if you want too.

What do each governing body “allow” you, the PT to train and coach?

As I stated clearly above, the three peak bodies represent 3 very different practices. They all have a “Scope of practice” document which defines what you can do and also what you are not allowed to do if you wish to be covered by insurance. And that should be a no-brainer. If you are a personal trainer, you would be incredibly foolish not to be insured.

Let me explain the basics that are really pertinent for you to know and understand.

The Aus Active Scope of Practice broadly covers helping the general public participate in any safe, low-risk physical exercise to treat or prevent diseases from inactivity. It expressly excludes all sports coaching, alongside bodybuilding and powerlifting, and sports nutrition.

ASCA’s Scope of Practice broadly covers developing the physical strength and conditioning of athletes for enhanced sports performance. It does not cover working with the common public.

The Recomp Scope of Practice broadly covers using intense strength (weight) training and sports nutrition, in both the general public and athletes, for the deliberate increase of muscle mass and decrease of fat mass, to any extreme and for any reason, including bodybuilding and powerlifting competition.

Most personal trainers mistakenly think that they have to register with Aus Active, and get insurance with Guild (or Marsh). Because they are not steered in any other direction via the RTO’s that the vast majority of prospective personal trainer’s attend.

Therefore, it is not common knowledge by personal training students that:

Aus Active is a private company and PTs are under zero obligation to join

Aus Active explicitly excludes all sports, Strength and Conditioning and bodybuilding/recomposition and powerlifting coaching.

Fitness insurance with Guild and Marsh does not cover any sports, strength and conditioning or bodybuilding/recomposition or powerlifting coaching.

All of these facts pose serious potential problems for most practicing personal trainers throughout Australia. These facts are not well known or understood. They are deliberately not made clear. And you don’t know what you don’t know. There is a lot of assuming going on. And when you are new to an industry you most often just do not know the right questions to ask.

What insurance do you require for YOUR career goals (and your clients)?

It negates industry credibility that there are thousands and thousands of personal trainers who are prescribing both exercise prescription and nutrition advice when they are not covered by their insurance to do so. This is a powder keg and it is only a matter of time before someone lights a match. Please don’t let it be a case of “it won’t happen to me.”

Insurance products that cover bodybuilding/recomposition or strength and conditioning are highly customised policies. They are only accessible by registering with either ASCA or alternatively Recomp. They are practices not covered by ‘fitness’ insurance.

Therefore, your primary job is to base whom you insure and register with to be in alignment with what and who you intend to train and how you intend to train them.

That’s worth repeating.

It’s imperative for you to choose the right registration and insurance for your professional practice.

What my experience tells me conclusively

I have been an expert fitness coach since 1988. I have trained thousands and thousands of clients. Men, women, young, old, teenagers, injured, sick, less abled, sports oriented, differing goals, capabilities, desires, dreams and physiques. I cannot recall a single person who has not wanted some kind of body recomposition. Practically every client you are going to meet will want fat loss. Even very “small”, “skinny” girls. Because as you know, you can be small, and be perceived as skinny, yet have comparatively high levels of fat. I have trained at least 4 elite level marathon runners including one who was presented with the highly coveted Abott medal for running the 6 major marathons in the world. She came to me to lose body fat and gain muscle and strength.

Clients with almost no exceptions are unhappy with some aspect of their appearance. Therefore, they desire body recomposition. I am talking the general population. Sure, you may not be interested in training ‘wanna be’ bodybuilders (which also include physique, figure, fitness and sports models both male and female) but trust me, virtually all of the ‘gen pop’ want recomposition as well. They just may not know it as the term is only now just gathering popularity and understanding as a primary goal of the fitness industry as opposed to the much maligned “weight loss” industry. But personal trainers cannot train ‘gen pop’ for strength and be covered by insurance. Were you aware of this? See Section 5.5 of Aus Active scope of practice. Aus Active Scope of Practice – Not Covered

Industry terms

You might understand with great clarity the difference between weight loss and fat loss. The average person however does not. So, you are going to get plenty of prospective clients unable to articulate that they want recomposition. The term is, I suppose, relatively new. I have understood recomposition for many decades. .On the other hand, you may be faced with women who use words like “slim” and “toned”. Or, men who use the term “dad bod”, “man boobs” and the like. They are all words that inarticulately describe what the client you are likely wanting to be helping throughout your career, use, instead of the correct industry “jargon” known as recomposition.

A muscle can do three things. It can stay the same. It can grow. Or, it can atrophy. You cannot “tone” a muscle (that is different from muscle tonus). Fat. Fat cells can grow in size. Or shrink in size. Alternatively, fat cells can grow in number. Or decrease in number. You cannot “tone” fat. So ‘toned’ simply means to lose body fat.

What these clients usually want is “definition”. Nearly every woman I have trained desires the little line between the biceps and triceps. They often covet a flat tummy, or even the lines down the side of the abs wall. All that look is – is less body fat, again.

To do this and do it well you are going to need to be able to prescribe quality nutrition plans. As a Certificate 4 qualified personal trainer, you are, according to paragraph 5.5 section A, not insured to provide dietary advice other than general nutritional guidelines according to the “nationally endorsed nutritional standards and guidelines”

To Be Good at Your Job you need to be able to do your job and be insured to do your job.

It should now be apparent that you need to be able to provide healthy, sustainable and effective nutrition plans to successfully help your clients achieve their goals. Certificate 4 does not provide you with that kind of in-depth knowledge. In fact I would go so far as to say it teaches you nothing regarding nutrition prescription. I know because not only have I completed Certificate 4, I have taught it at Victoria University and Geelog Tafe. So even if your insurance did cover you, you haven’t learned the appropriate domain knowledge required to be a competent recomposition coach. Chances are, you are not likely wanting to begin a 4 year nutrition degree at a tertiary university? If you are, great, off you go and become tertiary qualified. Good work.

Other Options to Be Insured to Dispense Nutritional Advice

The next best option that is very suitable to most, is to complete the ISSN Nutrition Exam The ISSN exam qualifies you to write and dispense nutritional diets and approaches to athletes, sports coaches and the general population and if you are Recomp certified, you are covered by insurance to do so.

The Industry Trend Currently Dispensing ‘Diets’

Anyone can provide ordinary diets that the clients will think are especially designed for them, but they aren’t. There are so many copies and pastes distributed to unsuspecting clients and they are straight off the internet. This happens regularly. Even one of my staff members disappointingly found this out. She was provided a nutrition plan by a “elite personal trainer”. Then whilst checking out the Maxine’s Challenge on-line she found her diet, word for word off the challenge. This was something she paid $150 dollars for. This kind of scenario is common. And it’s disappointing. But not surprising. I have witnessed this for decades.

What you are NOT covered for by Insurance

If you do Certificate 4 in personal training remember you are not covered to prescribe diets to the general population let alone the strength and athletic community including bodybuilders and powerlifters. This is going to be incredibly, in fact, ridiculously inconvenient for you if you are wanting to spend a few years of your life helping people to change their bodies. The implications of this are not wise or fiscally savvy. Bottom line is, you want to be able to legally, with insurance cover, prescribe nutrition to your clients no matter what they are training for you need to learn the required knowledge from an association that then, has insurance to cover you. To stick to guidelines prescribed by the Australian government recommend daily allowance would be ridiculously unuseful and problematic.

You cannot prescribe nutritional diet plans under Aus Active. Nor can you with ASCA. So, your only option unless you are degree qualified in dieticians is to do the ISSN exam that is available through Recomp and then you will be covered by insurance appropriately.

Are you covered by insurance to prescribe training programs?

Neither can you prescribe exercise programs to anyone lifting remotely heavy in the general population with Certificate 4 and be covered by insurance. You cannot prescribe nutrition dietary plans and advise on supplements with Certificate 4 to the general population or sports coaching clients. Further, you definitely cannot get insurance to do both. Nor can you do one or both to specific sports performance athletes. Nor powerlifters. Nor bodybuilders. Therefore, you can now see, you are not covered for much at all. Worse. If Certificate 4 is all you are relying on to get even a baseline reasonable amount of knowledge, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. I know. I have not only completed it myself; I taught it for many years. Incidentally, I resigned from teaching it when Tafe brought in the rule that I could not fail a student. I was to provide them with a NYC – not yet competent. Yet in my classes it was extraordinarily clear to me that some students were never, ever going to become competent as a personal trainer. NYC – WTF?

But everyone writes diets and programs Ingrid.

This is true. Indeed personal trainers all over the country are doing things that they are not insured to do. Mostly unwittingly in my opinion. Think you can’t get sued? Think again.

Damon Hayhow’s story.

A staff member of Damon Hayhow, an old coach of mine was warming up an ex powerlifter where he fully ruptured his shoulder and required extensive surgery. Said client was unable to perform his career duties, so indeed suffered “damages” under the care of Damon’s company. Damon was initially unconcerned as he thought he was covered with insurance. I might add here that “the client themselves acknowledged the injury was just unforeseeable bad luck.” Neither he nor the coach had done anything dangerous, irresponsible or obviously risky. It was a warm up weight. He was a former powerlifter, so he was an extremely low risk candidate for the exercise.

Here is the frightening part. Despite doing everything right and absolutely minimising every risk did not matter when it came down to professional liability.

How the Insurer Avoided Paying Out?

Months after the claim had been assessed Damon was abruptly informed that he was not covered by his insurance.

The Reasoning

A professor had given them a ‘verbal’ expert opinion. Damon says, “Apparently, if my staff had possessed the appropriate Fitness qualifications then they would know they were not qualified to engage in Strength Coaching. But because my staff were qualified as a Strength Coach, and the service the customer purchased was Strength Coaching, and my business was insured for Strength Coaching, we could not be covered for the injury sustained during a Strength Coaching session.”

Now doesn’t this simply defy the laws of logic?

Are your surprised?

The primary issue with this claim

Recall earlier I explained the Scope of Practice and provided you with the link to clearly demonstrate that currently, “‘fitness professionals’ are not qualified or insured to train clients with heavy weights. As it stands presently, ASCA qualifications do not cover those coaches to train the gen pop in strength training. It only covers sports coaching clients as clarified earlier in this article.

According to you, me, Joe Blow apparently if you play basketball once a week on a Friday night for some boy’s night get together fun……you are an athlete in the eyes of the law. So Certificate 4 trainers are uninsured to train you! You are not considered part of the general population. My mind still boggles at the stupidity of it. However, the law being the law, we must be mindful of it.

The actual hiring of a resistance training coach is incredibly murky, unchartered waters. This is the fundamental chief dilemma. If your regular Mary Jane (and nearly every personal trainer on the planet, globally, trains a zillion Mary Janes) because they want……you guessed it…RECOMPOSITION. Oh, surprise surprise, she wants to gain some muscle. You know. To ward off osteoporosis. To Increase her longevity. To optimise her metabolism. Just regular, positive health benefits of being stronger. Further, she wants to evict some body fat. Normal goals.

According to the God’s of Australian fitness this is “bodybuilding” albeit for personal satisfaction. And it is not acceptable. Damon refers to it aptly as the ‘Bermuda Triangle’ of professional practice. Nobody is qualified to do it. Does this not seem absolutely concerning to you?

This is going to be you is it not?

I cannot name a single personal trainer in my wide network of colleagues that does not train gen pop humans to get stronger, the apparent “bodybuilding training”. I am certain there are many ASCA qualified strength coaches training the gen pop blissfully unaware they are not insured to do so also.

The legal outcome of the above debacle

“2 years later – sleepless, nerve-wracking, age-accelerated and eye-watering expensive years – I was still standing and the insurance company exited the fitness/strength-coaching insurance business altogether. The insurance staff who wrote my policy had resigned. Soon after that the company was swallowed by another company and the brand abandoned entirely. More importantly, the client was made whole, my staff kept their jobs and my clients continued to be serviced.” – Damon Hayhow

The beauty and brains of Recomp

It should now be startingly (and deplorably) clear that this is seriously messed up and a grave problem for the high majority of personal trainers. Being a fitness trainer in Australia really means diddly squat.

The recomposition trainers knight in shining armour

In stepped Damon Hayhow. Financially, emotionally and mentally burned by his experience and with an aspiration to prevent colleagues from going through his torrid experience he custom made an insurance policy that covered what was required to insure recomposition trainers. He created Recomp: the professional association for body recomposition coaches in Australia, and the scope of practice includes coaching non-athletes AND athletes with heavy weights.

Damon cites validity for his own business, shining a light on what he refers to as Aus Active’s fitness deception and thirdly to prevent the debacle he had experienced as reasons for creating the peak governing body that is Recomp.

The current situation as it stands

At the time of writing, (August 2023) joining Recomp is the only way a Personal Trainer or Strength Coach in Australia can get onto a policy that rightfully covers them for prescribing heavy resistance training and nutritional diets and supplement advice to non-athletes, sports specific and athletes alike, including bodybuilders and powerlifters to any extreme.

Claims against Personal Trainers

Damon shares that a few years after he was sued, he read that claim had “increased by more than 1000%. Claims are continuing to increase in size, frequency and unreasonableness (like this one) and coaches are not covered. Fitness Professional (PT) insurance remains dirt cheap – around $10/mth – despite inflation and radical increases in claims, because it does not cover anything. This is not hypothetical or an opinion. It is real. I was sued and the insurer refused to pay.” So I say, spread the word and take the time to look into the details of what you are covered for insurance wise. Insurance relies on ignorance and the details matter. Take it from someone who knows.

How then can you prescribe exercise and nutrition plans for strength trainees and athletes?

Great question. However, before I resolve this dilemma for you, I would like to talk about money. See, everyone relates to money! It is important given the current climate to consider where every one of your dollars are going too. I will share with you a way to save a lot of money, secure a more applicable qualification than Certificate 4 in personal training and then be able to prescribe diet and exercise to both the athletic, sports specific and general population.

To become a highly recognised and well respected body recomposition coach you must become insured and registered with the peak body Recomp. Therefore, you must have passed the Recomposer testing procedure to do so.

Recomp entry level requires either Certificate 4 in personal training or Level 1 in Strength and Conditioning via ASCA. Depending upon which RTO you enrol through, Certificate 4 in personal training costs between $4000 – $5000. On the other hand, Level 1 in strength and conditioning costs $525 through ASCA ASCA Level 1 Course Fee You must also be able to demonstrate that you have held a full-time personal training position for 2 years and be able to show a tax return to prove this.

ASCA versus Certificate 4

A decision then, that doing the strength and conditioning level 1 course and learning far more that is relevant to 95% of budding personal trainers, all the while saving $4000-$4500 odd dollars seems more than a straight forward decision is it not? Bide your time, do your experience, try to work under a Recomp coach, specialist coach or assessor if at all possible but that is not necessary. Is that not a no-brainer? Having done both Certificate 4 in personal training and Level 1 ASCA I can tell you categorically which was the more interesting, domain related, enjoyable and challenging certification. Being an employer myself, I place far more value on someone who is ASCA Level 1qualified than I do over a Certificate 4 in personal training.

Other serious concerns pertaining to Aus Active and Personal Training in Australia

The Fitness Industry the way it is currently set up, particularly with the heavy influence of Aus Active is that if fundamentally fails deplorably to provide valuable information for how exactly to study for long-term success within the industry. Aus Active, maintaining insurance, registration are all great ways to ensure that the rort that is their system continues to enable this body to continue to make money. Make no mistake, Aus Active is big business. They do this by pushing their CEC points (to maintain said registration, that is not necessary to practice personal training) and promote banal domain knowledge that basically is virtually not applicable to the context of any trainer/client relationship. They have for want of a better term “kindergarten equation that looks something like this “learn this, and then slot your client in here”.

No RTO teaches ‘coaching’

I am in total agreeance with Damon Hayhow regarding everything pertaining to Recomp and insurance. I take this a step further because the one thing I know, with no shadow of doubt is that coaching people to fitness success is not so much about domain knowledge (more on this later) as much as it is about people skills.

It is NOT what you know that makes you viable or able to have a lengthy and fruitful career in transforming bodies. Your success will be marked by what you do and how you do it. You need to be able to apply coaching skill to your client and demonstrate leadership qualities period. And yet no-one in the fitness industry teaches coaching skills. Coaching skills is most often all about nuances. Nuances I have certainly gotten better at over a long, long time and much real-world experience.

Content versus Context

Aus Active would have you believe that content over context is what drives PT success. Certification in its current forms would have you, the PT or budding PT believe that content is King. Maybe it is in marketing. But not in personal training. That is a falsehood. Ours is a client-centered industry and so it is context driven not content driven. And coach and trainer are words that are often used interchangeably. They shouldn’t. A trainer is subordinate to a true coach. Certified doesn’t mean qualified! Training is something you do to the client. Coaching is something you do with the client. So how can that possibly be evaluated in the classroom? It’s my opinion that most accreditations and further, CEC points for courses that’s relevancy is very unclear are not worth the paper they are written on.

As Anthony Robbins once said, “success leaves clues”. As I have said numerous times in this article, 99% of clients are seeking cosmetic physique enhancement. True? If you look at high level athletes, especially those with awesome physiques, there is your first clue that something is missing in the Australian fitness world of study and certification. The common thread of high level, awesome looking athletes indeed in Australia and indeed globally is not an “area of study” or a “specific training methodology”. And yet our RTOs are churning out crazy short courses for CEC points in the name of “maintain registration”, with a narrow focus on studying material regardless of frequency or likelihood of its application to any client. I’ll tell you exactly what links top athletes with body success. A long history of “doing” their selected activity and usually a concomitant long history of being coached within said chosen sport. Coaching and doing is the language of success, not the reading and material learning.

The study of coaching represents more than one dimension (knowledge) and confounding elements of people and communication skills, so it seems to be simply ignored in the arena of certification in the Australian Fitness Industry. I strongly believe mentoring is exceedingly undervalued and is better suited for the role of becoming coach in our industry. We see this reality mistakenly reflected in professional sports. Nearly all respected coaches at one time were mentored as subordinates under other career coaches.  I think mentoring is the true secret and best path to long-term success in the fitness industry.

The Unspoken Void in our Fitness Industry

Ignoring the coaching component leaves an abyss in the area of accreditation and certification in the Fitness Industry which is misleading. You can take as many CEC points you like to maintain registration and “upskill” all you like but bottom line is, you are unlikely to practically use that information with any of your clients. So the ‘businesses of Australian fitness rocks along nicely, when what is being generated to learn is merely an income making scheme.  Aus Active appears to rely on the high turnover rates of clients and trainers within it in order to sustain itself. There is a major gap of relevance, I will term it the ‘documentation dilemma’.

Aren’t You a Better PT with more knowledge?

In short, no. This is precisely my argument. It is all very well to do professional development. I am a strong advocate. However it needs to be relevant to the clients you are training. Let’s have a look at a recent list of topics that could be studied at an Australian Fitness convention. Keep in mind – what is the primary goal for 99% of clients who employ a personal trainer? Improved body composition.

Let’s take a look at the latest hottest topics:

Handstand and Calisthenics Training

Battle Ropes

Theory and Practice of Vibration Training

Neuromuscular Control Training Programs to Reduce Lower Extremity 

Injury Risk

Changes in Sweat Mineral Concentrations After Heat Acclimatization

Time Course of Postactivation Potentiation During Intermittent Submaximal Fatiguing  Contractions in Endurance‐ and Power‐Trained Athletes

Now seriously. Ask yourself this question….”how would these lectures help me as a fitness expert, help my client reach his or her goals?” The answer is “they probably wouldn’t.

So why does the peak fitness governing body in Australian perpetuate reinforcing piling up information?

In short. Money.

A Focus on the skill of coaching would be a welcome addition

It is apparent to me that how to communicate for effective coaching would be a very beneficial official recognition in the Australian fitness industry. The qualitative and deeper elements of coaching needs to be addressed. The calibre of true coaching skills amongst those who have self-proclaimed themselves as ‘coaches’, generally speaking is extremely low. We have individuals due to the high turnover rate of coaches, trainers and consumers in our industry willy nilly naming themselves expert coaches, yet they have no formal and usually little to no informal mentoring or certifications within the sphere of coaching itself. A knowledge of how to communicate as a coach requires a shift in thinking beyond information and knowledge to the actual interaction between coach and clients. A 20 minute observation of backstage communication between competition coaches and their clients easily clarifies the predominant lack of communication skills in a coaching environment to me. Similarly, a scan around commercial gyms and observing “coach”/client interaction (or lack of) further supports my argument.

What do I think is your best course of action?

Knowing what I now know I will outline what my approach would be if my primary objective was to work with whoever I wanted to work with, being insured to do just that, in the understanding that 90% plus of my clients will want physique recomposition. Note this is if I did not do a degree in Human Movement or similar at University level.

I would sign up for the ASCA -Level 1 course that currently costs $495.00 https://www.strengthandconditioning.org/level-01-course-information I would work with sports specific clients. Whilst doing so, I would surround myself with “eagles and owls.” I would ask to shadow experts in recomposition, I would seek mentorship, I would volunteer, I would spend money, I would train under…I would do anything in my power to learn from my peers. Then, I would go to an RTO and apply for RPL (recognised prior learning), acquire the essentially useless Certificate 4 through gritted teeth, and then become insured with Recomp. Then I would immediately seek to attain the Recomp certification. This, as stated clearly, is by far the most relevant certification for those who want to be recognised as an industry expert with a trusted, exemplary certificate that actually takes things out of the classroom and onto the gym floor. Where the tasks you are required to complete are actually directly relevant to proving you are not only capable but very proficient at what you do.

To my mind, upon reflection I feel as a trainer, you learn much off your colleagues, including ‘the rules of engagement’ is probably key. Early on in the year (2023) I did a breakdown of the best methods of learning, relative to my career as a prominent physique transformation coach. Practical methods were far superior to any classroom qualifications. Then, I broke down my actual theoretical, read “body of knowledge” qualifications and how relevant they were to my success in said chosen career.

As you can see, I have invested a lot of my time hiring colleagues to teach me many aspects of physique transformations. In practical terms. I shadow them. I get coached practically by them. I watch my clients. I learn on the gym floor from my clients. I train myself. I learn from my journey. What is missing is a formal or informal process of acknowledging that coaching is a skillset into and of its own. I see that my coaching of recent times, which has certainly improved significantly, could have been expeditated if there had been some kind of coaching course specifically available. Or a mentoring program. It would be wonderful to provide both to upcoming personal trainers. Now that would be invaluable.

My lessons from coaching numerous personal trainers.

I am not exaggerating when I say that I personally have trained hundreds of qualified personal trainers. You only need to see my portfolio to see that. I don’t wish to diminish them in any way. As a matter of fact some of them have gone on to run incredibly successful businesses. I am proud of them that they have done so. Let me share some facts though.

I have never met a personal trainer that has come to me for coaching that I have not been able to help insurmountably, in a plethora of ways. I don’t mean a little bit of help here and there. I am talking about significantly upskilling them in many areas, including their communication and coaching abilities that as you are now well aware, is sadly lacking in the current Australian fitness industry.

You need to be able to lift heavy to teach how to execute heavy lifts

When it comes to Recomposer software, to become a basic Recomp certified personal trainer you must have a minimum score of “6” in terms of your relative strength in a squat, bench press and deadlift. Hand on heart, I have never, not once had a personal trainer on more than a level 3. This is actually not that much above an untrained individual. I am not expecting that all personal trainers should be elite. But nor do I think we should be weak. To teach strong I feel you need to be strong or to at least, at some time in your athletic life, been strong and earned your stripes.

Coaches are people who model their own behaviour.

Integrity to following their own instruction is the highest form of competency. Coaches in professional realms have earned  respect from decades of in the trench’s activity and experience. They have done the hard yards. I am not suggesting that a coach needs to be an IFBB champion. But it does mean they practice the same disciplined lifestyle to which they prescribe to their clients. Domain knowledge, to a certain extent, is neither here nor there. They need to have done “work” in the gym, with the iron. That way, they can far more expertly pass along cues and knowledge through their relevant experience. If you want to be a coach and lead, leading by example is important.

The best coaches can walk their talk; if not physically,  then at least in terms of commitment, discipline, consistency and all the other characteristics they expect to model for their clients. There is far too much coaching hypocrisy currently in our industry. Wannabe coaches need to understand  that studying and learning are not the same as knowing and doing.

Professional Coaches in Other Sports

If we look to pro sports, for instance, and examine career coaches, we can observe a similar pattern. Yes, they are students of the game. But they study and teach the game from within the game itself. They have all not only been there and done that, but are there, and still do that. This is why coaches get the respect of the players. The players respect and are motivated by those who have been where they are, but beyond their position as well. Coaches understand the game beyond the talent level of the players and their positions. The same should be true for coaches in the fitness industry.

This is one of the key reasons for my staycations

One of the many reasons that I created my staycations was to firstly upskill them as trainee’s and help them advance their own training and nutrition issues and body of information. And then there is the business coaching/mentoring side of things. Having run my personal training business for nearly 4 decades I feel I can contribute to guide pt’s towards a more bankable business with a wealth of experience. Thirdly, we can also focus on the skill of coaching. To profoundly upskill your personal trainer and pt business skills click https://www.ingridbarclay.com/reinvent-yourself

My vehicles for teaching the skill of coaching

I have developed a short course aimed at personal trainers whereby the primary focus is on teaching them the skillset that is required in order to enhance client accountability and compliance. As the more complaint a client is the more likely it is that they will reach their goals.

So there is the opportunity to do some coaching workshops. These may also include recorded coaching sessions in real life on video that we can watch and explore together to discuss the ways in which the communication between coach and client evolved and could be improved.

Also, importantly, the trainer can also reflect upon the way that I coach them over the course of their staycation. It will be instrumentally unique to any other coaching experience they are likely to have experienced themselves. And this will be in a positive manner.

My Work Experience Student Feedback

Over the years I have had so many personal trainers completing Certificate 4 do their work experience hours or part thereof under me. It is not a coincidence that they all repeat the same feedback that is nothing short of overwhelmingly positive. I am convinced that the combination of real world experience that I have, combined with my teaching and coaching skills, and my enthusiasm to enhance the calibre of personal trainers here in Australia elevates their experience to a completely different level to the experiences of most.

To be an effective coach in the fitness industry and to have a sustained career is all about coaching skills, talent, and interaction. ‘How to’ communicate effectively as a coach is far more important than “knowing” detailed scientific information at PhD level. To know the principles that will benefit 90% of the potential clients, 90% of the time; and then be able to coach within that framework of knowledge, is far more relevant than mere exposure to the ideas of the top ten fitspos at any given time.

Our industry currently suffers from the philosophy of specialisation. A specialist is ‘someone who knows more and more about less and less’. Sound. effective coaching works from the opposite of this premise. It works from a communication where information is secondary to the client‐centered relationship reality.

What we can wish for 

Therefore ‘how to’ communicate for effective coaching should be the next wave of accreditation and certification in the fitness industry. I hope that it will be. But I doubt it. The qualitative and deeper elements of coaching need to be addressed. They have not yet had to be because of the crazy high turnover rate of coaches/trainers/and consumers in our beloved industry. And to reiterate, this represents the failure of the industry and not its success.


The budding personal trainer wanting to carve out a stellar, long-term career have a lot of considerations to take in. The primary concern should be to ensure that they are covered by their insurance to do what it is that they are doing. This is imperative. A grasp of the 3 governing bodies in Australia is all important and to be able to distinguish between them is beneficial. Expecting to acquire relevant knowledge in order to service the majority of personal training clients is not something in my opinion Certificate 4 achieves. Not even closely. To be able to recognise that domain knowledge is not what will make you more valuable will save you much in time, money and focus. Finding a mentor, shadowing and learning on the floor, and observing good coaching skills will be invaluable as a mechanism to advance your skillset. Coaching in and of itself needs to be studied.

Comments ( 2 )

  • Nardia

    Absolutely love this Ingrid – such a well thought out and articulated article. It shows your depth of understanding of the industry, and speaks to your quality as a coach and educator 👊🏾👊🏾

    • Ingrid Barclay

      Thank you Nardia. I know it is quite lengthy. I had a lot to say, and that was only half of it. 🙂 Hopefully it clarifies a few things for some PT’s and prospective PT’s.

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