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Unregulated personal training industry unfit for some clients

Jen French
June 13, 2017 10:24 PM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Many are still struggling to find the right way to good health. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, doctors prescribe exercise to nearly a third of their patients.

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Bud Bechdel was one of those patients.

Bechdel and his now late wife, Marion, hired a personal trainer in 2014 at a popular Albuquerque gym. Before even stepping into the weight room, he told the trainer that he’s had two heart surgeries. His wife disclosed that she was diabetic and going through kidney dialysis.

Still, the trainer took the couple on as clients and charged them nearly $1,200 for 10 training sessions.

"He made me do some things up there like (put) my back up against a wall and use the wall like the back of a chair and use my legs like the legs of a chair and sit there for extended periods of times,” Bechdel said.  "I explained to him that we would like to do the exercises, but we didn't want anything that rigorous."  

Unable to match the young trainer's stamina, the first training session for them was strenuous. Marion, diagnosed with a debilitating kidney condition, was worn out. Embarrassed about their own medical limitations, the couple eventually found the courage to call it quits. 

"After the third session she said she couldn't do it anymore,” Bechdel said.

The Bechdels wanted a refund for the rest of the sessions, but they learned their trainer had left the state. The couple never signed a contract, so they had to go to court to get their money back. They filed a complaint in Metro Court demanding a refund from the gym that employed the former trainer.  Court records show the gym “denies they made any promises, representations and or warranties” concerning the training. 

"I said I was not treated with respect and nobody would listen to me,” Bechdel said.

4 Investigates found Bechdel’s disappointing training experience is actually common.

"A lot of times it's 'Come train with me,' and you just jump into a session without any assessments or reviewing medical backgrounds,” said Kenny Greer, Sports and Wellness personal trainer. “It's unfortunate."

"You don't need a certification,” said Kevin Candelaria, another personal trainer at Sports and Wellness personal.

Both Greer and Candelaria are certified personal trainers. Their gym requires the credentials.

"The certified personal trainer, that's the National Strength and Conditioning Association, that's one of the top dogs of certifications,” Candelaria said.

Candelaria is also qualified to train special health populations, a group that includes people like Marion and Bechdel who have conditions that may affect their training.

There are dozens of specialty certifications a trainer can get, but they’re not all the same. Some certifications let trainers take the test online, or even let them use their own notes.

"The first question you should ask is 'What is your certifying body?'" Greer said.

For example, trainers can be certified in weight management, nutrition or special population groups like seniors or youth.

“It's not as regulated as people think,” Candelaria said.

Athletic trainers, like those who work with sports teams, have to register with the state and get a license. 4 Investigates found personal trainers aren’t regulated by the state of New Mexico at all.

Greer said he wishes that wasn’t the case.

"I think that would be a good idea to have some licensure,” Greer said. “That would be awesome. That would get rid of a lot of the riff-raff of the industry and it would keep people safe." 

There are several things to consider when paying a trainer:

  • Know what their certification is. Are they trained to work with athletes or diabetics?
  • Does the trainer or gym have liability insurance?
  • Talk to your trainer about your health history and listen to his or her recommendations about your workouts. 
  • Make sure the workout makes sense for you.

One gym, Defined Fitness, provided KOB a statement about its personal trainers. According to spokesperson Maria T. Lamar, Defined Fitness has 45 fully certified trainers that serve its 40,000 members.

Many gyms use personal trainers who work independent contractors, but Lamar said personal trainers at Defined Fitness are a part of the staff. That, she said, gives the gym more control over member safety. The gym invests more than $400 per trainer each year for training purposes.

Lamar also said Defined Fitness has an executive-level position that ensures member safety. This position focuses on the certification and renewal process for physical trainers along with the member's training plans.

"Overall, Defined Fitness maintains significantly higher member satisfaction ratings that those of competing fitness brands, which is in large part due to the quality of our personal training division," Lamar said.

To read Defined Fitness's statement in full, click here.

If you do have a bad experience, though, Greer said don’t let it discourage you.

"Don't let it ruin it for you because there's a lot of benefits to working with a trainer and the right one can truly, I think, change your life,” he said.

Bechdel can’t shake off his experience and has a warning for others looking to hire a trainer.

"Talk to people before they sign up--and let the individual -- if they want to sign up, go ahead and sign up and if they don't and they feel uncomfortable, don't do it,” he said.

If you feel your trainer has put you in a situation that threatens your health, address it immediately.

If it's not resolved, and you can't get your money back, file a consumer complaint with the New Mexico attorney general’s office or take your case to civil court.  

Credits

Jen French

Copyright 2017 KOB-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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