Funding Fitness

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / monkeybusiness

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / monkeybusiness

Once considered a luxury, personal trainers have become commonplace in health clubs in the private sector. Yet the presence of such professionals who focus on customized, one-on-one instruction varies widely in park and rec fitness facilities. How much close supervision on exercise and equipment use do we—or should we—provide patrons? Because personal training is an educational service concerned with health, safety, and recreation, how much of an ethical responsibility do we have? What does it take to make personal training a viable component of fitness programming?

Here are three different perspectives from agencies with thriving personal-training programs. All three consider this a special service, and all three compete head-on with a vigorous private industry.

Denver, Colo.

DenverParks and Recreation has a thriving program, with 22 trainers on staff in various facilities, with a goal to expand to 35 trainers. The program drives revenue for the city’s general fund.

“Our personal-training program is extremely successful,” says Tommy Karaffa, Regional Fitness Lead Coordinator. “A 90-percent client-retention rate speaks highly to the quality of our training program. Our personal training has gained an excellent reputation in the Colorado fitness industry.”

As one of the largest recreation districts in the country with 27 centers, more than 400,000 patrons use the city facilities each year. Karaffa says the personal-training program averages 1,600 training sessions annually, and anticipates the program growing by 75 percent in the next year and a half.

Being operated by a government agency, the department relies on capital-improvement funds that go directly to facility upgrades (i.e., equipment and physical upgrades to the recreation center). Hourly pay increases are offered to trainers who obtain additional certifications on their own, Karaffa notes. He adds that preference is given to candidates with a degree in exercise science.

“We hold client safety to the highest standard,” he points out. “This is why we require our trainers to hold one of the big four personal training certifications.”

The “big four” include the American Council on Exercise, the National Academy of Sports Medicine, the AmericanCollege of Sports Medicine, and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. A fifth certification worth noting is the International Sport Sciences Association. Although this industry remains unregulated, the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association recommends that its facilities only accept personal trainers with certifications recognized by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies or an equivalent organization.

“Our philosophy is to hire the best trainers with great attitudes and a commitment to helping people achieve their fitness goals,” Karaffa says.

He attributes the program’s success in a competitive market to hiring the right people, introducing them to potential clients through group activities, and keeping rates in line with and even lower than those of competitors.

“Over three-quarters of our trainers teach in other capacities. We offer over 200 fitness classes per week and outdoor boot-camp classes. We feel this is one of the main reasons why our training program is so successful; participants get a taste of each trainer’s style, and in return, purchase training packages,” he says.

“We are seeing more clients leaving big-box competitors to train with us. Clients feel they are getting better, more individualized attention (they’re not just a number) and a higher quality of training with us.”

Deerfield, Ill.

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