Fitness Pros Say Licensing Could be Bad for Business

Fitness Pros Say Licensing Could be Bad for Business

Proposal by lawmaker seeks ‘standardization’

By Sandy Seegers

In 23 years as owner of a popular gym in Madison, Mike Bronco, a former professional tri-athlete, has made a career of helping those who want to become fit, lose weight or enhance their recovery.

Same with Mendham Township resident Wendy Ryan, who has a full-time job but has taught group strength, spin and step classes for 15 years simply for “the joy in seeing people having fun while they exercise.”

However, Bronco and Ryan must conform to changes in the industry and make decisions if the Fitness Professionals Licensing Act is enacted in New Jersey.

The original bill, introduced by Sen. Paul A. Sarlo, D-36th District, on Oct. 23, would require the following in order for new fitness professionals to be licensed:

• Complete 300 in-person classroom hours.

• Serve a 50-hour unpaid internship under a licensed professional.

• Be of good moral character.

• Have a high school education or the equivalent.

• Pass an examination.

• Possess an associate or bachelor’s degree in physical education, exercise science, exercise physiology or adult fitness.

“People are paying serious dollars for training sessions,” Sarlo said. “Some of those claiming to be trainers really are not. Some have been certified online. There’s no standardization. I feel there needs to be.”

Those currently acting as fitness professionals will have it a little easier. The bill allows for them to be granted a license if they hold a current certificate from the National Board of Fitness Examiners or an approved organization and provide proof that they are enrolled in an approved course study of not less than 150 in-person classroom hours in a period of 18 months.

Affected by the proposed bill would be health clubs, fitness and wellness centers, and private studios, including those devoted to martial arts, Pilates, kickboxing, spinning, etc.

Bronco said he can’t comprehend why a bill has been proposed that “will handcuff gyms where people find solace, especially in times like these.

“A lot of people are struggling, but the fitness industry seems to be holding its own, so why would the state want to change anything?” Bronco said. “With this legislation, Lance Armstrong could not teach spinning classes and Arnold Schwarzenegger could not teach bodybuilding in New Jersey. ”

Bronco has a physical education degree from Kean University and received an exercise science degree from Colorado State. He is certified by the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America.

While competing as a tri-athlete, Bronco gained experience that he has applied to his career. Bronco said those interested in being employed by him must have the proper background and work with him — without pay — for six months.

“I’ve got nothing against education and learning,” Bronco said. “I’ve discovered, though, that the best trainers are non-degreed. I’ve watched guys with degrees drop dumbbells on people’s heads. All this bill will do is discourage people who are doing the right thing.”

Ryan, already certified by the AFAA and the American Council on Exercise, considers what she does at the Parisi Speed School in Morris Plains and the Morris Center YMCA in Cedar Knolls a hobby, a beneficial one.

“Participating in these classes makes a huge difference in people’s lives,” said Ryan, employed full-time as a product manager for an orthopedic company. “Group classes are fun and motivational. I’ve seen participants undergo tremendous weight loss and changes in their lives.

“I don’t want to give this up, but I don’t think I’d have the time to do what needs to be done to obtain certification.”

Should certification be required for Ryan to instruct, she would likely remain at the YMCA but not at Parisi. The reason? According to Sarlo, changes probably will be made to the bill that would exempt nonprofits such as YMCAs and Boys & Girls Clubs.

Ryan’s husband, Michael, a black belt in karate, expressed concern that his advanced-level teacher would not be able to offer instruction until he completed the necessary training. Sarlo, though, indicated that fitness personnel “could instruct while training.”

Still, the bill does not sit well with him.

“New Jersey needs business,” Michael Ryan said. “This isn’t the time for this. If there was a budget surplus and nothing to do in Trenton, then this could be looked at. Otherwise, it’s not needed.”

Stephen Bienko, co-owner of Parisi Speed School in Morris Plains, offered a different take on the proposed bill.

“I believe it’s time to make sure all of these professionals are trained and have a common knowledge of safety and how to take care of people,” Bienko said. “As a trainer, you often work with those who’ve had internal injuries or an illness and you should be held accountable.”

However, Bienko said longtime trainers with the proper background and credentials shouldn’t have to go through such rigorous requirements. He suggested they be “grandfathered in” and required to take safety classes.

Bienko also said that if individuals must get extensive certification, that it should benefit them in other ways.

“Being certified should provide protection,” Bienko said. “It would be an insurance policy. The bill could support them. It would seem that the state should give them something, too.”

Luis Balenilla, director of the Castle Club at the Sheraton in Parsippany, said he is satisfied with the certifications his instructors have. He doesn’t think legislation is needed.

“Most facilities have qualified people,” he said. “They’re taking care of it on their own. Why would the government want to get involved?”

Initially, the bill sought to appoint a seven-member board. However, Sarlo said that would be “too bureaucratic.”

Instead, it would fall under the jurisdiction of the State Board of Medical Examiners. Also likely to be tweaked is the title of the bill from “licensing” to “certification.”

There has been a hearing on the bill. Sarlo indicated there will be more discussion and that it will probably be amended and brought back in the spring.

Article Source: