What operators should consider for their staff qualification
Functional Training (FT) has revolutionised the fitness market. More and more fitness entrepreneurs are integrating FT spaces into existing studios or opening FT-only clubs. But what about the quality of the instructor? What should operators pay attention to in terms of their FT staff’s qualifications? In principle, every operator should be aware that the skills required of an instructor always depend on their tasks and the requirements of club operations. But when offering functional training these tasks are becoming obviously more complex than in previous years.
Looking back …
Over the past 30 years classic fitness instructors have basically always performed the same tasks: instructing new customers and providing service (such as (re-)scheduling of training hours) for existing customers. So far, an overwhelming number of fitness clubs were only equipped with weight and cardio training equipment as well as free weights. This is why knowledge on how to use weight or cardio training equipment as well as additional basic knowledge about “classic” weight training with dumbbells and barbells used to be sufficient. These activities only presupposed the well-known B and A Licences of the education institutes. It was, of course, also helpful to obtain some additional skills. In a nutshell – the requirements and corresponding skills required from instructors have been fairly manageable until now. Until now! But things have now become far more complex as we enter the Functional Training era.
The difference between general fitness trainers and FT instructors
It should be clearly said at this point that FT is no longer just a trend but a firmly established training method. This is why club operators should place emphasis not only on up-to-date and high-quality furnishings but also on appropriate, high-level instructor qualifications. Since the requirements in FT differ from those in classic training, the required qualifications also differ accordingly. But beware! Especially in Germany there is little clarity about the qualifications that general fitness trainers require today. We are rightly accused of letting basically anyone work as a trainer at a gym. Often a half-day in-house on-boarding or a so-called C Licence is all it takes. This may have been enough in the past but might prove critical in future. Chart 1 features the principal differences between conventional and/or classical training and functional training. Instructors should, of course, have a basic knowledge of anatomy, physiology, and training science as before. However, there is a major difference between instructing one isolated movement with a machine and a free movement pattern. For a free movement pattern, instructors require knowledge about complex functional correlations as well as about the interplay between mobility and stability during a movement. If, for example, the core is stabilised with a corresponding cushion when working with such equipment as weight benches or bike ergometers there is no stabilisation needed when the upper or lower body are moved. In FT the focus is clearly on the core – it must be stabilised since forces are transmitted to it constantly; which is why the instructor has to know about the optimal progression or regression. Since it’s not enough to simply “switch” the weight or change the speed, the requirements made on the relevant expert knowledge also rising here, too.
The “new” requirements made on instructors
While in the past training often used to focus on strength and endurance, occasionally also on mobility and coordination, today we often speak of the “10 physical skills” within the context of fitness and performance. Unlike before, such skills as speed, balance, explosiveness or agility also feature on the list of demands. To train these skills, however, specific expertise is needed. And customer goals have also changed over the last decades. Training objectives such as “weight reduction”, “muscle build-up” and “general fitness” are still sought after but more and more people are now thronging to gyms to “reduce pain”, “increase performance” or “restore lost functionalities”. Since most people have a far more sedentary lifestyle the solution cannot be training in a sedentary position. Training subjects have to sufficiently compensate that lifestyle by training that restores or improves the body’s natural functions.
Know-how in the area of testing & screening
The percentage of people reaching their objectives at fitness clubs has until now been rather sobering definitely proving one of the main reasons for the high drop-out rate. This is also connected with the rather “rudimentary” testing/re-testing of customers at clubs. The question reads: How do I want to help somebody to achieve their aims efficiently if I fail to take stock of the customer’s original state? Often, this omission results in unspecific “run-of-the-mill” training plans without the necessary stimuli. In FT therefore, testing (screening, anamnesis) play a pivotal role. By means of effective testing the customer’s as-is state can be optimally established and a targeted training strategy laid down. If testing and functional training are performed well, this will make customers more successful. This in turn boosts customer loyalty and brings rising membership figures. On top of the basic qualifications, it is highly advisable to undergo continuous education in the fields of movement patterns, functional anatomy, mobility, neuro-training, fascia and testing. The corresponding qualifications can be obtained through various functional training courses. Here, attention should be paid to a good mixture of system training (implementation, training schedules and control) and product training (specific knowledge on specific FT tools). Proper skills building for instructors is as crucial as ever in the age of functional training. Since requirements have changed substantially, the content of training/qualification has to change, too. After all, there are huge opportunities here to take the entire fitness market to the next level of sustainable quality.