Is “The Biggest Loser” Harming the Personal Training Industry?

In light of an article on, I found it hard not to take a position and stand up for the profession that my colleagues and I work relentlessly to bring credibility and ethical practices to.

From TMZ; Old Trainer Gets the Boot Replaced By Uncertified Coach

The morbidly obese contestants on “The Biggest Loser” — some of whom are close to death — will be pushed to the limit by a new trainer who is NOT certified in California … TMZ has learned. We’ve learned Sandy Krum — who’s been on the show since 2007 — got the boot before Season 15 began taping this summer. He’s been replaced by a young gun named Ryan ApplegateSources connected with the “Biggest Loser” tell us past contestants and several staff members on the show are extremely upset that Applegate hasn’t passed the stringent certification test — a test that is not required by law but one that many trainers take because it cements their qualifications. Quick reminder, these aren’t your average Joes who are just a tad out of shape … they’re morbidly overweight people — some of whom tip the scales at more than 500 lbs — many of whom have extremely high blood pressure and suffer from diabetes. A rep for the show’s production company tells us, “The health and safety of our contestants is our #1 priority and the show is confident that the team of professionals they have hired to work with the contestants are qualified to do so.”[1]

“Cements their qualifications?” What really qualifies a “fitness professional?”  Is it just about getting people results at any cost? What about considering current health, structural and physical abilities, biomechanics, exercise selection and progression of intensity and frequency? Is it fair that the personal training profession on a whole is represented in a way that is anything less than ethical and professional? Throughout the country you would be hard pressed to enter a credible fitness facility and find a fitness professional yelling at a client and pushing one to a point of vomiting. It lends itself to challenge the ethics and credibility of a trainer not a stringent certification exam.  A certification exam assesses knowledge, not if the certified professional will use that knowledge.  

 “The Biggest Loser” has created an awareness of the obesity epidemic and the associated challenges people face both physiologically and psychologically. The message the show sends is that weight loss is possible through behavior modifications and that there are positive implications for health and fitness. What it hasn’t done, is made a fair representation of the personal training profession. However, the methods and strategies’ used clearly dangerous and implausible.  

For many of my colleagues on the education and certification side of the fitness industry, along with countless certified professionals in the fitness industry, there is a strong concern as to how the profession of personal training is misrepresented in the world of “reality” shows. It is an understatement to say that it is inappropriate, unethical, and a blatant misrepresentation of the knowledge, skills and ethics a qualified, credible fitness professional must have.

As TMZ reported “Applegate hasn’t passed the stringent certification test…” This is misleading in a way that it makes it seem that those who have passed the “stringent test” are using the safest and common practices of the profession.  As mentioned earlier vomiting, passing out, and being yelled at are not what would be considered safe and common practice.   

Acquiring a certification is achieved by the successful completion of an assessment with a minimum acceptable score. Certification defines competency and is intended to help industry professionals demonstrate their commitment to professionalism and ethical practice.

As far back as 2005 a recommendation by the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) [2] was made to all its members: “Whereas, given the increasing importance of personal training in health, fitness and sports clubs, IHRSA recommends that, beginning January 1, 2006, member clubs hire personal trainers holding at least one current certification from a certifying organization/agency that has begun third-party accreditation of its certification procedures and protocols from an independent, experienced, and nationally recognized accrediting body.”

“IHRSA has identified the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA), the accreditation body of NOCA, as being an acceptable accrediting organization.” 

A fitness professional is one who utilizes safe and common practices, relies on scientific principles, theories, and concepts that are associated with the human body including and not limited to: Anatomy and Physiology, Physics, Mechanics, Kinesiology, Health Screening and Assessment, Nutrition, and has a basic understanding of orthopedics, pharmacology, cardiology, neurology and psychology.

A credible fitness professional will consider the short and long-term affects an exercise may have on a client. Through exercise many goals may be achieved including performance enhancement, body building, weight loss, general conditioning, emotional well-being, vanity, rehabilitation, and structural integrity training.

Certification is intended to help industry professionals demonstrate their commitment to professionalism and ethic. Certification exams are designed to assess knowledge. The fitness professionals’ responsibility is to utilize that knowledge.

“The personal-training industry is quickly becoming part of the healthcare mainstream” [3] Many health and fitness organizations, as well as, consumers of personal training services are relying on accredited certification organizations to properly prepare fitness professionals to provide safe, effective, and efficient client centered exercise.

What to look for:

Nationally Accredited Certification – Current CRP-AED Certification – College degree in a related field –

Continued education and professional development

What to ask:

Is your certification accredited? – How did you prepare for your certification exam? – What are the safe and common practices you use as a trainer?




[3] Back to School! A growing number of universities are developing  personal training curriculums Tom Richards, IHRSA 09/06