Certified might not mean qualified for personal trainers

CLEVELAND – The Investigator, Tom Meyer, flexed his investigative muscles in area health clubs and found out that certified might not mean qualified when it comes to personal trainers.

Getting in shape and staying in shape is tough work, so some people spend a pretty penny to hire a personal trainer for guidance. Some hired pros in the attack on fat might not have as much expertise as you might think, however.

One local exercise pro who really knows his stuff is Chuck Mauceri. He told Action News that he has a four-year degree in exercise science, and on top of that, he has several impressive certifications.

But what does that mean, exactly?

"Having a certificate shows you're serious about the profession," Mauceri said.

The problem is that there's no single state or national standard for personal trainers. A number of top-flight certifications exist among the dozens that are available.

Action News asked a handful of different personal trainers what certification they have, and got many different answers, including the National Strength and Conditioning Association, the National Academy of Sports Medicine and the National Athletic Training Association, to name just a few.

With so many certifications out there, health experts advise that you investigate a trainer's background before taking any of his or her advice.

"There is a very real risk of being injured," Dr. Larry Hamm, a professor of exercise science, said.

Action News producer Rochelle Nowinski walks to keep fit, but she's hardly an expert on exercise and things like nutrition and physiology. Still, she was able to get certified as a personal trainer.

She went online and found a Web site that promises a certification for $39. In just a few hours, she wrote a short essay and took a 20-question multiple choice test with the answers at her disposal online.

Less than a week later, Nowinski received her certificate in the mail. The television news producer quickly became a certified personal trainer ready for hire despite her obvious lack of expertise.

"There are certificates you can get online, but not all trainers are created equal," Mauceri said.

Experts, like certified personal trainer Mike Merk, said that it's a joke.

"It damages the reputation of all certified personal trainers, so it's really a black eye for us," Merk said.

Ann Capati thought her personal trainer was an expert when she suffered a brain hemorrhage and later died. It turned out that her trainer never even completed a correspondence course.

"This trainer gave out life-threatening advice that he wasn't anywhere near qualified to give," attorney Terry McCartney said.

A lawsuit alleges that the trainer knew Capati had high blood pressure and suggested in writing diet supplements that included stimulants. The family blames her death both on the stimulants and the trainer's poor judgment.

Legitimate exercise pros said that it's just another reason for a single, tough standard.

"Trainers, in general, they're just not doing their homework," Mauceri said.

As certifications multiply without regulation, some health professionals are calling for a tough, single standard -- a standard that helps insure the safety of anyone who relies on a personal trainer for fitness.