Bridging the Gap
Cliff Collins says that a global effort by qualified fitness professionals to provide effective interventions for the inactive has never been more important--or more possible.
Cliff Collins serves as director of programmes for EuropeActive (formerly the European Health and Fitness Association) and the European Register of Exercise Professionals, an independent registry of all instructors, trainers and teachers working across Europe in the fitness industry. Collins has spent much of his career ensuring that health and fitness professionals in his home country of the United Kingdom—and now throughout Europe—meet a minimum standard of practice before being recognized to work with clients. He served as an early independent club member of UKactive, where he helped develop standards with SPRITO/Skills Active from 1995 to 2008. In his current role with EuropeActive, he serves as an expert on fitness qualifications, accreditation, and policy development for education and training with the European Commission.
ACE: How do you personally see the obesity epidemic affecting society—from healthcare systems to relationships within families—within and outside of Europe?
Cliff Collins: We talk a good story about the role fitness can have, but we must also ensure we can deliver on commitments; this means fitness centers have to be run properly and focus on customer service. Equally, the products and services need to be suitable and appropriate for our customers. Most importantly, we must have sufficient numbers of skilled exercise professionals who can supervise safe and effective exercise programs.
The mantra we have used for many years is simply to get “more people more active more often” and the urgency of providing effective interventions by the fitness sector has never been more important, or more possible.
ACE: Why do you feel establishing standards for health and fitness professionals is essential to successfully combatting the obesity epidemic?
Cliff Collins: Initially the work we did of setting standards (defining levels of certification) for fitness professionals focused on the industry’s key occupations, such as personal trainer. But it rapidly became apparent that across Europe there was a need to increase skills levels in order to proactively approach working with diverse population groups.
At a European level, standards for a “Weight Management Exercise Specialist” are just below those of a bachelor’s degree. To get there, leading experts, training companies, higher education, and accreditation bodies cooperated on developing a structured approach to standards and programs. The structure (which we call a sector qualification framework) has taken more than 15 years to develop, but without its carefully designed standards it would have been impossible to gain credibility in the eyes of health professionals.
ACE: What has been the impact of establishing the European Register of Exercise Professionals throughout Europe?
Cliff Collins: With the U.K. Register set in 2001, the model was in place for the European Register (EREPS) to come into effect in 2008. Bearing in mind that there are 23 official languages in Europe and many controls, regulations and requirements in the different countries, it has been a principle to try to find national competent bodies to work with EREPS. The standards (for certification) provide the technical context for recognizing the individual achievements of fitness professionals so they can then become registered and entered onto our public directory of members.
Because the standards are set at a European level, they can also be used by national education authorities for referencing. Sometimes EREPS membership is called a “passport” in fitness, and trainers can use their membership to move around the European Union with their EREPS registration as proof of their level of competency. Mobility (as it is called in Europe) is very high, and we see around 10% of EREPS members changing their country each year.
ACE: How and why do you feel a registry of health and fitness professionals who hold accredited certifications would work in the United States?
Cliff Collins: Fitness professionals who have made a career commitment have something to protect: their name and reputation. I respect the care and diligence that has gone into setting up USREPs and the Coalition for the Registration of Exercise Professionals. The move to set up a U.S. Register as a process of self-regulation, rather than an imposed solution from politicians, has taken a lot of work and cooperation from key players. It is no accident that the leading certification bodies have done most of the heavy lifting to get the register into place.
In my view, the main components have come together well to build a quality-assured and inclusive solution that will ultimately benefit everyone in the U.S. fitness industry.