China’s Gym Coaches Unfit for Job

2016-05-18 10:43:18

Here’s something to give Chinese people a reason to sweat during gym workouts: unqualified fitness instructors.

A report by state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) Tuesday on the country’s rapidly expanding fitness industry shows that few recently qualified gym trainers in China have a good grasp of their profession.

A student featured in the report said she spent 4,500 yuan (nearly $700) on three months of instruction from a fitness coach, only to end up with chronic pain in her knees.

Mentioned in the CCTV program was a 2015 report by the State General Sports Administration that said as much as 48 percent of fitness coaches with between one and three years of work experience had no previous training or background in the industry.

Sun Shanglong, a personal trainer who founded his own fitness club more than four years ago in Shanghai, told Sixth Tone that the number of gyms in the city has soared over the past two years, and that consequently a lack of professionally qualified trainers is inevitable.

Li Li, a 17-year employee at a fitness club in Beijing, was quoted by CCTV as saying that he had personally witnessed a few cases in which clients were injured or even disabled as a result of improper guidance from their coaches.

China currently does not have strict requirements for fitness coaches. The 2015 report said that people in good shape can often start working as fitness coaches after only short-term training.

Many fitness clubs require their coaches to obtain the so-called National Occupational Qualification Certificate for Fitness Coaches. According to CCTV, it costs 3,300 yuan for candidates to take a written test and give a demonstration of their skills to acquire the certificate. But, the report said, even people with no background in the fitness industry can probably pass the exams after only seven days of training.

“It’s no secret that there’s almost no difficulty in acquiring the certificate,” said Wu Yao, a manager at a fitness club in Shanghai. But Sun stressed that even with the certificate, it still requires a lot of experience to be a qualified coach.

Another issue that plagues the industry is that many fitness coaches have their own financial health as their top priority.

Zhao Yuan, an office worker in her early 30s, told Sixth Tone she spent 9,000 yuan on a regimen of 30 training sessions at a gym in Shanghai at the beginning of this year. Her coach, a 26-year-old man, claimed to have graduated from a sports institute, though she never asked for proof.

Zhao complained that the coach tried relentlessly to persuade her to purchase products like protein powder or additional private classes like kickboxing. “He told me his income is closely tied to the number of students he has, and to whether they buy more classes and products,” she said. “I understand that he is under economic pressure and that it’s the salary system that’s to blame, but it’s still annoying — I'm not going to buy any of this stuff.”

(Header image: A fitness coach instructs his client at a gym in Zhengzhou, Henan province, June 25, 2015. Jin Yunguo/VCG)