The fitness boot camp and military fitness market, ‘the market’, encompasses a diverse range of business types, from individual personal trainers to a medium-sized company with over 500 fitness instructors. As such the level of L&D capability across the market varies.
Comparison: Civilian and Military
Although there are now specific courses for instructing in outdoor environments, at the time of writing, these have only been available for for a relatively short period (since approximately 2011/2012). Understandably, this makes instructors with a specific ‘civilian’ outdoor qualification relatively uncommon.
One must remember that civilian qualified fitness instructors typically qualify with gym-based qualifications, i.e. indoor environment. In contrast, military qualified fitness instructors are qualified to instruct in both indoor and outdoor environments.
Personal Trainers & Sole Traders
For personal trainers, and other sole traders, who offer services in the market, learning will normally take the form of courses provided by one of the well-known UK training providers and accredited by REPs. Instructors may also partake in formal and/or informal continual professional development (CPD) activities which may not necessarily provide explicit accreditation or certification.
Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs)
Small companies usually have 2-4 owners with a small cadre of retained instructors and are generally city (e.g. Southampton) or region (e.g. Hampshire) orientated. These companies typically, though not all, utilise a mixture of learning, for example:
- Internal: company-led training, usually outdoor-based interactive classes with a mixture of theory and practical ‘hands-on’; and/or
- External: Instructor-led CPD.
Currently there is only one company that meets the definition of a medium company, British Military Fitness (BMF). BMF has adopted a low-layer, wide span of control model which encompasses instructors, park managers, operations managers and directors.
- Instructors: as workers (see Employment Considerations and Models) are expected to attend a number of mandatory (contractual) and non-mandatory training sessions delivered on a regional basis. Instructors may be utilised across a number of venues and cities/towns.
- Park Managers (PMs): are employed on a part-time basis and are expected to deliver training on an ad-hoc basis to instructors based at their venue. PMs are, usually, responsible for a particular venue in a particular city/town. A city/town may have a number of PMs.
- Operations Managers: are employed on a full-time basis with operational responsibility for a particular region encompassing a number of cities and venues. Operations managers are responsible for providing training for PMs and instructors within their regional catchment areas.
Up to mid 2012, when I no longer worked for the organisation, operations managers and PMs did not receive any formal or informal training regarding their learning and development responsibilities nor was there alignment with business needs. As a result, design and delivery of interventions varied considerably between the regions and thus comparison between them was problematic.
Since approximately 2006/2007 the traditional, gym-based fitness companies have been developing their fitness boot camp and military fitness offerings. These larger organisations have established training and quality assurance functions, utilising a mix of internal and external CPD and up-skilling options.
CPD: Qualifications, Accreditation and Certification
CPD obligations are common to most professions, and for some CPD is a legal requirement. Although wording varies, CPD is typically defined as a structured approach to learning to help ensure competence to practice, taking in knowledge, skills and practical experience. CPD can involve any relevant learning activity, whether formal and structured or informal and self-directed.
CPD in the context of the fitness industry can be defined as the education of fitness professionals following completion of formal training. CPD consists of any educational activity which helps to maintain, develop or increase knowledge, problem-solving, technical skills or professional performance standards all with the goal that fitness professionals can provide better practice. CPD includes ‘formal’ activities, e.g. courses, conferences and workshops, as well as self-directed activities such as preceptor-ship and directed reading.
Many fitness professionals, both civilian and military, will partake in some form of CPD. However, the CPD may not be recognised such as reading a fitness book which could raise one’s awareness of new practices or techniques. Also, REPs provides CPD points for certain journal articles within its own magazine (considered formal CPD) but reading a similar article in a sports science or sports medicine journal (considered informal CPD) would not be recognised.
Currently, within the fitness industry, and across many other industries, there is a default and formulaic viewpoint which suggests:
Qualifications + CPD = safe, legal and effective fitness professional
Deviations from this ‘gold standard’ formula are considered inferior. However, pragmatic individuals and organisations understand and appreciate that any system is susceptible to gaming. There are also mixed results regarding the value of professional development as a measure of safety and competence, as witnessed by the medical profession (Van der Vleuten, 1996; Miller & Archer, 2010).
Revisiting part 4, there are two critical questions to answer regarding the efficacy and effectiveness of CPD:
- Was the intervention effective in the transfer of learning to the workplace?
- Visible behaviour, i.e. what does it look like when it happens on the shop floor?
Unfortunately, most CPD merely evaluates the merit of the provision itself (e.g. the input, for example the quality of course content and presentation) rather than monitoring its impact (e.g. the outcomes, impact in the workplace or visible behaviour change). For example, a fitness professional could read a journal article, answer technical questions on it, and upload their answers to their CPD log gaining CPD points but not actually learning anything. This could be considered a form of surface compliance (i.e. just enough of a change in behaviour to be consistent with a communication source’s direct requests and then reverting to the original behaviour).
In 2011 the General Dental Council (GDC) commissioned research to study the impact of CPD in dentistry (Eaton et al., 2011). The researchers (Eaton et al., 2011, p.38) posed the question: “Is CPD participation a valid indicator of professional competence or performance?” The answer “It was not possible to answer this question from the literature reviewed. Grant (2011) suggested that this is because there has never been a satisfactory approach to the outcome of CPD.”
However, Grant (2011) did identify 13 studies that indicated that doctors enhanced their performance in specific areas after CPD activities, suggesting there is a link between participation in CPD activities and performance enhancement. However, two of the studies highlighted the need for contextual factors to be considered in connection with outcomes.
The targeting and management of CPD are important if performance is to be enhanced, and that individual may be more likely to achieve performance enhancement after CPD if they plan their CPD and its effects are appraised and validated independently (Crandall, 1990). Although REPs registered instructors and some organisations conduct CPD, most will not receive appraisal or be externally validated, potentially reducing its impact.
Encouraging and rewarding voluntary CPD activity, over and above any necessary and existing level of compulsion, is the most effective means of propagating good practice (ICPD & Kingston University, 2006). On the opposite end of the spectrum, the ultimate sanction open to REPs is to withdraw professional status through the disciplinary system. However, this is could be problematic as it reduces revenue and may not bar a person from practicing; working in the fitness industry is not dependent upon being a member of REPs. So this sanction can be limited in effect and will always be one of last resort.
Typically, 1 CPD point equals one hour of education, training or learning. Under the current CPD system:
- Fitness professional A can read and answer one journal article usually receiving 1 CPD point regardless of a transfer of learning; and
- Fitness professional B could read a complete book and receive no CPD points in spite of a transfer of learning!
Although there is no reflective element to the CPD framework for fitness professionals – even though this is widely considered a key element in the overall CPD paradigm – there are still a broad range of CPD options, and these include:
- Formal courses (from 1 to 20 CPD points);
- The regulator’s technical articles (1 CPD point each);
- Up-skilling tests (transitional) (1 CPD point each); and
- Mini modules (provided free by third party commercial organisations) (1 CPD point each).
Finally, I shall leave the reader with this piece of reflection from the Institute for Learning (IFL, 2011, p.13):
“The lack of opportunity to reflect after training, alone or preferably with others, was identified as a barrier to effective CPD. One respondent noted that since longer-term evaluation of the impact of CPD is rarely systematically undertaken, it is hard to know what works and what does not.”
Crandall, S.J.S. (1990) The Role of Continuing Medical Education in Changing and Learning. Journal of Continuing Education in the Health Professions. 10, pp.339-348.
Eaton, K., Brookes, J., Patel, R., Batchelor, P., Merali, F. & Narain, A. (2011) The Impact of Continuing Professional Development in Dentistry: A Literature Review. London: General Dental Council.
Grant, J. (2011) The Good CPD Guide. A Practical Guide to Managed Continuing Professional Development in Medicine. 2nd ed. Oxford: Radcliffe Publishing.
ICPD (The Institute of Continual Professional Development) & Kingston University (2006) Research Project – Regulating Competencies: Is CPD Working? London: ICPD/Kingston University.
Institute for Learning (2011) 2010-11 IfL Review of CPD: CPD for the Future: The Networked Professional. London: Institute for Learning.
Miller, A. & Archer, J. (2010) Impact of Workplace Based Assessment on Doctors’ Education and Performance: A Systematic Review. British Medical Journal. 341:c5064.
Van der Vleuten, C.P.M. (1996) The Assessment of Professional Competence: Developments, Research and Practical Implications. Advances in Health Sciences Education. 1(1), pp.41-67.