For members of the public and civilian qualified fitness professionals alike, there is a lack of understanding of the qualifications, skills and experience gained by armed forces fitness instructors and this section aims to provide a brief overview in order to develop a better understanding of these issues.  This section will also look at civilian regulation and qualifications in order to allow some comparison between the two. It should be noted that within the armed forces fitness instructors are collectively termed Physical Training Instructors or PTIs.

From a personal point of view, on one civilian fitness course that was titled ‘Outdoor Fitness’, the fitness tutor, by their own words, “had absolutely no idea what the military did regarding fitness qualifications and training”.  This was despite the tutor being assisted on the course by a colleague who was ex-military.  Interestingly the tutor did not ask what our [military] training entailed and sporadically gave us misguided, out of date and stereotyped anecdotes of the military form of fitness training.  Needless to say we (there were several other ex-military fitness instructors present) politely updated the tutor’s knowledge base!

With this in mind we can now look at the various aspects of military training, qualifications and regulation.

Military Physical Training and Qualifications

All initial courses across the military cover a wide variety of both academic and practical subjects (foundation syllabus).  Students learn instructional techniques and the practical aspects of taking physical training (PT) classes, plus methods of fitness, diet & nutrition, circuit and weight training theory, anatomy and physiology, sports injuries, fitness testing and sports administration.  Each branch of the military has its own training establishment and these are discussed below.

Royal Air Force School of Physical Training

The Royal Air Force School of Physical Training (RAFSPT) is located at RAF Cosford in the West Midlands and aims to be a centre of excellence in training and development within Physical Education (RAF, 2012a).  The RAFSPT regards itself as a dynamic and forward looking school utilising cutting edge technology to deliver highly motivated individuals to support the health and wellbeing of RAF personnel, both in the UK and on operations.

The initial course for the RAF is the Basic Physical Training Instructor Course which lasts 29 weeks and is a direct entry course, i.e. personnel can join direct from ‘civvie’ street.  The RAFSPT also offers PTIs a number of career and bespoke courses for the purposes of continued professional development (CPD) (RAF, 2012b).

Army School of Physical Training

The Army School of Physical Training (ASPT) is the headquarters of the Royal Army Physical Training Corps (RAPTC) and the central training establishment for physical education, physical fitness and sports instructors in the British Army and is located in Aldershot; personnel stationed in Germany are trained at Sennelager (British Army, 2012).

The initial course for the British Army is the All Arms Physical Training Instructor Course which lasts for 9 weeks and is not a direct entry course, i.e. personnel cannot join direct from ‘civvie’ street.  Although there is no minimum term to serve before personnel can apply for the initial course, the reason for non-direct entry is so personnel can gain the relevant skills, fitness and experience required prior to starting the course.

If, after passing the initial course and gaining relevant experience, personnel feel that they have the qualities and aptitude to transfer to the RAPTC and become a full-time Instructor (RAPTCI), their next step would be to apply for the five day RAPTC Selection course and if successful transfer on to a 30 week course held in Aldershot.

RAPTC Instructors also have the opportunity to gain a Foundation Degree (FD) in Sport, Health and Fitness during their training which can be ‘topped-up’ to a full honours degree after a further two years.  The ASPT also offers PTIs a number of career and bespoke courses for the purposes of CPD.

Royal Navy School of Physical Training

The primary purpose of the Royal Navy School of Physical Training (RNSPT) is to select and train RN personnel as Physical Trainers, so that they are able to advise, support and provide opportunities for physical fitness, sport, recreation and adventurous training at all levels within the RN (Royal Navy, 2012).

The initial course for the RN is the Physical Training Trainers Qualifying Course which lasts 25 weeks and is a non-direct entry course.  As in the Army, personnel must join the RN in another specialisation before applying for transfer into the PT Branch.  The RNSPT conducts aptitude tests to determine the suitability of candidates wishing to transfer to the PT Branch.

Besides the foundation syllabus, the initial course also covers basic coaching and officiating in a total of 23 sports, plus experience of adventurous training, including sailing, climbing and abseiling, as well as qualifications in first aid and as a Royal Life Saving Society Lifeguard.  The RNSPT also offers PTIs a number of career and bespoke courses for the purposes of CPD.

Royal Marines

Royal Marine Physical Training Instructors (RMPTI) are responsible for delivering physical training and combat conditioning, sport, adventure and recreational training for both recruits and trained personnel (Royal Marines, 2012).

The initial course for the Royal Marines is the Physical Training Instructor Course which lasts 17 weeks and is also a non-direct entry course.  This is followed by three weeks in Wales to gain basic adventure training qualifications.  There is also an optional three weeks for budding adventure training instructors and other opportunities to specialise as close-combat or rehabilitation instructors.

RMPTIs gain a wide range of qualifications related to coaching, teaching and instructing at NVQ Level 3.  Further into their careers RMPTIs may study for a Bachelor of Science with Honours in Physical Activity, Exercise and Health, a Military Services Personnel Degree and also various advanced coaching awards.  The Royal Marines PT Branch also offers its PTIs a number of career and bespoke courses for the purposes of CPD.

Both the RAF and RN employ their PTIs on a full-time basis in fitness-related roles after their initial course.  In contrast, the Army and Marines employ their PTIs in a part-time capacity after their initial course, i.e. they continue with their ‘day jobs’ and instruct physical training sessions on an as required basis.  After completion of the initial course Army and Marine personnel, subject to gaining relevant experience, can apply to transfer to their respective PT branches and become full-time instructors.  However, some Army and Marine PTIs, after the initial course, will be employed full-time within Regimental Gymnasiums or Army Training Regiments for up to two years training either recruit or trained[1] personnel and then return to their ‘day jobs’ or upgrade to full-time instructors (subject to completing the relevant course).

Military Specialisation

Remedial Instructor (RI)

Those personnel who wish to transfer into this role will attend the Remedial Instructor (RI) course at the Defence Medical Services Rehabilitation Centre at Headley Court, near Epsom in Surrey.

The course runs for six months and comprises studies, clinical practice and assessments, providing opportunities to improve understanding of a wide range of subjects within medical rehabilitation and exercise therapy.

Adventure Training Instructor (ATI)

Those personnel who wish to transfer into this role will attend the six month Adventure Training Instructor (ATI) course in Llanwrst, North Wales, and qualify in a wide range of adventurous training (outdoor pursuits) qualifications.

Only full-time instructors are eligible to attend these two specialisation courses.

Military Physical Training and Regulation

Reports by the Adult Learning Inspectorate (ALI, 2005; ALI, 2007) sought to provide a comprehensive overview of the military training system.  These reports demonstrated the complex nature of training in general and also of physical training across the military.

The ALI noted that unlike other industries for which it is normal to have an external, and independent, regulator the military training system utilised a complex, layered and hierarchal system in which different departments and branches developed, delivered and oversaw the various elements of policy, procedure, planning, delivery, facilities and inspections.  However, the ALI (2005) did note the introduction of a Director General Training and Education with responsibility for developing and overseeing the implementation of policy and for finding opportunities for tri-service rationalisation.

Regulation at the Unit Level

All military commanders have an implicit responsibility within their roles to ensure their personnel have regular fitness training delivered by appropriately qualified instructors, as stated in the various fitness polices of the British armed forces.  Military commanders are responsible for the implementation and publication of a Unit Physical Training Policy, with input from the Unit Fitness/Physical Training Officer (usually delegated to a junior officer) and unit physical training staff (usually the senior physical training branch representative of the unit).

Civilian Fitness Training and Qualifications

Unlike the military sector which has a physical training school for each branch which selects and trains its own branch instructors, the civilian sector is driven by a number of factors such as market forces, employers and professionalisation.  Although employers may pay for upgrading and CPD courses, initial entry courses and qualifications are usually down to the individual to pay for themselves.

Within the civilian sector there are four levels that fitness professionals are placed within depending on their qualifications and experience.  The levels are (REPs, 2012):

  • Non-Levelled: student, physical activity advisor, fitness manager and fitness tutor/assessor.
  • Level 2: sometimes known as ‘entry level,’ includes: gym instructor, exercise to music, aqua and physical activity for children;
  • Level 3: designed to provide an advanced level of exercise and fitness knowledge and includes: fitness instructor, personal trainer, advanced exercise to music, exercise referral and Yoga and Pilates.
  • Level 4: designed to outline the knowledge and skills required to work safely with patients with often chronic and complex medical conditions through safe and effective exercise referral programmes and includes: falls prevention, cardiac disease, stroke, mental health, back pain, obesity/diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, cancer rehabilitation and accelerated rehabilitation (military only).
  • Additional categories: with the relevant level 3 qualification instructors can specialise in working with GP referred clients such as older adults, disability and ante/postnatal.

As part of the qualifications framework, there are a number of qualification routes and these include:

  • Vocationally Related Qualifications (VRQs): are nationally recognised qualifications providing skills and knowledge to prepare candidates for the workplace.
  • National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs): are similar to VRQs, but delivered differently. They offer ‘on-the-job’ training with candidates taught and assessed in the workplace.
  • Technical Certificates: These are VRQs that form part of apprenticeship programmes.
  • Diplomas: New qualifications for 14-19 year olds available in a range of subject areas at Foundation, Higher and Advanced levels. They differ from GCSEs and A-Levels by mixing class work with hands on experience and offering a wide choice of additional and specialist learning options.
  • Apprenticeships: apprenticeship programmes allow candidates to gain qualifications and skills whilst in paid employment.

As stated above, the level a fitness professional is placed within depends largely on their qualification, of which there are many (too many to name all of them here) and include:

  • Certificate in Fitness Instructing (Gym-based Exercise);
  • Award in Circuit Training;
  • NVQ Diploma in Instructing Exercise and Fitness;
  • Award in Instructing Outdoor Fitness;
  • Certificate in Leisure Management; and
  • Advanced Fitness Instructing.

Generally courses can be 2 to 10 days in duration.  However, the length of any particular course depends on the qualification, training provider and training method (i.e. classroom-based, distance learning, e-learning and/or blended learning).  As an example a certificate in fitness instructing would generally be 10 days (150 hours directed learning) in duration in contrast to an award in circuit training which generally would be 2 days (16 hours directed learning) in duration.

Civilian Fitness Training and Regulation

The structure of the civilian fitness sector is somewhat easier to appreciate than its military counterpart.  The civilian fitness sector consists of:

Civilian Fitness Sector

Skills Active

SkillsActive, a UK-wide organisation based in London, is licensed as the Sector Skills Council for Active Leisure, Learning and Well-being and a number of sectors fall within its remit:

  • Hair and beauty (through the sector skills council Habia);
  • Caravans (through the Caravan Industry Training (CITO);
  • Playwork;
  • Outdoors;
  • Sport; and
  • Fitness.

SkillsActive, working with training providers and technical experts within the fitness sector, have developed a framework of fitness qualifications and training courses which have produced standardised, industry-recognised fitness qualifications as discussed earlier (SkillsActive, 2012).  These qualifications range from level 2 to level 4 certificates and cover job roles such as personal trainer, fitness instructor and leisure centre manager.  National occupation standards (NOS) underpin the qualifications and cover:

  • Apprenticeships: apprenticeships and advanced apprenticeships;
  • Vocational qualifications: both national and Scottish vocational qualifications; and
  • Higher education qualifications: endorsement of university degrees with fitness qualifications.

As training and education are devolved policy areas, SkillsActive maintains representatives in each of the four home nations to ensure that country and cultural differences are considered.  SkillsActive is also proactively engaged in projects at the European level.

UK Active

The Fitness Industry Association (FIA) was established in 1990 but was rebranded in 2012 and became UK Active (UK Active, 2012). It is a not-for-profit membership organisation and is the representative trade body for the UK health and fitness sector.  UK Active represents over 3,000 organisations from the public, private and third sectors, comprising over 200,000 employees (FIA, 2012).

UK Active members include commercial health club operators, local authorities and trusts, leisure centres, educational leisure operators, community activity specialists, independent operators and trainers and suppliers to the industry.

UK Active works to develop new initiatives to raise standards in the industry and promote best practice and high levels of customer care, such as their Code of Practice and Code of Ethics.

Register of Exercise Professionals

The Register of Exercise Professionals (REPs), owned by SkillsActive, is an independent public register which recognises the qualifications and expertise of health-enhancing exercise instructors in the UK (REPs, 2012).  However, it must be noted that there is no legal requirement for fitness professionals to be members of REPs but many employers now stipulate REPs membership as a prerequisite to employment.

One of REPs key functions is to provide a system of regulation for instructors and trainers to ensure that they meet the agreed national occupational standards as set out by SkillsActive.

Membership of REPs is intended to provide assurance and confidence to consumers, employers and the health professions that all registered exercise professionals are appropriately qualified and have the knowledge, competence and skills to perform specific roles.

REPs members are bound by a Code of Ethical Conduct and must hold appropriate public liability insurance, and in order to remain on the register they must continue to meet the standards that are set for their profession through CPD.

Regulation at the Organisation Level

The type and function of regulation at this level varies between the organisations and will depend on the size of the individual organisation and the resources available.  Larger organisations typically have some form of internal quality assurance and regulatory system, whilst many smaller organisations will rely on their employees having REPs membership.  A number of organisations have no formal or informal regulatory system in place.

Civilian Specialisation

As of September 2011, all REPs registered fitness professionals who wish to specialise as level 4 specialist instructors must first undertake the mandatory, and pre-requisite, level 3 exercise referral qualification (REPs, 2012).

The level 4 qualifications are designed to provide fitness professionals with an outline of the knowledge and skills required to work safely with patients – who often have chronic and complex medical conditions – through safe and effective exercise referral programmes.  Qualifications include: falls prevention, cardiac disease, stroke, mental health, back pain, obesity/diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, cancer rehabilitation and accelerated rehabilitation (military only).

Level 4 specialist instructors have an understanding of the referral process and common medical conditions as clients may have co-morbidities (more than one medical condition) which must also be taken into consideration when prescribing exercise.  The level 3 exercise referral qualification provides this information which is not covered in the level 3 personal training qualification.

According to the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP), in 2011 there were over 600 exercise referral schemes across the UK (Rolfe & Boyce, 2011).  However, Rolfe and Boyce (2011, p.573) argues that there “…is insufficient evidence to prove the effectiveness of exercise referral schemes for the general population so NICE[2] does not recommend routine referral solely for increasing physical activity.”

Child Protection and Qualifications

For children’s fitness classes a specific children’s fitness qualification should be held along with additional child protection training.  A criminal records check should also be a requirement when instructing children’s classes.  The Level 2 Instructing Exercise and Physical Activity for Children is an example of a children’s fitness qualification.

Group Fitness Qualifications

Although boot camps have been in the UK since 1999, it is only in the last two years (2011/2012) that recognised group fitness qualifications have begun to appear within the UK.  Some of the courses are provided by boot camp operators in-house (some accredited by SkillsActive and award REPs CPD points, although most do not) and some are offered by non-boot camp training providers (all are accredited by SkillsActive and award REPs CPD points).  Examples of qualifications currently available include:

  • Military Workout Trainers Course;
  • Boot Camp Instructor;
  • Boot Camp Advanced Instructor;
  • Level 3 Award in Training in Outdoor Environments;
  • Level 3 Award in Instructing Outdoor Fitness; and
  • Level 3 Award Boot Camp Instructor.

First Aid Certification

First aid certification is a key qualification required by all fitness professionals.  The purpose of certification is to provide fitness professionals with the knowledge and practical skills to be able to deal with a range of injuries and illnesses.  There are two recognised first aid courses available:

1. Emergency First Aid at Work: a one day practical course that typically covers:

  • Understanding the role of the first aider including reference to the use of available equipment and the need for recording incidents and actions;
  • Understanding the importance of basic hygiene in first aid procedures;
  • Assessing the situation and circumstances in order to act safely, promptly and effectively in an emergency;
  • Administering first aid to a casualty who is unconscious and/or in seizure;
  • Administering cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR);
  • Administering first aid to a casualty who is wounded or bleeding and/or in shock;
  • Administering first aid to a casualty who is choking;
  • Providing appropriate first aid for minor injuries; and
  • Recognising the presence of major illness and apply general first aid principles in its management

2. First Aid at Work: a three day practical course (with assessments) that typically covers:

  • As for the Emergency First Aid at Work course;
  • In addition demonstrating the correct first aid management of:
  • Soft tissue, chest, burn and scald injuries;
  • Injuries to bones including suspected spinal injuries;
  • Eye injuries including how to irrigate an eye; and
  • Sudden poisoning and anaphylactic shock.

Civil Liability Insurance

All fitness professionals should hold adequate civil/employers liability insurance which covers legal liability for death, injury or illness to others and loss of, or damage to, third party property, with a recommended minimum indemnity of £5,000,000.

It is also recommended that cover includes liability arising from any advice the fitness professional may provide and liability for products that they may use or sell.   A policy should cover a fitness professional to instruct in any area (in the context of exercise and fitness) in which they hold an approved qualification.

Differences between the Military and Civilian Sectors

In the civilian sector, the regulator develops the National Occupational Standards (NOS), with input from various stakeholders, which are then interpreted by awarding bodies into qualifications.  These awarding bodies then accredit training providers (those who train the trainers) to deliver the qualifications and training courses for employers and employees.  However, there are organisations that are independent to the regulator and awarding bodies, and design and deliver their own training courses.  There are no legal or other obligations that recognise the primacy of the regulator or the awarding bodies regarding the provision of fitness qualifications.

In contrast, each branch of the military develops its own NOS, with input from academic and industry experts, which are then developed into training courses and qualifications by the relevant school.  The schools act in a number of capacities such as regulation, awarding body, accreditation and training provision for their own branch of the military.  However, the military is increasingly adopting a tri-service model for the various functions and physical training is no exception.  Fitness instructors are increasingly working across branch lines within the schools and the wider-military environment.  There is increasing speculation that physical training will eventually amalgamate into one service within the military.

Military qualified fitness instructors are contractually obliged to conduct CPD or their training rights are suspended until CPD is completed.  In contrast, civilian qualified fitness instructors are not contractually obliged to conduct CPD unless they are a member of REPs or it forms an obligation in their contract of employment (or other documents referred to in the contract of employment).


[1] Trained in this context refers to soldiers who have completed initial recruit training and are working in their ‘day’ jobs; does not mean physically trained.

[2] National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence.


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Adult Learning Inspectorate (2007) Better Training: Managing Risks to the Welfare of Recruits in the British Armed Services: Two Years of Progress. Available from World Wide Web: <; [Accessed: 13 November, 2012].

REPs (Register of Exercise Professionals) (2012) About REPS. Available from World Wide Web: <; [Accessed: 17 November, 2012].

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