During a trip to the UK last December, I was stunned by the number of twentysomethings I met who announced they were moving to Dubai to become personal trainers – even more so when I discovered that almost half of them had no experience in the fitness industry, least of all a certificate declaring their competence. Common sense was enough to convince me these people would be putting consumers at risk, so upon returning to Dubai, I decided to look into it.
My research led me to 34-year-old Australian Corey Oliver, a local fitness expert and founder of Dubai’s Original Fitness Co, who has been training in the region for the past nine years. Original Fitness Co, along with fellow local companies MEFITPRO and Urban Energy Fitness, was recently approached by Dubai Sports Council to help it address the issue of unqualified trainers operating in Dubai. ‘The Sports Council realises it needs to regulate the industry and that there are a lot of unlicensed, unqualified trainers running around endangering people’s lives,’ explains Oliver. ‘The three companies have been brought in to advise them.’
For someone to operate as a fitness trainer in the UAE, they must have both the correct trade licence and the correct qualification. If they have a suitable qualification, from an organisation such as REPs (Register of Exercise Professionals), they must also be affiliated to a valid company. If the company doesn’t have a valid trade licence from the UAE Youth Sports and Affairs (which Oliver describes as ‘the master regulator for all things sport in the UAE’), the trainer is not insured – and, as a result, neither are you.
As things stand, Oliver says some Dubai-based companies get around this by establishing themselves as ‘consultancies’ in free zones, though this means visas issued will describe the person’s role as a ‘clerk’ or ‘sales executive’. Licensed, qualified instructors will hold visas that declare their profession in the fitness industry.
Oliver explains the threats if you choose to sign up with a trainer who doesn’t hold the right visa. ‘There are huge risks. The first is causing harm to yourself. If that is caused by incorrect instruction and advice, the trainer isn’t insured. It’s people’s welfare we’re talking about.’
But what are the chances of encountering someone without the right documents and experience? ‘I think there are a lot of qualified trainers here, so I’d say it’s about 70 per cent qualified trainers, but only about 30 or 40 per cent of those work for real fitness companies. Even though they have a qualification, they either work for a free zone company, or they might just be freelancing on their own with nothing,’ Oliver explains, noting that the problem isn’t restricted to one-on-one personal training. ‘There are a lot of trainers that instruct bodybuilding, where people are lifting very heavy weights; there are other programmes such
as intensive circuit sessions and some bootcamps, or even people teaching CrossFit classes who aren’t CrossFit qualified.’
Oliver explains he’s heard talk of communication between Dubai Sports Council and REPs in the UK, and possible talk about the organisation flying someone out to help the emirate regulate its fitness and sports industry. ‘Dubai is booming in terms of fitness. Everyone wants to look good and get in shape. All it’s going to take is better organisation to make it better for everyone.’ So it seems, ironically, that the very country unwittingly exporting so many unqualified trainers may have a hand in running them out of the UAE.
The questions to ask
Corey Oliver reveals what to ask a prospective personal trainer to make sure they have the right qualifications.
• How much experience do you have?
• Were you a trainer before you came to Dubai?
• What’s your sporting background?
• Do you understand nutrition?
• Can I see a copy of your qualifications?
• Can I see a copy of your UAE visa? (This should state ‘sports trainer’ or similar as their occupation.)
• Can I see a copy of the trade licence of the company you work for?