An obscure D.C. board, now under new leadership, has pulled back from plans to make the nation’s capital the first jurisdiction in the country to require personal trainers to meet specific training and educational requirements.
Senora Simpson, former chairwoman of the D.C. Board of Physical Therapy, said in an interview Thursday that after 15 years on the board, she was recently told by a representative of Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) that she would not be reappointed.
The news, Simpson said, came after The Washington Post reported that the board was considering proposed rules for a first-in-the-nation registry of personal trainers that could have sent a shock wave through the American fitness industry.
No state has imposed registration or licensure requirements on personal trainers, and some large fitness companies, such as CrossFit, warned that early versions of the proposed regulations could have required spending millions of dollars to recertify instructors.
The board had also discussed requiring as much as a four-year educational degree for all personal trainers in what industry leaders said could be a model for future laws in other places. Some have advocated such a professional path, saying it will be necessary for personal trainers to be able to eventually bill for preventative services under the Affordable Care Act.
But in a meeting Tuesday, Bowser’s newly appointed board chairman, Timothy Vidale and one other remaining member of the board, Christopher Cousins, voted to significantly weaken the proposed registry requirements.
Under a proposal they sent up to Bowser’s health director, the District would allow a two-year-degree, or it would accept as little as a one-day certification from almost any fitness organization nationwide. The District would also grandfather in anyone who has worked as a personal trainer in the city for the past 24 months.
The watered down registration requirements were far from what Simpson had once advocated for. She had successfully urged the D.C. Council last year to unanimously vote to regulate personal trainers. Simpson said the District needed to lead the way in making sure personal trainers did not push exercise routines that could lead to injury or, worse, engage in sexually inappropriate activity with clients.
Health Department spokesman Marcus Williams said Bowser appointed the new chairman. Simpson said the decision was the mayor’s to make; her term had expired. “Maybe it’s time for new blood,” Simpson said.
The full effect of the board’s vote, though, was not immediately clear. Simpson said that she was told not to attend the meeting, and with only two of five board seats filled, members called a voice vote to send along the regulations. One of those members, Cousins, defended the decision to go forward with a more inclusive registry.
“We are not seeking to exclude,” Cousins said to a dozen industry lobbyists, lawyers and journalists who attended the meeting. “We’re not seeking to infringe upon the practice of personal training. But nowhere in the nation, presently, is personal training professionalized, as we are, as hair dressers are . . . we wanted to start that process, and well, that’s the thrust of it.”
Robin Jenkins, executive director of the board, cast the decision as the beginning of a months-long process to vet the proposed rules within the Bowser administration.
The administration may not get that far, however. D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) introduced legislation to repeal any authority to impose regulations on personal trainers, saying the board was going too far.
In a statement, CrossFit chief executive Greg Glassman said repeal was best “for recognizing the damaging impact that illconceived, anti-competitive licensure would have on fitness in the District.”