FitDC, Mayor Muriel Bowser’s (D) laudable effort to promote healthy living and reduce chronic disease in the District, is under threat by the very government she leads.
The mayor has said she wants to ensure that all D.C. residents who want to lead healthier lifestyles can do so. But her government is developing misguided regulations that would add burdensome red tape to the most innovative fitness programs.
Specifically, the D.C. Council has enacted a law — the first in the nation — that would define what personal fitness trainers can and cannot do, require them to register and prohibit them from misrepresenting themselves as physical therapists.
Now, the council is drafting a “technical bill” to fill in the blanks in the original legislation (as drafted, it’s ambiguous, vague and not easily implemented), while the D.C. Department of Health is developing regulations.
If early drafts of the regulations are advanced, D.C. fitness trainers will have to divert their attention from improving lives to bureaucratic burdens: taking courses they don’t need, adhering to methods they don’t believe in, paying fees that will be passed on to their clients and looking over their shoulders at ever-present regulators. The draft regulations even call for a four-year college degree.
The immediate impact would be to make fitness programs less accessible, more expensive and more elitist. Thousands of residents would lose the opportunity to follow programs that will help them get stronger, lose weight and enjoy a better quality of life. Ironically, this comes when the District is exploding with new fitness programs and its residents are becoming fitter.
This also would send the message that entrenched interests can drive up costs and close markets for competitors, preventing new products and services from improving the status quo.
The groups pushing hardest for licensure are entrenched institutions such as the American College of Sports Medicine, the National Strength and Conditioning Association and the Register of Exercise Professionals.
These seemingly credible organizations are advancing a not-so-credible agenda to defend their long-established but increasingly threatened business models and stifle successful competition. They want the licensing because they will profit from it.
For those in the Exercise Industrial Complex, the fear of disruptive competition explains why they want to make the District the first jurisdiction in the nation to regulate fitness programs, promoting a solution in search of a problem.
In support of the regulations, advocates have cited anecdotes, not statistics — hardly the basis for smart policymaking. There is simply no evidence that regulating fitness trainers — imposing a monolithic standard of what a workout should look or feel like — has an impact on safety or injury levels. None.
Instead of raising standards, burdensome regulations would have the effect of driving newcomers out of the industry — and pricing many moderate-income people out of fitness programs.
These consequences would be catastrophic for FitDC, which seeks to improve the health and fitness of all D.C. residents, regardless of income. And discouraging the continued growth of disruptive companies would thwart another of Bowser’s objectives: making the District attractive to new and innovative businesses.
D.C. residents don’t want or need a one-size-fits-all model for exercise programs. The city’s business climate can’t survive a “Newcomers, keep out” mentality.
If the D.C. Council wants to flex its muscles, it should simply distinguish between personal trainers and physical therapists and put any other proposed regulations on hold.
Any other action would be the wrong kind of exercise — an exercise in futility.
The writer is global director of certification for CrossFit.
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