Northeast Wisconsin
  • Northeast Wisconsin
  • October 2017
Written by 

Questioning your fitness professional

A video has been circulating the news of a cheer coach forcing the young girls he coaches into the splits; forcibly holding them down so they will increase flexibility. First off, this is the exact wrong way to gain flexibility and the end result for one of the girls is permanent damage (which is why this is on the news). But this story brings up an extremely important point for everyone in sports and fitness: question your coach!

In our current culture, everyone is an expert. Just ask them! There are constant ads on Facebook with fitness tips and never-ending articles on “this is the best stretch ever.” The problem is that most of these ads and articles are not peer reviewed, they are simply one person’s opinion and may or may not have any background in credible research. Why is that a problem? You as the consumer could be training with someone who is really good at marketing themselves (after all, they are an expert!) but doesn’t actually have the health knowledge to train you safely. Like the cheer coach who defended his stretching method as “that’s how I was taught” your trainer may be using out-of-date techniques or only have one set of techniques to choose from and the end result will be your injury.

Things to ask when selecting an exercise professional to help you reach your goals:

  • What degrees do they have and from where? This will give you an idea of their base knowledge. For example, my PhD is in injury prevention for musicians so before I started my fitness journey I already had a background in how the body works and an understanding of movement mechanics. This knowledge could then be applied to fitness when I switched industries.
  • What certifications do they have? I’ll let you in on a secret, fitness certifications are often a money grab for the person running the course. The governing accreditation bodies get paid to let a new certification course qualify, so they are making money by certifying a new instructor certification course. So what does that mean? Many of the instructor certification courses are not actually good. But you as the consumer want a fitness professional who has taken numerous certifications because it shows that the coach is trying to gain a wide knowledge base. For example, I’ve taken three “Aerial Yoga” instructor certification courses. One of them was outstanding, I learned a ton about the body under gravity and advanced spotting technique when using the hammock. One was a good list of the moves but didn’t really teach me how to teach or break anything down. And the last was plain bad where the practices being taught were simply unsafe. If I had only taken the last one, that would have been my only knowledge base but since I had taken multiple I could draw different pieces from each to create my own “best practice” aerial yoga program.
  • Do they continue to learn? The fitness industry is changing. Our knowledge base is changing as we learn more about the body. You want to work with a trainer who is constantly learning the newest techniques and reading the most current research. For example, 15 years ago we taught static stretching as the warmup but have since learned through EMG research that holding a stretch for a length of time without movement actually decreased the muscle function after for a period of time. For this reason we now do dynamic stretching and movement based warmups that encourage muscle function. You want to work with a fitness professional who is continually broadening their knowledge base with the most up-to-date research in the field.
  • How long have they practiced that sport or exercise? The longer someone has practiced, in theory, the more they know. For example, this year was my 10 year “pole-aversary”; I’ve been spinning for 10 years! This length of time has taught me an insane number of tricks and variations. It has also given me the opportunity to work with multiple different body shapes and types to figure out a ton of solutions for common problems. Because I’ve been in the sport so long, if you are struggling with something I likely have seen the problem or a variation of the problem before so I can address it quickly and with a lot of different options. The longer you practice a sport the more tips and tricks you learn. So studying with a teacher who has done the sport for years is going to benefit you.

Just because someone says they are an expert, don’t believe them. Ask about their qualifications! Ask them about what they are doing to keep learning. It isn’t disrespectful to ask if they are qualified. I personally love when someone asks me about my qualifications because I’ve worked really hard to be an authority in my field. I will happily show you the latest research I’m reading and talk to you about why I teach the way I do because I’ve put so much thought into it. It is your body. You have a right to know a lot about the background of the person who is going to help guide you in your fitness journey. 


Paula Brusky, PhD

Dr. Paula Brusky is the owner of Aerial Dance Pole Exercise, LLC in Appleton. With a PhD in injury prevention, a group fitness certification from the American Center on Exercise and numerous fitness, aerial and pole instruction certifications she is a leading aerial arts educator. For more information or to sign-up for your first Pole, Hammock, Hoop or Silks class, call 920-750-1441 or visit

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