Training the personal trainers: Chorley business on the fitness boom front line

Health and Fitness Education tutor Vici Thompson (left) in action.
Health and Fitness Education tutor Vici Thompson (left) in action.
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Who trains the personal trainer?


Frequently held up as the epitome of athleticism in an era defined by fitness and well-being, personal trainers and fitness instructors are no longer the sole domain of the wealthy, and demand for their services is booming.

HFE owner and managing director, Lee Cain.

HFE owner and managing director, Lee Cain.

Driven by a Millennial zeal for healthy living, the UK fitness industry is now worth over £5bn, and a Chorley-based training provider is at the forefront. Very simply, Health and Fitness Education train the personal trainer.

Founded in 2007 by Lee Cain (40), HFE teach fitness instructor and personal training courses at over 30 locations throughout the UK, including their base in Buckshaw Village. Boasting around 3,500 students every year, the business is one of the biggest fitness learning providers in the UK, with courses ranging from PT and sports massage to Pilates, yoga, and special population exercise specifically designed for disabled people, older people, and those with chronic illnesses.

Basing their syllabus on first-hand experience in the industry, the company has myriad graduates working across a range of the country's top fitness institutions, including David Lloyd Clubs, Virgin Active, Nuffield Health, Bannatyne, Xercise4Less, and PureGym.

What is more, the likes of Laura Massaro, the world's number one squash player in 2016; Holly Bradshaw, Team GB Olympic Pole Vaulter; and James Crossley, Hunter from Gladiators have undertaken HFE courses.

The HFE staff hard at work.

The HFE staff hard at work.

The company’s come a long way from starting out of Lee’s back bedroom 12 years ago.

"I started HFE when I was a lecturer at Runshaw College delivering similar qualifications to what we deliver now, and there was a demand for more flexibility and innovation," said Lee, who comes from Heywood in Greater Manchester. "Sitting in the classroom didn't work for lots of people, and some of those delivering the quals had never even worked in the industry. You wouldn't train to be a doctor and not have a doctor with practical experience teaching you.

"The demand for personal training has grown phenomenally," he added. "The fitness industry is out-performing the rest of the UK economy - there are over 7,000 gyms in the UK alone and one in every seven people is a member. It's a big business. They used to say the mid-life crisis was a new wife and a sports car, now it's a triathlon.

"Fitness in all its strains and forms is on the up: back in 1994 when I first went to the gym, you were classed as a fitness freak. Now, society is in a completely different place: culturally, the younger generation is more health conscious, and that trend's not going to change. So our place in the sector is crucial; gym equipment does not discriminate, it will hurt you if you don't use it right."

And HFE are continually expanding. They recently announced their new course to teach PTs how to work with pre- and post-natal mothers, working with a newly-hired qualified midwife, Naomi Schonn, to develop the syllabus. “I was delighted to be asked to work with HFE and it really impressed me that they wanted my clinical input," said Naomi. "A lot of training providers simply want to get their students through the course but it struck me that HFE really wanted to change things for the better."

Specialism is the key, according to Lee. "It's really rewarding to know we're giving people the tools to teach others," he explained. "With all our programmes, we use expertise in that area: our GP referral course is delivered by a GP, our back pain programme is delivered by a physio who specialises in the back. Then, when we deliver a really good programme for an instructor, they will work with 1,000 people and we've managed to positively touch those people through our quality of teaching.

"It's not about getting the qualification, it's about what you become in the process."