Article by Freddie Drummond B.Sc. (Hon’s)

You may or may not be familiar with the Professional Standards which CIMSPA are the guardians of. We have two for group exercise. One is the Core Group Exercise Instructor Professional Standards and the second are the Pilates Based Matwork Instructor professional Standards.

If you have never read them before they are worth a read. 

What are Professional Standards ?

Professional standards, in theory, drive the development of quality education products for our workforce, as well as support individuals and employers in understanding job roles. Qualifications that align to the professional standards include the knowledge, skills, and experience that a person working in a specific job role needs to do the job role. These standards are developed with sector consultation and often take a few years to develop and reach fruition.

So, the big question is do they do that?

I want you to think about all the disciplines of group exercise that you teach, from Pilates to Fitness Yoga, Les Mills Signature Products, Aerobics, Aqua, Indoor Cycling, HIIT, Circuits, Outdoor Fitness to name just a few.  There are so many different styles and genres of group exercise it would be impossible to list them all here.

To answer the big question above, it is complex. We can however take a simple view for the purpose of this article. 

Let us start with the two sets of professional standards that currently represent the group exercise workforce education. Are they enough when we have a multiple genre discipline, a wide variety of instructors who teach across a widely varied sector. The answer is no. Why?

Our ability to meet and fulfil the professional standards is limited by the standards themselves as for most of us they are not fit for purpose and do not meet what we need them to meet in terms of the 3R’s. They are not ‘Representative, Reactive or Responsive’ to the needs of a Group Exercise Instructor. This makes them exclusive rather than inclusive. If these standards were used in isolation to show our professional ability as instructors most of us cannot and could not meet them. In some instances, instructors have lost employment because of the limited range these standards reflect because their well earned and well recognised certificates don’t fit into these limited standards.  They are inadequate, not fit for purpose and do not support or portray the professional recognition group exercise teachers deserve. 


The professional standards do give us a safe base to work from and we must not lose sight of that. What they do not do is represent the variation of practical disciplines instructors now teach and need to teach. In fact, in 40 years, they have only had one major practical change in their requirement and that was 11 years ago in 2012. Before I explore this, just imagine if you used a computer that only had one technical change in 40 years. We would still all be working on 5-inch floppy disks.

The major change that occurred in 2012 was to introduce the optional unit of teaching a group class without music. The unit involving music in fact has had no change. So, if you are an exercise to music teacher for assessment for this qualification you are expected to teach a similar choreographed class to what was assessed and taught 40 years ago. Employers assume by being assessed once, for 45 mins, on a class we never see on a timetable, qualifies you to teach everything else in the studio from HIIT to Circuits and the rest. If you understand the sector work and an understanding of the standards, you will very easily see this does not represent how we currently work and therefore are not fit for purpose. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater yet! We have more to discuss. It is very limiting for employers to force group exercise teachers to join an organisation that cannot and does not professionally recognise their scope of practice effectively. 


To be reactive it means the professional standards should flex and respond to current teaching practice, knowledge, skills and modes of practice. The challenge with the professional standards is sector consultation and agreement take many years to achieve. Pilates is the perfect example. To get to one set of standards for mat-based work has taken over seven years and even now many do not agree to those standards, and many would not be able to meet them because they teach Pilates differently.


Without the first two R’s we cannot have the third R. We cannot respond to the needs of the instructor, our communities, and our society if we can’t agree professional standards that represent what and how group exercise is taught. This means we cannot flex and react or respond by making improvements. We fail on our efforts for equality diversity and inclusivity.

The group exercise instructor workforce and employers have been aware of this for decades and you often hear the voice of frustration across social media. It is time for a change. EMD UK, our national governing body (NGB) for group exercise, have recently championed and announced their new Professional Recognition Membership based on ‘Scope of Practice’ rather than the professional standards alone. Do not panic as this is not yet another hoop we have to jump through. At last, this is a celebration and recognition of the varied teaching genres available to the instructor. It is proportional and recognises what you do rather than excludes you because you don’t!  

What is the ‘Scope of Practice’?

Scope of practice is a professional practice statement that represents those activities that a person licensed to practice is permitted to perform. An instructor can decide their scope of practice. Your scope of practice is the limit of your knowledge, skills and experience and you can gain professional recognition for your scope of practice and therefore ensure that you work within your scope of practice.

The scope of practice overview sets clear expectations of what knowledge, skills, and abilities you do have rather than what you don’t. The scope of practice statements that allow you to become a member of your NGB and be professionally recognised tells employers what skills, abilities, knowledge, and qualifications you do have. They are underpinned by the professional standards and take the professional standard safety elements and makes them Representative, Reactive and Responsive all at the same time.

This may sound complex, but it isn’t. The professional recognition membership of your NGB is confirmed by identifying your scope of practice. It takes the type of training you have done, adds it to what you teach, identifies if you have any gaps that can be bridged. Offers you a bridge if needed and celebrates and recognises that you may have gained your knowledge and experience through many different routes that truly represent the genre you teach. EMD UK are the only National Governing Body for Group Exercise instructors and therefore are the only NGB that can offer Group Exercise teachers Professional Recognition for their technical and tactical expertise across many varied routes you may have taken. No other organisation can. We are aware that sometimes employment may require a membership to specific organisations which is an employers gift to do. There is no legal obligation to join an association so the choice is yours. When making that choice you want what is best for your career. Your NGB will provide this. As you can only gain professional recognition for your scope of practice from your NGB it makes sense to join your NGB so check your scope of practice here

Scope of practice professional recognition, doesn’t circumvent the professional standards but confirms that what you have undertaken in your own personal development meets the standards and more besides. It does this by working more closely with a diverse range of skills, activities, abilities, education, and needs. You don’t need to jump through the hoop if you want to teach X it recognises X. If you want to teach X Y & Z it recognises X Y & Z. If you want to teach A & W it recognises that. It allows training providers such as us to develop training that flexes and reacts to need whilst maintaining the standards. It fits a round peg into a round hole.

It is long overdue, would you agree?

What the scope of practice does for you the instructor is allow you to be recognised for the professional coach you are. They celebrate your difference and allow you to be diverse and inclusive in what you offer. As a training provider we are delighted to support EMD UK as our NGB in their scope of practice development through offering high standards of training that are responsive to the instructor. For employers it means that instructors become more employable for the skills they have and the education they have undertaken and opens the doors to a wider greater workforce. In celebration you can join EMD UK as a student member so apply today. You can also apply for a bursary to assist you if at this stage you need some financial help to join. 

It is a win win for the sector.