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British Columbia Recreation and Parks Association
The British Columbia Recreation and Parks Association (BCRPA) is the organization in British Columbia, Canada, that
- certifies instructors so that they are able to instruct groups or individuals in various disciplines of the fitness industry; 2
- outlines the scope of practice for each instructor in his/her particular discipline; and,
- provides training, exams, and upgrading courses on an ongoing basis for instructors.
The BCRPA announced a change in April 2015: those who had in the past earned a Third Age designation were given a new Older Adult Fitness Leader designation. Nothing really changed except for the name — from Third Age to Older Adult — which is probably much easier for anyone not in the fitness industry to understand.
What follows is a discussion of the scope of practice for leaders of older adults. Hopefully, this will help you — the consumer — to know precisely what your fitness instructor is allowed to do and what they should know.
Scope of Practice for Group Fitness Leaders
The NFLA (National Fitness Leadership Alliance Performance Standards) and the BCRPA (British Columbia Recreation and Parks Association) state that a certified Group Fitness Leader is qualified to:
- Design, modify and lead a safe land exercise group by providing effective and appropriate exercises in order to meet the needs of the participants;
- Lead participants to participate in a general physical activity program based on NFLA performance standards and guidelines; 3
- Incorporate the use of appropriate exercise equipment based on the identified needs of the participants; and,
- Deliver nutritional information based on Canada's Food Guide.
All group fitness leaders in British Columbia should have this BCRPA certificate. If they do not, the possibilities for injury and/or inappropriate activities is unfortunately high.
Scope of Practice for BCRPA Older Adult Leaders
Group Fitness Leaders who want to work with older adults go on to take further training, so they are more familiar with the issues that older adults face. Once the course work is completed, the Group Fitness Leader can now teach fitness classes which are specifically designed for older adults.
Based on the BCRPA Standards and NFLA Guidelines the BCRPA Older Adult Fitness Leader is qualified to:
- Provide initial health screening;
- Lead exercise programs for older adults based on the information contained in the NFLA standards and guidelines;
- Design, modify and lead an older adult exercise program;
- Provide appropriate exercises in order to meet the needs of older adult participants;
- Incorporate the use of appropriate equipment based on identified or implied needs of the participants;
- Promote the benefits of regular physical activity combined with a healthy and balanced diet using Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide as a reference;
- Create a professional environment whereby the independent inactive and independent active older adult can improve or maintain their physical function; and,
- Provide emergency care based on the participant needs and/or according to facility protocol.
A Deeper Look at the Scope of Practice for BCRPA Older Adult Leaders
It takes time, energy, and commitment to learn how best to work with older adults on their fitness.
In addition to the eight items listed above, the Older Adult Fitness Leader must also:
Understand the Effects of Aging: Know the physiological, psychological and sociological effects of aging and its relationship to physical activity. This means a familiarity with the five levels of functional ability as identified in the World Health Organization Health-Fitness Gradient (Dependent, Frail, Independent, Fit, Elite) as well as the biological theories of aging, including: cellular theory of aging, genetic theory, and control theory;
Know about Health Challenges for the Older Adult: Be aware of the common health challenges facing older adults and how these changes affect functional mobility and independence 4, while also understanding the role of physical activity in life stages, as well as knowledge of behaviour modification strategies for motivating older adults based on the Stages of Change Theory;
Be Familiar with Testing for Function: An awareness of which tools are appropriate for measuring functional outcomes (e.g. senior fitness test), and be capable of evaluating programs using measurable outcomes to ensure effective and appropriate programming;
Conduct a safe, effective exercise program: Use a variety of leadership styles and communication techniques appropriate for older adults; use established methods and training principles.
Be familiar with types of activities and contraindications: Understand methods that ensure safe and effective exercise programming for older adults; have knowledge of contraindications for multiple health challenges and factors that affect appropriate exercise selection and modifications; be aware of appropriate exercises for strength, muscular endurance, balance, agility, flexibility, posture, and cardio-respiratory fitness for older adults; choose appropriate exercises and activities for the older adult 5; and,
Adhere to a code of conduct: An awareness and understanding of a fitness leader's code of conduct and scope of practice, including legal liability and insurance coverage.
Other Certificates the BCRPA provides
I am a Group Fitness Leader and an Older Adult Leader, so I am qualified specifically in the areas mentioned above. I am required to also maintain my CPR and First Aid certificates yearly, as well as continuously upgrade my certification through courses and workshops.
The BCRPA provides certification for the following types of leaders, and for each of these, the BCRPA has a "scope of practice" guideline:
- Personal Trainer
- Weight Training Leader
- Aquatic Fitness Leader
- Yoga Fitness Leader
- Pilates Fitness Leader
- Osteofit Leader
If you take any fitness course, your instructor may or may not be certified by the BCRPA. If they are not, you will want to make inquiries as to just what the leader knows and what training they have received.
Even if they are certified, you may want to also check out their scope of practice on this PDF.
For your own safety and peace of mind, find out the qualifications of your class leader before attending the class.
- Fitness Instructors: What They Know and What They Don't Know
- Metabolism, Calorie Intake, and False Promises: Getting Through the Dieting Maze
- Canada's Food Guide: Nutrition and the Older Adult
I am a BCRPA-certified fitness instructor in Vancouver, BC. I teach four classes at the West End Community Centre in Vancouver, BC, mostly designed for the older adult. The Inevitable Disclaimer: Everything published here expresses only my opinion, based on my training and research. What you do with the information is entirely your own responsibility. I am not liable for any injury you suffer that seems to be related to anything you read here. Always consult your doctor before beginning an exercise program. For other articles, return to the table of contents.
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Specifically: Group Fitness Leader, Older Adult Fitness Leader, Personal Trainer, Weight Training, Aquatic Fitness, Yoga Fitness, Pilates Fitness, and Osteofit. ↩
These participants will have already provided a healthy self-report through the use of the current PAR-Q or will have received medical clearance. ↩
Some of the common health challenges related to the aging process include: cardiovascular disease, stroke, hypertension, respiratory disorders, obesity, arthritis, osteoporosis, back pain, diabetes, balance and motor control deficits, visual and hearing disorders, dementia, urinary incontinence, joint replacement. ↩
This could include balance training, understanding centre of gravity and base of support, power training, eccentric loading, agility training, reaction time training, multi-tasking training, coordination, and memory. ↩