I hear stories everyday about how people want to work in fitness.
The first thing a person needs to realize about fitness is that it’s not a licensed profession. That means that the state or local government doesn’t regulate the profession. As a result of that, organizations created certifications in an attempt to create standards in the profession. These certifications aren’t required by law, however, you will need a personal trainer certification to get a job, to purchase liability insurance, and to protect yourself from being negligent. Gyms, private studios, or any other reputable fitness facility will not hire a trainer that is not certified. The certification provides proof that the trainer is competent, as they went through some kind of study and passed an exam to earn the certification. Likewise, liability insurance companies will not provide coverage to non-certified personal trainers – AND non-certified trainers open themselves to a bucket of legal issues, especially when they hurt someone and can’t prove that they are a trained professional in the field. That would make them negligent, and they would lose a lawsuit.
So how do you get certified as a personal trainer? That part is pretty easy. There are TONS of fitness certifications out there. However, some are more reputable than others. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) is the original fitness organization, and has set all of the standards of fitness as we know it. Their research is what guides the fitness industry, and their program is medically based. For example, they are the ones that found that the human body needs 30 minutes of physical activity everyday to prevent heart disease, and that for fitness or weight loss purposes, a person must do an hour of cardio most if not every day of the week. Consider the ACSM the surgeon general of the fitness industry. They set the standards. They offer several levels of certification, including certified personal trainer. Next in line is the American Council on Exercise (ACE). Like the ACSM personal trainer exam, the ACE test is a tough one. However, ACE is a major standard in the industry and is highly recommended. Both of these certifications focus on exercise science and the basics of fitness. BUT, don’t let the word “basic” throw you off. The study materials for both of these exams is a lot, and will require a lot of time to get through it. If you can’t attend a workshop or review class for these certifications, you may want to consider speaking to a fitness professional who has a great scientific background about tutoring you. The American Fitness and Aerobic Association (AFAA) is another well-respected basic personal trainer certification that is accepted in every gym. This organization has been around since the 80′s, and had it’s start in the Aerobics movement. Another great fitness organization is the National Strength and Conditioning Association. This organization focuses on sports training and program design, with a lot of their certification dealing with proper weight lifting technique, periodization models, and plyometric concepts. The NSCA offers levels of certifications, the higher ones are what professional strength and conditioning coaches prefer. A newer member to the Fitness certification scene is the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). This program focuses on more of the basics of functional and stability training. This is a very popular certification, and newer trainers have found this to be their program of choice.
When deciding on Personal Trainer Certification programs, it’s important to think about what you will be doing in your business. Each program varies from the other, and can make a difference in what you are planning on doing. For example, if you are planning on working with senior citizens, the NSCA program may not be appropriate while the ACE or ACSM may be very appropriate.
Along with the decision what certification to persue, some other things need to be considered. Firstly, cost. Cheaper does not equal better, and really neither does the most expensive. Usually, certifications will run around $400 or so. You also will be required to accumulate continuing education credits once you are certified. Personally, I like CEC’s because they allow you to keep growing as a professional, and they allow you to specialize in a specific area of expertise exploring deeper into your favorite subject.
My opinion about choosing a program: The simpler the better. You can always specialize later. The more reputable and recognizable the certification, the better.