Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Lesson in Certifications

Last Tuesday, I conducted a presentation at Tunxis Community College in Farmington, CT. My presentation was on the correlation between the increased rates of obesity and the need for personal trainers. I also presented and compared different certifying organizations, in order to help the attendees make a sound decision in choosing the appropriate certification. Most of the group was made up of passionate fitness enthusiasts--however, a majority of them didn't workout on a regular basis. When I polled the group, only half raised their hand and said they exercised in a gym setting. A few other responses were:

"I use my treadmill at home."

"I do Pilate's at home".

"I run outside when it's warm".

These are great ideas for staying active, but they will not prepare you for the many facets of personal training. And when I say facets, I mean many...

In another astonishing move, the group began asking me questions about other certifications, specifically the ACSM, NASM, and NSCA. I thought to myself: Geez....this is a "beginner's guide" to getting them into the field and they were already contemplating advanced certs?

Not sure why so many novice exercisers are always in a rush to get the "best" certification. Not sure if they think it equates to more money, more respect, or more acceptance. Most are not ready for these in-depth certs because they lack application and experience. Even those taught at the university level--whom are prepared for ACSM and NSCA exams don't guarantee success in the field. So I outlined a time-line for them to follow "if" and "when" they enter the personal training profession and how they should go about complimenting their experience with additional education.

Year 1: WITS or ACE or ISSA - These will get your foot in the door into gym and you can begin working with clients. If you train in homes, this will allow you to work with general population clients seeking weight-loss and basic functional improvement.

Year 2-3: NASM-CPT or NSCA-CPT or ACSM-HFI - After at least 1 full year of being in the field, you'll want to learn more and understand more about the human body. I am sure throughout your first year, many clients came to you with problems, ailments, or limitations. So now, you want to learn more about them so you can become a better trainer. These are the two best places to start because they are stronger in the areas of biomechanics and special populations.

Year 3-4: NASM-PES or NSCA-CSCS - After 3-4 years, your interests working with fully functional, active people probably will peak. You'll be amazed at how working with athletic individuals (high-school or even weekend warriors) can make for some exciting challenges. Your best bet is to learn about speed and agility. These two organizations have specialized focus in these areas. The CSCS is the most popular and will need a college degree to sit in.

Years 5+: Continuing education....Learn as much as you can about the in's and out's of personal training including: nutrition, post-rehab, clinical exercise, business skills,, life coaching, cardio-pulmonary exercise, etc, etc

So there you have it. In about 5 years you can become an unstoppable fitness professional. Don't RUSH into trying to become one right after you answer the last question on that exam. You will have to work your way up the ladder. There are many personal trainers out there--good and bad--and alot of "impostors". It is important that you become knowledgeable through research and application and once the opportunity arises--stake your claim in the field!


  1. That's a good, step-by-step approach to building a career. I only wish I could have started out this way while in college, such as earning a basic cert my soph/junior year and getting experience with college students in the school's gym. Come to think of it, this would be a great approach to take for the college courses/majors. A Junior College that was in a town I previously trained in, they had a 1 & 2 year program for Health Fitness Specialist from ACE, I think, and you could take the test right there as part of the program. This would give the student a good entry-level start and enable them to go into a 4 year program in Ex. Sci. Majors, allowing them to progress to such cert's as the NSCA's 2 options.

  2. Yeah John I agree - I got my ACE right out of college, and after interning for 3 months at a HIT center, I decided to go for the CSCS - I was 23, and the knowledge was fresh in my head.

    But just passing this didn't mean I was a great trainer. I'm a year into this field, and am 1000% more confident from the EXPERIENCE of training alone in the past 8 months.

    When you can apply these principles you learn in a textbook, then write about them, the actually teach them to other trainers, it tends to stick in your head.

    You talk about being UNSTOPPABLE 5 years down the line, and this is right on. If I can be THIS much more confident after 8 months, and keep that rate up for 5 years, I truly think I WILL be unstoppable.

    I plan on getting your book soon - keep up the awesome work on the blog.


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