Imagine hiring a lawyer only to find out right before the trial that they didn’t go to law school, finish high school, or have any hands-on training. They simply passed the bar exam.
Now, much worse, imagine hiring a personal trainer comparably "qualified" to manage your health and wellness.
Public Service Announcement: a six pack, tens of thousands of Instagram followers, and a two-day certificate does not guarantee that “trainer” is qualified to manage your physical health and wellness.
See, in most aspects of life we can trust someone’s credentials at face value. If I walk into a doctors office and they have Dr. in front of their name, I’m satisfied. If I hire an accountant and I see CPA at the end, I believe they are capable of doing what I need done. But credentials in the fitness industry don’t always carry as much weight as we think they do. Unlike the bar exam, which is of a similar standard across states, there are literally hundreds of personal training certifications offered around the country (and they can all sound good). Of these certifications, the majority are not accredited by a governing body, do not require prior education or experience, and some are just plain easy to get.
What does this mean?
This means you could be putting your body in the hands of someone with 3 months of online studying, a credit card, and no background in exercise science. These “trained professionals” are going to be manipulating your cardiopulmonary, endocrine, and musculoskeletal systems. (Cardiology, pulmonology, and endocrinology. Hmm, those almost sound like medical specializations!)
Oh, and some personal trainer "certifications" are as simple as a 1-2 day training!
Of the hundreds of certifications offered, only a handful are fully reviewed and approved by an accrediting body. But even accreditation does not guarantee they are qualified. For many of the certifications, the prerequisites are a CPR certificate and possibly a high-school diploma. Most do not require additional collegiate or graduate level education or commensurate experience.
Now I’m not saying your lawyer needs to have a Harvard Law degree in order to do their job well, but I’m sure you would feel more comfortable knowing that they demonstrated a standard level of proficiency that was reviewed and approved by an impartial governing body, right?
The fitness industry ultimately NEEDS standardization. We currently have a slew of certifications that allow people to claim the title “fitness professional”, but no actual “gold standard” that needs to be met.
There is no ranking system in place that clearly equates level of certification with degree of qualification. In order to address these issues, the industry could benefit from implementing standardized licensing exams/boards run by a single governing organization.
Until then, what do you look for in a trainer?
- Accredited Certifications - The main ones you want to look for are NSCA, NASM, ACSM and ACE.
- Education - Your personal trainer should at the very least have an undergraduate education in Exercise Science or a like field (i.e. Kinesiology) -- but preferably a Master's Degree.
- Continuing Education - When a personal trainer completes continuing education courses, usually as certifications, that means they care about staying up to date on advances in the industry and how to best serve their clients. Some of our favorite continuing education certifications are Functional Movement Screen (FMS), Functional Range Conditioning (FRC), Strength and Conditioning Coach Certified (SCCC) and StrongFirst.
Don't be afraid to ask a trainer about these qualifications to be sure that you are spending your time and money with the right person.
And you can of course always just go to a trusted source like Apex Human Performance, where every single personal trainer has six years of exercise science education alone -- that's right a Master's Degree in Exercise Science!