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Navigating the world of professional certification and training options, alongside other dispatches from the new global workplace.

Personal Fitness Trainer Certification: So Many Options!

Monday, 4 November 2013



This is the first in a series of posts on the state of voluntary certification for personal fitness trainers and instructors.


Personal fitness training is among the most credential-dense fields among the occupations with credentialing programs tracked by DOL's Career Onestop Certification Finder, which returns 193 certificates issued by 39 organizations for a search for "fitness." One obvious reason for the extreme number and diversity of certificates is the sheer diversity of the field itself. It's logical to expect a yoga teacher to seek a different credential from, say, a personal trainer working in a gym or a kickboxing trainer! Yet, there are still several major organizations offering certificates in the field that seem to have differentiated themselves to some extent on the basis of the depth and rigor of the training they mandate. The less rigorous organizations have little incentive to make clear online just how easy it is to attain their certifications, though it is usually possible to figure out where an organization stands on the continuum of rigor by looking at websites devoted to the personal training industry, reading reviews online (though some should be taken with a grain of salt), and the general impression one gets from the organization's website - does it look like they are trying to sell the certification as a product, or do they take more of a scholarly tone?


The sheer number of certificates also makes it difficult for consumers of fitness training services to differentiate between certificates and to search for qualified instructors accordingly. Many of the organizations offering fitness certificates have names that are difficult to differentiate from each other - it's hard to remember the difference between the International Sports Sciences Association and the National Exercise and Sports Trainers Association and the American Council on Exercise, even if one does take the time to do some research before hiring a trainer! Consequently, it's reasonable to expect that most clients will be more interested that their trainer has certification than in what specific certifications the trainer holds. Surely, many do go beyond some of the more "baseline" certificates like the American Council on Exercise and the American Aerobic Association/International Sports Medicine Association on to organizations with more advanced curricula out of personal pride and love of their work, but it may be best to start out with the certifications that can be acquired fastest - thus allowing one to build up a client base while deciding whether to make a long-term investment in the field. Personal fitness training remains a field that, while growing alongside the broader fitness industry in the US and other developed countries, offers little job security and requires a great deal of personal initiative so it's not for everyone. However, if you love working out and want to get paid to help others reach their goals, it's certainly a field with low barriers to entry and the potential to earn a reasonable living with a relatively modest investment in training!


A few resources that I recommend are a recent New York Times article on the growth of the fitness industry and a website offering a partial guide to certification options:






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