Call me a low-life geek, but I’ve been surfing the online Fitness and Personal Training forums lately, just getting a pulse for the training industry and promoting Super-Trainer. Well, I was pretty shocked to find what the biggest point of discussion is in the field of Personal Training …
There’s a pretty heated debate from within the training community on the issue of credentials in Personal Training. There’s concern, interest, and just plain mud-slinging going on about what qualifications trainers need to have and what makes a good trainer.
Now, making better trainers is what Super-Trainer is about – you’ll notice a high density count of the words value, integrity, quality, knowledge, experience, and service in the posts here.
Our purpose is to help trainers get committed, step-up, and reach the higher ranks. That’s the way we combat the issue of low-quality training in the majority of settings today.
But on top of that focus, there are a lot of other things covered here like lifestyle, marketing, and image.
So I wanted to take the time and devote this post entirely to the debate on quality and credentials, and make sure this thing gets addressed thoroughly.
In this discussion, here are the parties involved:
- THE OVER-QUALIFIED TRAINERS – the trainers that want to stand on a pedestal because of the extraordinary lengths they’ve gone to accumulate credentials. You’ll see a lot of them frustrated that their success isn’t reflecting the money, and effort they’ve put into gaining their credentials.
- THE RELUCTANT PUBLIC – people looking for help from trainers, but have become hesitant after they’ve heard the negative stories about trainers in the media. They’re now stuck in a state of paranoia and inertia when it comes to looking for a trainer or coaching (within this group are also those that have been burned by a trainer).
- THE EXPLOITED TRAINERS – primarily health-club trainers or independent trainers. Many of them are qualified and committed, and have their hearts in the right place. They’re frustrated because they know many of their fellow trainers suck, that most clients are being trained by trainers that are grossly under-qualified, and that despite their hard work, they’re grossly underpaid. These trainers are looking for the solution to this situation and can’t find it, and unfortunately there’s noone to help them (except for the Super-Trainer blog – I just love being the white-knight!).
- THE TOP-LEVEL TRAINERS – those trainers that are very confidant in their success and abilities, sitting back and watching this all unfold. You’ll notice them delivering a lot of the relevant info on this subject. It’s often their input that reflects the consensus ideas on the issue (I’ll get to what that consensus is in a minute.)
I put myself in the last group – I can calmly and confidently deliver the answers on this issue, because my waiting list of clients, long list of glowing referrals, and the time and effort I know I’ve put into upgrade my skills, knowledge, and qualifications gives me the right.
And in that, I have to come out with an admission and apology for the tongue-in-cheek view I take to training qualifications here on the blog. You’ll notice a pompous, dismissive attitude to training qualifications on the Super-Trainer blog at times.
But it’s not just me, because the other top-trainers also treat the certifications dismissively for the most part. We see them for what they are, the most basic requirement allowing anyone to get into the business. We’re kind of like a group of Navy Seals laughing at the petty physical requirements in Jump School.
Yeah, sure you need a certification …
But it’s such a small, and no way distinguishing part of what it takes to be a savvy, successful trainer that we kind of dismiss it. I’m going to write a post soon about how to cheaply and effectively rack up major Personal Training Certifications, so look out for it.
In almost every thread, here’s how it eventually boils down:
The debate begins focused on credentials and qualifications – this is how every major profession is judged so it naturally extends to Personal Training. For example everyone wants to know where their doctor or lawyer graduated from, so their first impulse is to judge trainers the same way too.
But Personal Training is different from every other profession, so this same criteria doesn’t really apply. Because even the top qualifications in the industry such as a degree in Sports Science or Exercise Science doesn’t guarantee you’re qualified to be a mentor and leaders in the area of fitness, health, and exercise.
Some of these trainers will tell you about their frustration when they discover that their degrees didn’t help them land the job or pay they were looking for. What started as their passion and a real appealing career track ends up in some terrible hours, menial tasks, and really unappealing work.
To add to the frustration, you’ll also hear about trainers that didn’t go to this kind of trouble making great money, doing great work, delivering a lot of the relevant information on the subject.
So where the debate ends up is treating Personal Training talked about as an art.
In ends up being criteria outside of certifications and schooling that get the most importance – here are a few:
Look at their training practices – what’s their professionalism like? How do they train their clients? What’s their specialty? Are multiple clients being given the same workouts?
Listen to their referrals – how do their clients speak about them? Do they have experience dealing with clients in the same situation as yours? Are they delivering results to their clients? (In my opinion, anything short of blindingly positive referrals is a red flag.)
Look at their own bodies – does it look like their training is working for them? When it comes to this area, I don’t want to hear any excuses. I don’t want to hear that you don’t need to master an area yourself to be a coach in it. If you’re selling services and techniques that you claim are an effective way to achieve outstanding fitness, it better show on you to some visible degree. (If you’re a trainer that’s finding it hard to stay in shape yourself, send me a message and I’ll give you some sure fire ways to get your ass in shape for free)
Talk to them – ask them about their approach. Test some basic knowledge. Find out about their certifications, which at the very least indicate some basic professionalism and competence. Added to this, I’d recommend taking a look at their website which shows they care about how their services are portrayed and perceived.
And in almost every situation, one fact becomes very clear – STAY CLEAR OF HEALTH CLUB TRAINERS!!! I loved how one person referred to them as pimple faced 19 year olds that just got their GED’s.
Being a full-time trainer, making my entire income from training sessions (not e-books and crap like that), and being in this business for the long haul, I don’t mind the debate. Rather than degrading training, it creates more awareness and discretion on the part of the prospect, which I love. I’ve actually seen interest in my own business go up because of this!
From people that are finding my website in natural google searches, here’s what I’m hearing: That they like my approach. are impressed by my track-record, and like that I’m a real professional, because they’re looking to avoid mass-marketed trainers in health clubs.
This is actually a great thing happening – the paranoia in the marketplace is driving all the business in my direction and toward all the other top-level trainers out there. That’s why you won’t hear us complaining, because we’re not hurting because of it.
So the solution is join our ranks. Get serious, get committed, practice what your preach, learn your shit, and be a pro. Read The Whistleblower for what I mean about when I talk about Top-Level Training.
And look for me on the forums but as for this debate, I’m officially putting it to rest for now – if someone wants my opinion, I’m sending them here!
After reading this, all I can say is AMEN! A certification and/or degree is just a starting point. What makes a successful trainer is one who is constantly learning and growing: through continuing education, a love of what they do, and striving to offer the best service possible. And if you don’t know how to market and sell yourself, you’ll never succeed. I’ve known many trainers over the years who claimed they had a better certification, degree, etc. While I have been in business for 20 years, many of those who claimed to be “superior” had to find another line of work because they couldn’t cut it!
Good article. A lot can be said about certifications. I will leave at that. I can honestly say that my BS, MS degrees in exercise science and my CSCS, NASM-CPT, and PES have given me far less than what I have learned in over 8 years of personal training experience.
I would argue that the education gave me a tremendous head start and caused the 8 years of experience to equal far more had I not got 2 college degrees in the field.
Overall, it is still compatibility which makes a trainer – client relationship either thrive, survive, or take a dive.
I posted something similar to this over at a certain PT forum and got absolutely flamed. I said that a trainer should “look like they work out.” People started going off about how it doesnt matter if you are in shape if you know how to get others in shape. I replied that you dont have to look like sylvester stallone but you need to look like you enjoy and live fitness. I also gave the stipulation that if they were having health issues or were very old like mickey in rocky, that that would be an exception. They disagreed. Oh well. I completely agree with this article kaiser.
Hey Jay – yeah that’s exactly what I was responding to, and this site fortunately gives me a bully pulpit –
There’s a real difference between what the average frustrated trainer thinks, and what the trainer that’s really succeeding understands about this profession –
Okay so I read the whole post and comments and I am still unsettled. You see as a beginner I am torn, the only person I ever trained was myself and I have been out of shape for about a year now because of a back/knee injury & because I let myself slide…that was my mistake, anyway my question is this:
At the moment I’m doing research to see which certification I want to acquire. I was hoping to get some direction from you. I am torn between NASM & ACSM. They both seems nationally accepted, but I still don’t know their philosophies 100%.
What is your take on these two entities?
Would you have any other recommendations?
Thank you for your time and help,
Hi Evilyn –
I’m not a believer in a certification being able to shape you
as a trainer – no client knows anything about them, so none
of them gives you a marketing edge either –
A lot of your practice and who you are as a trainer comes
down completely to you, your experience, knowledge,
and interests – start building these now – get yourself back in shape, train friends for testimonials, and develop a strong, commanding professional style and demeanor –
The certs are of course needed, and rack them up for
credibility over time, but in terms of picking one of the other,
it doesn’t really matter – like you said, they’re both
well known and nationally accepted – some employers may
have a preference, but when it comes down to it I think
your goal should be to go independent –
Let me know if you need any more help –
I am a firm advocate of ACSM as a better learning module than all the rest. It is the first Gold Standard certification in America. Pass rate is 65% of all takers for the CPT level. Advance levels much more difficult. I have taken all the accredited certs out there.
However this will give you the baseline knowledge you need to make it in the industry. As Kaiser said, the rest is learned through trial and error and tincture of time in the industry.
I liked your article. I have been training people longer than most trainers have been alive, 32 years. My specialty is cancer, heart disease, polio, etc. patients right along with the average person who wants to become fit. Am I certified, No! When I started training there were no certifications, only gym teachers. My degree is in Psychology. As you do, I train trainers. I will never get certified because I find most of these folks no nothing about training other than what they read in some book! Am I harsh about this? You bet! Some of the organizations are in bed with the government. I read there manuels to see what they are up to, but one way or another they disappoint me. There are plenty of credentials, but as you say, that doesn’t mean you know anything about personal training. If you don’t know how to relate to people you can have all the credential you want and you won’t be training anyone. It’s real simple with me. Let me train you once. If you don’t like it, we part as friends. I have yet had anyone say good bye. And the certification never comes up again. Once again, good article! Oh, by the way, you are right. I wouldn’y have gym trainers train my pets!
Cancer Recovery and Fitness Specialist
I agree with many especially George Pragovich . Even I am certified people don’t really know nothing about these. what i tell people is the same phisophy he expressed “Let me train you once. If you don’t like it, we part as friends. Many still to judge you base on credentials but it all goes down to your passion for this business. I am a novice independent trainer and I agree with Kaiser when he says that you have to mix to find your “sweet spot”. Overall the ones who succeed are not the fastets but the one who continues ona steady stride testing what it takes to make it big.
I found this article very informative. I am just starting out in the personal training business. I was debating on either going to a gym or going independent doing small groups or fitness bootcamps. I’ve been a bit hesitant about the gym and looking towards the small groups/bootcamps. Any advice? Thanks