I thought I’d published this little piece a while back, but couldn’t find it searching the leegertrained.com site. So here it is again…my take on PT certifications…
If you’re interested in becoming a personal trainer, my best advice is to pick a certification that matches your interests, and to immediately determine a “niche” or training specialty that resonates with you (this can be kettlebells, Pilates, Crossfit, etc.).
There are three big certs out there that everyone immediately recognizes:
1. ACSM – American College of Sports Medicine
With their CPT certification (http://www.acsm.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Get_Certified) being the “personal trainer” option.
ACSM is very medically/scientifically-inclined, and their certification reflects that, with a more clinical view of exercise.
2. NSCA – National Strength and Conditioning Association
Their certification is the CSCS (certified strength and conditioning specialist)
NSCA is very athletics-focused. Their certification focuses largely on strength conditioning for athletes.
3. NASM – National Academy of Sports Medicine
NASM was founded by two physical therapists (“physiotherapists” in Canada), and so approaches exercise with a physical-therapy-bent – a lot of focus on joint angles, biomechanics, and exercises to “treat” postural dysfunction.
There are two “fringe” certs that people know of but that aren’t very highly respected:
1. ACE – American College of Exercise
ACE is a “general” certification. Their approach is much simpler than those above. Their practical test focuses more on machine-based movements.
2. IDEA Health & Fitness – International Dance & Exercise Association
Now more known for their CEU’s and insurance offerings. They were one of, if not the, first fitness certification group back in the 1980′s.
Then there are all the specific sub-branches/certs you can look at once you get into it. For instance:
1. RTS – Resistance Training Specialist
This is a new certification, and was created by one of the creators of NASM, who left that organization a few years ago. A friend of mine is going through this, and says it’s great. It looks very comprehensive, but I can’t vouch for it beyond that. If you’d like to talk with my friend about it, I’ll ask her if she’d be willing to chat/email with you.
2. Chek Institute – Paul Chek
Paul Chek has become a training guru. There are a few others, but he’s definitely the most “out there” and, simultaneously, the best-known. We can talk about Chek if you’re interested in my opinion on him.
3. Jon Hinds’ Monkey Bar Gym “Certified Natural Trainer.”
The MBG is Jon Hinds’ creation. Personally, I think the natural trainer cert would be the best for anyone – but it’s not (currently) “scientific” – so it doesn’t fit into the medicalized view of exercise that is the authoritative stance in our culture.
4. Crossfit (www.crossfit.com)
The Crossfit trainer certification teaches a person how to apply the Crossfit training methodology.
As far as recommendations, it’s up to what you see as your interests/preferences. Personally, I’m not interested in clinical applications of exercise – and strictly/legally speaking, personal trainers are not allowed to “treat” anyone technically – so ACSM didn’t appeal to me. I have an NASM CPT certification, but if I had it to do over again, I’d probably go with the CSCS. It’s better respected in the “athletic” community.
(As it stands, with a Master’s degree in Kinesiology, I’m not really attached to any particular certification anymore. Most of my training methodology focuses on applying the most basic aspects of exercise physiology, motivating my clients, and exploring social-psychological aspects of the moving body.)
Also, after being in the industry for a while, my take is that what people need more than anything is regular, fun, and diverse activity (hence my involvement in Exuberant Animal). But, beyond that, I think folks also need to get much stronger…and that’s what the NSCA/CSCS promotes – over and above “functional training” etc.
The process for all of these will be relatively the same:
1. Decide on the right cert for you
2. Purchase the prep package – books/dvd’s, etc.
4. Take the test
NSCA recommends 6 months, I think, to prepare for their test. If any of the certifications offer in-person seminars (I think it’s the only way to get the RTS cert), I’d highly recommend that option. Basically, you get the books, etc., study, and then go to a weekend-long seminar during which the instructors present everything in person and ask questions, and you get to take the test on the final day.
After that, it’s:
5. Get signed up at City Hall as a Sole Proprietorship (if you want to do this), and/or apply for a position at your local corporate-gym.
6. Get trainer insurance (typically about $100-$150 per year), usually available through one of the major certifying boards.
7. Buy business cards (you can get them for the price of shipping on various websites).
8. Start marketing and networking – online and in your community.
9. Start training people!
Keep in mind, unlike massage therapy which is regulated by State nursing boards and a national certification exam, there is no regulated “national certification” necessary for personal training. You can literally just go out there and say “I’m a personal trainer,” print business cards, etc., and no one will be able to stop you.
A few people in the general populace might question your abilities, but according to research, the general public knows very little about what proper qualifications might be for a personal trainer, and less about the specifics around the various certifications out there. Most people pick a trainer based on – 1. Referral, 2. Looks, 3. Personality. (see my blog post on this research).
It’s important to note that you won’t be hired at any gym (like Sports Club LA, Equinox, or Gold’s) or brought on at any PT studio (like DIAKADI Body, Regular Exercise, Perfect Fit, AIM, etc.) without one of the Big Three certs – they all require a cert, and some require specific certs and some prefer a particular cert over others. So that’s another consideration – if there’s a specific gym/group you want to work with, find out what cert they like.
The big point behind my saying that, though, is that personal training is not really an “industry” yet. In my experience, the majority of the people who are very successful personal trainers have significant others who (at least help to) pay the bills. Granted, I know a couple of people who break this rule, but for the most part, it’s true. Training income can be highly sporadic – clients get unmotivated, sick, go on vacation, etc., and training is the first thing to go when emergencies come up (or the economy tanks).
The scientific aspects (physiology, anatomy) of physical training are very simple and straightforward, unless you’re dealing with very advanced athletes who are trying to eke an extra .1 percent of performance out of themselves, or if you’re dealing with “special populations” of any type.
Training is different from the simple application of that scientific knowledge – it’s personality management and coaching, and to a large degree, art – taking the knowledge you have and using it to make creative solutions to the individual problems you encounter when working with your client.
Hope this is helpful! Let me know if you have any questions!