The fitness industry has seen a drastic rebirth since the 2000s. From the days of Jack LaLanne, who was known as the Father of Fitness, to the days of Dr. Ken H. Cooper, who put “aerobics” on the fitness map, the industry is doing exceptionally well, from a monetary viewpoint at least. This letter comes with great frustration, yet hope, that we can increase the United States’ standards of modern day personal training. If you google “personal trainer”, Wikipedia defines it as, “A personal trainer is an individual certified to have a varying -0-=degree of knowledge of general fitness involved in exercise prescription and instruction. They motivate clients by setting goals and providing feedback and accountability to clients. Trainers also measure their client's strengths and weaknesses with fitness assessments. These fitness assessments may also be performed before and after an exercise program to measure their client's improvements in physical fitness. They may also educate their clients in many other aspects of wellness besides exercise, including general health and nutrition guidelines.” Earle et al. (2018, March). Personal Trainer. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personal_trainer This leaves the reader with the impression that the personal trainer they have/hope to have is more than fully qualified and capable of doing their job, however, this is absolutely not the case. Having a college degree in kinesiology, the study of mechanics of body movements, plays an imperative role in the overall success of both the personal trainer and the client. How can someone who did not study the human body, the movements of the human body, the mechanics of the human body, teach someone how to perform activities that require physical effort and proper movement of the body?
I have spent countless hours researching everything possible about personal training. I've consulted with fellow trainers and colleagues, in addition to research, so that I could write to you fully informed and backed by facts. Until 1996, there was no way to regulate personal training. In that year, The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) recognized the first nationally accredited personal training certificate. Fast-forward to 2018 where the industry has allowed more personal certifications that the National Commission For Certifying Agencies accredits than is acceptable for any business to document:
The Academy of Applied Personal Training Education, American College of Sports Medicine, American Council on Exercise, The Cooper Institute, International Fitness Professionals Association, National Academy of Sports Medicine, National Academy of Sports Medicine, National Council for Certified Personal Trainers, National Council on Strength and Fitness, National Exercise and Sports Trainers Association, National Exercise Trainers Association, National Federation of Professional Trainers, National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) and Training and Wellness Certification Commission.
Current standards have become such that anyone, of any background, has the opportunity to become a personal trainer. The lack of merit has hurt the reputation of the personal training industry. In doing my research, I have found that American Council on Exercise(ACE) candidates generally invest 80-100 hours of study time over a 3-4 month period and that the power house organization National Academy of Sports Medicine offers programs that can be completed in as few as 10 weeks. The only requirements listed on almost every website for personal training are that applicants must be 18 years of age, hold a current cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and an automated external defibrillator (AED) certification. Some require a passing grade of 70% on their exam then you are immediately qualified as a certified personal trainer. All certifications require payment, ranging from as low as $399 up to $1299.
Let’s compare these qualifications with my Bachelors of Science degree in Exercise Science from Towson University. Towson website directly states, “The major in Exercise Science is intended to examine the relationship between exercise and human performance and the role of physical activity in the promotion of healthy lifestyles. Exercise science consists of several overlapping disciplines, including biomechanics, exercise physiology and biochemistry, growth and development, exercise nutrition, measurement and evaluation, and exercise psychology. The program of study is designed to provide an effective blend of classroom instruction and practical experience. The program is intended to prepare qualified individuals for careers in clinical, corporate, commercial, and/or community exercise/wellness settings as well as to prepare students for graduate study in related fields.” https://catalog.towson.edu/undergraduate/health-professions/kinesiology/exercise-science/#text
Now, let’s take a look at the program requirements that it took me hours, days, weeks, months and years studying, not to mention thousands of dollars, in order to acquire a formal degree in Exercise Science.
The requirements for the major in Exercise Science include a minimum of 39 units of Kinesiology (KNES) courses and 26-27 units of courses outside of KNES. The specific requirements for the major in Exercise Science are as follows:
How is it fair to compare the personal trainers out there who went to college to get a bachelors, masters or even a phd in the field of Kinesiology or Exercise Science to those who paid a couple hundred dollars to get their certification over a long weekend? There are few people that have the dedication towards longterm personal health and wellness. Those are the people who want to change lives and be an advocate for health and wellness. Those are the people that pursued a degree in the field. In comparison, there are those who see this job as a means to an end and a job that can earn money with little to no experience or credentials. I sought a degree because I knew it would add more credibility to what I have to offer but now, I realize that even when I apply for personal training jobs, I virtually need no experience and only my CPT in order to qualify for the position.
Would you want to be trained by someone who actually studied the anatomy of the body, the biomechanics of how the body moves, the contraindications of exercise, the physiology of the body, how to modify workouts based on client needs or would you want to pay top dollar to be placed with a trainer who decided to become a certified personal trainer to make some extra cash? We are putting the consumers, our clients, at risk of injury and being scammed into thinking they are paying for a qualified professional. According to a study posted on the US National Library of Medicine, “Although research has identified a number of qualities and competencies necessary to be an effective exercise leader, the fitness industry itself is largely unregulated and lacks a unified governing body. As such, a plethora of personal trainer certifications exists with varying degrees of validity that fail to ensure qualified trainers and, therefore, protect the consumer. It is argued that the potential consequences of this lack of regulation are poor societal exercise adherence, potential injury to the client, and poor public perception of personal trainers. Additionally, it is not known whether personal trainers are meeting the needs of their clients or what criteria are used in the hiring of personal trainers.” Melton, Di. (2008, May). The current state of personal training: an industry perspective of personal trainers in a small Southeast community. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4021014/
Due to the low standards, the industry has been downgraded to a point that there is no way for the general public to differentiate between a CPT and a person who has a college degree, in addition to their personal training certification. I know of someone who was previously employed by a liquor store, does not workout, has been skipping college classes (that go towards a degree completely unrelated to exercise science) and he is now interested in becoming a personal trainer through NASM because he heard it was quick and easy money. How is this appropriate for the better of our industry? When people ask me what I do for a living, I am truly embarrassed to say I’m a personal trainer after hearing stories like this.
In some countries, personal trainers are required to have a 4-year degree. The standards are much higher so people respect the position and know that only qualified individuals can be hired. In Brazil, for example, “All personal trainers must hold a bachelor’s degree in Physical Education. They also must register with the Conselho Federal de Educação Física (Federal Council of Physical Education). Personal Trainers risk criminal charges if they attempt to work in the fitness industry without meeting either of these requirements.” Rabe, A. (2017, September). DO FITNESS PROFESSIONALS LEGALLY NEED TO BE CERTIFIED? (US, AUSTRALIA, CANADA, UK & BRAZIL). https://fitlegally.com/2332-2/
The increase in personal training certifications is probably putting educators and university professors out of jobs since their position is no longer deemed necessary because of the increase in personal training certifications. In an article pertaining to college level Kinesiology at the University of Maryland, “Two years ago the department shut down its minor because of an inability to staff it. The lack of resources to train new professors is one of the biggest challenges facing the field: currently there are only 60 Ph.D. programs in the country for kinesiology -- a sharp decline from two decades ago.”Jane Clark, chair of the kinesiology department at the University of Maryland.” Wojciechowska, I. (2010, August). A Quickly Growing Major. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2010/08/11/kinesiology What is the incentive to go to college to get a degree in Kinesiology or Exercise Science if you can take the easy way out, pay a couple hundred bucks and have your certification complete with a snap of your fingers??? This discredits years of studying and education for those who took the time to truly dive head first into health and wellness.
What can be done about this? I do not think that those who hold bachelors, masters or phd in kinesiology or exercise science should be titled “certified personal trainer”. Is there another name we can establish so that those who worked so hard to get a degree in the field do not feel completely discredited and frustrated that we spent years studying for a degree that seems to hold little merit in the field? Would any of the following names suffice as a replacement for those who hold a degree AND a personal training certification?
Registered Health Educator + Certified Personal Trainer
Professional In Exercise Science + Certified Personal Trainer
Accredited Fitness Professional + Certified Personal Trainer
Registered Fitness Educator + Certified Personal Trainer
Accredited Fitness Expert
Licensed Fitness Expert
Licensed Health Professional
Licensed Fitness Educator
My hopes for this letter is not to completely remove personal training certifications altogether but to establish a clear cut difference between someone with a 4 year degree (or higher) in the field verses an online certification. I think it is more than fair that those who dedicated part of their life to studying in order to succeed in this industry are recognized properly. Would you go to a lawyer who didn’t have a law degree? Would you go to a doctor who never finished medical school? Would you have a root canal done by someone who isn’t a dentist?
If you have a degree, you should be considered accredited. If you have a certification, you should be considered certified. If you have both, then more power to you but there needs to be a differentiation between the two. I want to be proud when people ask me what I do because I truly do love my job and I can tell a client with 110% certainty that I can offer them safety when training and guarantee a fitness experience that is based off of both education and experience. However, it is not fair to have me classified and paid similary to those without the same qualifications that I worked to achieve and hold. I only write to you because fitness is wholeheartedly my life and I have seen the decline in the value of personal trainers over the last 10 years.
I would be more than willing to help with coming up with a solution for this. I can create a board or a committee of other like-minded and qualified individuals in the fitness industry that share my views. I can help evaluate individuals credentials and offer my advice on how to change the internal structure of certifying personal trainers. I feel that since I am so hands-on within the fitness community I could offer a point of view that is unique and informative.
RECIPIENTS OF THIS PETITION INCLUDE:
Distance Education Accrediting Commission
National Commission for Certifying Agencies NCCA
American Council on Exercise
National Academy of Sports Medicine
American College of Sports Medicine
NSCA National Strength and Conditioning Association
National Council on Strength and Fitness
NCSF Board for Certification
Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs
United States Registry of Exercise Professionals
Committee on Accreditation for the Exercise Sciences