Sports Certifications: A New Trend in the Exercise Industry
Does your personal trainer or exercise group instructor have a certification? You may be unaware, but it’s not uncommon in the fitness sector for many individuals who practice as trainers, sports nutritionists, and sports coaches to have zero or limited education and no certification. A number of so-called certifying groups meet no specific criteria, because there is still limited standardization in the fitness sector. A recent push for a leveling of the standards and practices in the training and nutrition sector is being fueled by consumers who are demanding it.
Currently, if you want a trainer or an instructor with a level of sports-specific education, you can ask if they have certification from the ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine), ACE (American Council on Exercise), AFAA (Aerobic and Fitness Association of America), NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine), NSCA (National Strength and Conditioning Association), and some other smaller organizations that are well recognized in the fitness industry. If you are seeking a dietician or nutritionist, then you can investigate their education background, the specific degree they hold, and their licensing and certifications given by the state you live in. Most licensed professionals are required to have yearly continuing education credits to keep the license in good standing. This can vary state-by-state. Checking out the credentials of your trainer or health coach can be a bit more daunting.
Many gyms require that staff members like personal trainers and group instructors, carry up-to-date certifications and continue yearly education, in order to stay current with new updated guidelines. Unfortunately it can get a bit murky, because many high profile gurus in your locale may have the endorsement of clients or high profile patrons, but really be self-taught practitioners. There’s no question that they may be knowledgeable, but they can lack crucial skills and more in depth anatomy and physiology, and that can result in a higher rate of client injury. A number of fitness trainers also do mail order or other “sham” certifications. Another problematic scenario is a gym-based certification, which means that the trainers receive limited skill set training (a crash course), with no formal education or experience.
A trainer that is not fully educated and certified can use renegade type fitness regimens, trendy and dangerous fitness programs, or dangerous nutrition recommendations, putting clients at risk. This is especially confounding because consumers come to trainers to improve their health, not to destroy it. Another safety impediment is that there is currently a National Board of Fitness Examiners, a nonprofit creating a national certification exam that could be adopted by individual states, but it is currently still in proposal format. And a study of health-and-¬fitness professionals published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that even trainers who had five years of experience but no college degree, scored an average of 44 percent on a test of basic fitness knowledge. Those with at least a bachelor’s degree in exercise science scored an average of 68 percent. Trainers with an ACSM or NSCA certification got 85 percent, while those with other certifications or none at all came in at 36 percent.
Legislators in several states are in the process of drafting bills that would clearly regulate personal trainers. Legislation is also pending in New Jersey and Washington, D.C., but unfortunately bills in Maryland and Georgia were recently defeated.
Consumers should be wary if their trainer:
• Has no certification
• Got his certification on the weekend
• Is pushing supplements or dangerous nutrition recommendations
• Is pushing them through an exercise regimen that is too hard
• Uses harsh or unkind language to force you through a fitness program
• Pushes them to the point of feeling unwell, dizzy, nauseous or unsteady