The Many Problems With Personal Training Certifications

I WISH I DIDN’T HAVE TO DO THIS. I put it off for 5 years.

I thought something would change. But nothing has and nothing will. It’s up to you – to us – and the first step is recognizing that there’s a problem. I can’t sugar coat it.

Most newly certified trainers aren’t ready to tackle the variety of demands of the job.

A personal training certification rarely prepares somebody to become an effective professional. While I do believe that many of the education companies bear some of the fault, the blurry vision of what the job entails and a lack of responsible management are also culprits. It’s a complicated problem getting worse with no easy solution.

Before I go on, I’ll say that it’s uncommon for a person in any service-industry to jump full steam into a job upon finishing the requisite education. Even those where people do, the education usually includes a significant practical and trial period. It’s also rare for a person to be required to serve a wide variety of people and cases in their job right away.

An accountant who just finished schooling isn’t yet ready to take on all types of cases. He or she probably won’t ever. There’s just too much variety and nuance in what they do. Not only that, but almost all young accountants work in some sort of firm where their work gets checked for years by a superior.

With no real definition of what trainers do there is no line in the sand for what fitness professionals should and should not do. Newly certified men and women often lack adequate supervision.

Combine this with how profitable and persuasive the fitness industry is and a good trainer has to compete with anybody who sells fitness or health or lifestyle advice. Many of these people don’t have any real education yet feel confident making absurd promises. For example, look at the cover of best selling celebrity fitness books each week or turn on the TV or search #personaltraining on Instagram – just be ready to cringe.

In many commercial environments there’s also a lack of appropriate management and/or mentors. Even when good management doesn’t exist, he or she could be overburdened. With added stress to meet sales targets, most newly certified trainers are thrown to the wolves. None of this is the fault of a certification company; it’s the reality of the industry.

I’m not letting companies that certify trainers off the hook. They’re not doing a good enough job preparing trainers for the realities of the position.

The Problems With a Personal Trainer Certification

Certifying trainers is big business. With no regulation in most parts of the World anybody can create a course and call a trainer certified upon completion. Some of them even give the trainer varying degrees of alphabet soup to put after his or her name.

The most profitable certs to sell are those that are lower-priced and require no practical component. The thorough companies that offer full year or multi-year courses including a strong practical component must compete with weekend “certifications” that sell at discounted prices on group deal sites – not an easy thing to do.

One of the largest income streams for programs that do certify personal trainers is additional certs or programs or seminars. The easy route for a trainer is to do the minimum number of CEC’s or CEU’s (continuing education credits) in his or her recertification period. Many cert companies know this and provide more credits for courses that they offer for their own courses. That, or they simply make it easier to gain credits for their courses out of outside “unsanctioned” material.

The courses that they offer might be good but they’re not the only solution. Most companies have a petition process whereby all they have to do is fill out a form and pay a nominal fee to claim credits for outside courses. If your certification doesn’t allow this, I’d consider that a red flag. Qualified trainers seek out the best information irrelevant of the source.

But you’re reading this on the PTDC, an independent organization with no affiliation to any certification, which tells me that you’re actively seeking out info to better yourself and are not somebody who just does the minimum, so I won’t dwell.

The problem goes much deeper than an initial certification.

Training trainers is big business. Creating a course, slapping a “certified” badge on it, and selling it at a premium is a profitable venture and currently it’s an open market — a free-for-all where anybody can produce, say, and do whatever they like.

I worry that this process will continue to create distinct factions in our industry. These factions already spend too much time opposing and arguing with each other when they should be working together.

I don’t know who is right and what the best way to train or eat is. I believe it’s different for everybody and even then, nobody really knows. People have educated guesses.

A company that’s built around a particular narrative – CrossFit, Paleo, Functional, Bosu, etc. – and sells continuing education around that narrative is forced to protect their line of thinking.

Purposefully or not, anybody who follows a company will see more of their viewpoint and less of opposing viewpoints.

We’re creating something called “filter bubbles” around us, as our online activity is increasingly tracked and we’re shown more consonance and less dissonance. The resulting effect is less open-mindedness in the fitness industry amongst professionals.

The most powerful words a trainer can learn is to say, “I don’t know but I’m going to find out.” If that same trainer understands how to identify and account for the implicit bias in an information source that he or she is studying then the professional is well on his or her way to becoming qualified.

Despite the title of this short essay, I’m not completely against certs. I see two main benefits of a certification:

The 2 Biggest Benefits to a Cert

1. It’s an organized stream of thought.

Overconsumption of variable, scattered information is a problem that’s only getting worse. Having somebody distill a topic or certain way of thinking down to its components and organize it into a logical and consumable package is invaluable.

This isn’t unique to a certification. A course or program that doesn’t slap an imaginary “cert” badge on it holds this benefit as well.

2. It allows you to claim advanced knowledge of a subject

Much of what a trainer needs to do early on with a client is to get his or her buy-in. Often we don’t have much time to convince a client that we can help them for the long term – an initial meeting to 3 sessions.

Listening to what a client needs and mentioning that you’re “certified” in it is usually enough for them to justify working with you and not somebody else. They won’t have heard of your certification beforehand but the tag can serve as a justification tool

This comes with a caveat – you must feel like you are best suited to help the client. Taking an online weekend course in a condition isn’t enough. It’s your responsibility to be honest in what you can and can’t do. Additionally, don’t take this to mean that you’re actually more qualified than somebody else for that client. It simply changes the perception in their eyes.

Personal training certifications are big business. Where to spend your valuable continuing education and time is arguably the most important professional decision that you can make.

Qualified professionals gain confidence in knowing that they don’t know the right things as long as they have armed themselves with the tools to acquire whatever knowledge they need.

Don’t blindly follow one train of thought. Challenge your belief systems. Recognize that the word “certification” means nothing, and most of all, don’t ever let your certification affect your qualification moving forward.

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