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Training and Certification in the Fitness Industry: We Can and Should Do Better

Historically, the fitness industry and specifically, the practice of "personal training" has been "self-regulated," which equates to "no regulations."   Inherent in this, is the lack of clear, consistent, and rigorous standards for the education, training, certification, and recertification of fitness professionals.  If we want "fitness and exercise" to be an integral part of the healthcare continuum, and if personal training is to be perceived as a true profession, than changes are needed.  The status quo is no longer sufficient to insure that personal trainers receive the education and training necessary to design and provide safe and effective exercise programming.

There is an abundance of evidence demonstrating that the fitness industry is growing rapidly.  The Department of Labor projects a 29% increase in jobs over the next decade.  The baby boomers are aging with a value and understanding of the importance of exercise and fitness and a desire to maintain healthy and independent in their later years.  Employers and insurance companies are recognizing the impact that a healthy and fit workforce has on productivity, absenteeism, and healthcare costs.  The cutbacks in physical education programs and the growing youth obesity crisis has increased the demand for alternative opportunities for exercise and fitness programs.  Exercise and fitness is now recognized as an effective strategy for preventing many of the diseases that have the greatest mortality rate.  The importance of regular exercise and activity is clearly documented and not disputed.

In spite the importance of exercise and its impact on our physical and emotional health, as well as the aging process, little attention is given to the education and training needed for exercise and fitness professionals.   A quick internet search reveals dozens and dozens of personal training "certifications" that appear to have no consistency in content, requirements or standards.  One "certification" requires over 300 hours of classroom education and training, while another can be earned in as little time as it take to read this document.  If the industry doesn't distinguish between the two "certifications," how will the consumer?

It is clear that as an industry, we can do better.  We must come together as an industry and establish clear guidelines for the scope of practice of a personal trainer, the education and training required to insure that personal trainers have the requisite knowledge and competence, the appropriate assessment for measuring mastery, and the standards for maintaining one's certification through continuing education and training.  Currently, the industry has not established standards in any of those areas.  That reflects poorly on the industry, the profession, and unfortunately, may ultimately result in injury to clients.

The fitness industry would benefit from reviewing the history of other related professions such as massage therapy.   Initially, a lack of consistent and rigorous standards diminished the credibility of the profession.  For a time, massage therapists were perceived as "sex workers," and in some states the practice was regulated by public safety divisions.  Ultimately, and partly due to the industries failure to unite and "self-regulate", they are now heavily regulated by state and regulatory agencies.  Standards and requirements for licensure vary from state to state, limiting mobility of massage therapists and increasing costs for licensure and re-licensure.  These costs are transferred to the consumer, which increases the price of services, reducing access to many.  No one wins.

Now is the time for us to take control of the future of our industry and elevate the standards of the profession.   As an industry, we must come together and define what it means to be a personal trainer and what education and training is required for one to attain and maintain that credential.   Let's learn from other industries and truly self-regulate before regulation is imposed.  Let's do it because it's the right thing to do to insure our kids, our parents, our peers, our co-workers can enjoy the benefits of safe and effective exercise and an active, fit lifestyle. 
We can and should do better!

For additional information on this topic, please contact:
Amy Hyams, Ed.D.
V.P. of Educational Services
W.I.T.S. 
ahyams@witseducation.com