THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING CERTIFIED
As an independent gym owner, I get monthly inquiries from uncertified personal trainers who have been training for many … many… years that have decided not to renew their certification. Yet they still wish to train out of my facility. Below is a small list of responses I have gotten throughout the years when I ask why they are not certified:
“I could teach these courses.”
“I know more than most trainers anyway because I’ve been doing this for a long time.”
“It’s all a racket” … (to make you smarter… oh no!)
I, being relatively educated in the space of exercise and health science, still maintain multiple certifications. I actually want to increase my education as opposed to only continuing education because of a CEU requirement. So, when those that are uncertified want to explain why they should train out of my facilities in NYC, I do not balk. It is unprofessional and there is a HUGE liability issue at stake as well. If you want to become a personal trainer – you MUST get certified. Preferably NASM…;-)
You’re listening to The NASM-CPT Podcast with Rick Richey, the official podcast of the National Academy of Sports Medicine.
Welcome to The NASM-CPT Podcast. My name is Rick Richey and today we’re gonna talk about the importance of being certified. The importance of being certified. I own several gyms in New York City, and without fail, within every month or two months, I get somebody that reaches out as an independent trainer and they wanna train out of one of my facilities. And they’ll say, “What do I need in order to train there?” And I give them a list of things, and the first thing on that list is an accredited certification.
So I need an up-to-date accredited certification. And then it’s insurance and CPR and their AED and a list of a few other things. And a majority of the time, when somebody has a problem with something, it’s the very first thing that I ask for.
It’s, “Well, I let my certification lapse, but I’ve been in the industry for 20 years, and so I’ve got a lot more experience than a lot of these other people. I feel like just recertifying or getting certified and maintaining certification, it’s not important, it’s just I’m spinning my wheels, I’m already certified.”
And I also get people that say, “I already know this stuff. I know how to work out, I work out on my own. Spending money to become certified is a waste of money and I don’t need it.”
I usually just say, “Hey, let me stop you right there. “You’re barking up the wrong tree with me, man. If you’re not certified, then you’re not gonna be able to train here.”
I mean, if you’re going to tell somebody that something is not important when it comes to education in the field that you say that you wanna be a part of, then maybe you don’t wanna be a part of that field. You imagine your medical doctor, who has the same requirements, they gotta go and do continuing education every year or two years in order to maintain their license. Nurses have to do it, massage therapists have to do it, athletic trainers have to do it.
But you as a personal trainer are so smart that you don’t need to be up-to-date on any of the information that’s coming out because it’s unnecessary to you. I don’t think that that’s valuable.
1. BE AN EDUCATED PERSONAL TRAINER
Step number one, important part number one, you should want to be educated. You should desire to be educated. And I’m gonna tell you that I’m one of those guys that was surprised, and I’m sure many of you are in that boat. When I opened my very first personal training textbook, I opened it up and I thought, “What is this? Like I exercise already, I’m athletic, but now I gotta learn this stuff?”
It just seemed overwhelming and complicated, and all I wanna do is be able to count to 10 when people are like doing reps, you know what I mean? Like it’s simple, yeah? You open a textbook and you find out it’s a bit more advanced than you thought it was going to be. It’s harder than you thought it was gonna be, so we, the industry, weeds out a lot of people right there, and yet people are still out there and they say, “Well, I don’t wanna get certified, don’t need to get certified. I do the same stuff at the gym that I see all the trainers doing at the gym. So what does it matter?”
I think that you gotta be really, really quite careful with that line of thinking. Being up-to-date and having something that shows that you’re up-to-date, which is what a valid certification, an accredited certification that’s within the timeline of maintaining its validity, you need that.
2. STAY UP-TO-DATE
All right, number two, being up-to-date in knowledge is one of the main reasons for getting certified. Textbooks for accredited certifications go through updates every four, five years, something like that? So even the textbooks, these companies are spending money. They’re having researchers come in and authors come in, and they update the content and they find the up-to-date research out there that’s supporting the information they’re producing in the textbooks. So the companies are staying up-to-date. The accredited ones are required to do that to maintain their accreditation. So it’s valuable to even work with a company that’s maintaining an up-to-date certification.
Well, I’ve also had people come in and say, “Well, I have a degree in the field. I have a bachelor’s in kinesiology.” And I agree with them when they say this. I guarantee I learned more in my four years of college studying kinesiology than somebody learns in a 120-day home study course and maybe a weekend workshop that goes along with it.
That’s probably true. Maybe that is true, but what keeps you up-to-date? Because I know that once I got my degrees, nobody came around a few years later and said, “Have you updated your degree?” No, once I graduated, I graduated. I always will have a bachelor’s in this and I will always have a whatever in this. Whatever field of study you did, you’re always gonna have that, so nobody’s asking you, “Are you up-to-date?” But a certification does that every two years.
Certification makes sure that you’re up-to-date every two years in something, and it has to be an approved provision. So whether that’s college courses that you get credit for your certification or whether it’s approved courses that a certifying body says we think that this person has good education, good content, we will offer continuing education credits for this line of study towards the update of your credential. Then they provide that.
So yeah, you may have learned a lot more than I did through your degree while I was doing my certification, but I have to continue to take courses every year to stay up-to-date. And same thing goes, again, we go back to the medical profession and we’ll go back to the doctors and the nurses and the LMTs and athletic trainers and physical therapists. All of the people have to stay up-to-date in their content.
So certifications require that usually, if you have a license, then there’s a registration, so you have to maintain your license or registration if you are a professional in a certain field, like a doctor or a physical therapist. This is just a way that trainers can maintain that.
Now I’ll also say this. Many colleges are gonna partner with a certifying body. So NASM, they may partner with ACSM or several high-quality providers of content and education, and a lot of these colleges not just partner with them, but they prepare their students to study and to pass this accredited certification as part of their coursework.
So, oftentimes, if you did go and get a degree, that degree is preparing you for a certification, not just for a degree. So you walk out not just as someone that has a bachelor’s in exercise science or kinesiology or physiology, but you also walk out with a certification as a personal trainer through the National Academy of Sports Medicine or whomever, whatever certifying body is partnered with your college or university. Colleges find the value of partnering and creating these relationships with certifications.
3. PREVENT INJURIES
Number three, learning how to not hurt somebody is primary. Then optimizing outcomes is gonna be next. So going in and learning how to not hurt somebody I think is incredibly valuable. I know that you may work out on a regular basis, you don’t think that you need to get certified, but you gotta learn how to not hurt people. It should be very important. And what are the things that people do when it comes to exercise and movement and dysfunction and impairment, and then adding resistance onto it.
What are you learning about when you don’t go through a certification? You’re not focusing on what are the potential injuries. You just maybe focused that I did this when I was in college and this worked for me, so I’m basically just gonna charge people the same thing, a price for what I did in college. And I don’t know if you know this, but there are multiple college programs out there that have terrible strength and conditioning concepts that go into training them.
And I remember one of my friends who played baseball at a high-level Division I team was talking about his strength and conditioning program, and when he got together with some of the other athletes that were in different sports, they all had the same program. You’re telling me that this guy that played baseball had the same program as the female volleyball player, who had the same program as the guys that were on the football team.
Now there are totally different demands in all of these sports, and it was baffling, and he said, “That’s when I was very confused “and realized that a lot of times, “the colleges aren’t out there producing the best content when it comes to exercise.”
Now don’t get me wrong, a lot of them are brilliant and they are cutting-edge and they are out there doing the research and they’ve got great stuff. But we do know that all those people out there doing the research, people like NASM are finding that research and we’re assimilating that and putting it into our content.
I’m working right now on doing some rewrites within one of our textbooks, and I’m going through and just filing through all of this content and research that’s up-to-date through these universities so we can have peer-reviewed, quality content that we’re continually updating within the text.
There’s another thing. When it comes to not hurting somebody and that being primary, litigation’s on the rise, and I just want you to imagine what it’s gonna look like if somebody gets hurt while they’re training with you and you are not certified as a personal trainer, but you were charging them so that you can teach them how to exercise. I don’t think that that’s gonna look good for you in your day in court.
So realize that the certification and insurance, and you’re gonna need insurance, and in order to be insured, having a certification is of vital importance. So are you an insured and certified personal trainer? And a lot of times, you go in to get insurance, they’ll ask who you’re certified through and what is your number, like what is your certification number so they can track it and then they will provide you with insurance.
Oh, man. You do not want to hurt anybody. First of all, get certified so that you can minimize the opportunity that anybody would ever get hurt while working with you, but secondly, if somebody does, because we are in an active and athletic sport, and I have been an expert witness for an injury in litigation before, and you want to make sure that the person that is being sued, are they certified? Are they insured? That’s important for financial reasons. And then, did they follow what the certification said or the basic standards and guidelines in order to exercise this person, and was it an anomaly, a freak happening, or did that person go outside the realm of standards, and that’s the reason that person ended up getting injured? That’s what we’re gonna look at. And then we’re also gonna look at another thing.
4. UNDERSTAND PROGRAMMING, PERIODIZATION, AND CUEING
Number four, you need to understand programming, periodization, and cueing. Those things I think are vitally important. Understanding programming, periodization, and cueing. There’s a big difference between understanding programming and periodization and doing a workout.
A workout, an exercise routine, that’s a thing that you do that one day when you go to the gym. That’s the 60 minutes or so that you are inside of a fitness, wellness facility or outside and doing exercise. The program is how many of those you put together and are they systematic and progressive?
And periodization is looking at finding how you program and then shifting what that program looks like in order to maximize results so that there’s minimal plateauing. We wanna minimize the amount of plateauing by creating periodization.
And the last thing I mentioned there was cueing because a lot of people are out there that don’t understand the concept of cueing, and if you’re not educated and practiced in cueing, you may not understand how exactly to help people out with doing exercise because you know what it looks like, you know what it’s supposed to look like, and you know you can do it. But if you can’t teach it, then what does it matter if you can do it and you’re a personal trainer? You have to be able to teach that information.
So do you have the right cues, the cues that are gonna help to optimize alignment, the ones that are going to help to maximize outcomes, whether that’s force production, how much are you lifting, or are you able to stabilize, are you able to maintain stability and structural integrity and to create this neuromuscular efficiency with your body’s ability to produce and reduce and dynamically stabilize on multiple planes and various speeds in a safe, coordinated fashion, and can you cue somebody while doing that, but also not overcue them?
So now overcueing can cause paralysis, paralysis by you doing an overanalysis of what they’re doing. What you find is, in motor learning, is that people who are very new to exercise don’t like too many cues while they’re exercising, but they want to know that you’re there and paying attention to them. So yes, you should still cue them. It makes them comfortable. You should still pay attention to their form and their technique and let them know that you’re doing that, but at the same time, be wonderfully supportive even if it’s not perfect, and it’s not gonna be perfect.
I don’t sit around with my children, I have three kids, and as they were growing up, I was never like, “Hey, listen, I know you’re trying to learn how to walk, but when you put one foot in front of the other and your big head teeters forward a little bit, you need to pull in your belly button and squeeze your glutes and try to create a short foot to raise the arch in your foot, and then see if maybe then your next step, you’d be able to stabilize that, not falling down. That’d be great. All right, go for it.”
That’s not how we do it. We don’t teach our children that way. I don’t want to overteach any of our clients that way either. Don’t wanna overteach it. But what they need as a young client, new to training, is more support. So like I do with my kids, they take their first few steps, they fall down, you go, “Yay! Yay, let’s try it again,” right? And then maybe you get closer to them, right? Make it easier for them to get to you. Maybe you get farther away when they start to progress, and then we try different things.
We want to cue people. We want people to be in good form, but we need to be really supportive. Now we know with advanced athletes and people who are really looking to learn once they’ve progressed, they don’t want the “yay” all the time. They want, “Look, just tell me what I need to do to get better. What do I need to do to optimize my movement, to be bigger, faster, stronger? Give me the nuts and bolts. Yes, I do want a high five from time to time. I wanna feel good about it, but in order for me to be an elite-level person, give me what I need to do to get better. I already know I’m good. What do I need to do to get better?”
And so we know that about motor learning, and we can take that with our cueing and understand it’s not just about did somebody draw in and did they brace and did they keep their chin tucked and did they stabilize their spine and keep an arch in their foot? And it’s not just about that, but it’s about the support that’s provided with that as well.
5. A CERTIFICATION IS THE BARE MINIMUM
And then finally, the last thing I wanna talk about as why it’s important to have a nationally-accredited certification is because a nationally-accredited certification is the bare minimum, it is the entry-level, it is the least possible amount of knowledge that you should have in your dome in order to train, is the least amount that you should have.
So I’m curious when you’re looking at whether or not you’re going to be certified, and you open up the textbook, and you’re like, “oh man, that’s a lot of information, that seems really difficult,” which is what I thought when I opened up the textbook, and then somebody like me taps you on the shoulder and there’s a microphone right here, and it says this is the bare minimum you need to know in order to become a personal trainer, lets you know that the folks out there that are training went through some rigor in order to be able to do the job that they’re doing.
And I think that we need to understand the value of that because all of that stuff, I don’t expect you to remember that two years later. But that’s okay because you’re gonna go through continuing education courses in order to maintain your certification.
So now, what I want to make sure you do is that you may not have the most experience as a trainer, but I’m gonna provide you with a lot of content that when the moment arises, you don’t have to memorize it, but when the moment arises and you realize that. “Oh, I studied that. What you’re talking about, that doesn’t feel right, or how you’re moving, that doesn’t seem right. I studied this when I was getting certified. I bet this applies to this situation.”
It’s not about memorizing things. It’s about being familiar with things. Most textbooks, by the way, they’re not designed to be memorized. They’re designed to be a reference for you to look up content and be able to use it, but there’s a minimum expectation of the content within that textbook that you should be able to know, and that’s where the questions come from and those are kind of the highlights of the content within every textbook when you take an examination.
So taking that examination and accomplishing the bare minimum requirements to be a certified personal trainer, the least amount possible, that entry level, you’ve proven that you’re capable of starting a path where you put others’ fitness and wellness outcomes in your hands. You’ve proven that you can do that now. Now you can be a personal trainer. And let me just add one thing to it.
New trainers, you’re gonna make mistakes, and veteran trainers make mistakes. But new trainers, you are going to make mistakes. And I get a lot of people that are paralyzing themselves saying, “I don’t feel like I know enough yet, that I’m certified but I don’t want to charge people any money, I don’t wanna ask them for money, I don’t feel confident in my abilities yet.”
I’m gonna say I understand that. Maybe start with your friends and your family and train people that are close to you and will be forgiving of the mistakes that you make, but also, if you’re gonna make mistakes, make mistakes within the guidelines of being certified. Within the guidelines of being certified, you can make those mistakes and learn from those mistakes.
I’m hoping that if you’re certified and you are going to go through and hit some bumps in the road, that those bumps in the road are going to be less significant because you’ve gone through, not just read through a text and studied some study material, but challenged yourself through an examination process provided by a third body, accrediting certification company that says you’ve reached the bare minimum.
And then after that, the developmental process begins where you start at a fitness facility and you develop with other professionals around you, and then you continue to develop, continue your own education and your lifelong learning, so you now take that education and you start applying it and find out what is the niche that you want to be a part of more? Is it corrective exercise? Is it performance enhancement? Is it nutritional counseling, wellness coaching? What is it that you want to do and really focus on? And then now you have your certified personal trainer, but you’ve got a line of specialization that you can then start focusing on.
I hope this was helpful for those you who are considering becoming a certified personal trainer, those new to your path, and even those who are working as personal trainers and trying to identify whether or not, should I maintain my certification, should I not? Hold onto it, continue to challenge yourself, do your continuing education and help support other people out there that are in need and do that with the understanding that you are certified, you’ve gone through the rigor to challenge yourself to be able to call yourself a certified personal trainer, and then be supportive of others out there that may need your help.