I firmly believe in the value of continuous education. I have already mapped out my next certifications that I wish to achieve over the course of the next year and had my last several certifications planned a year in advance. I think this sort of planning is a result of my military leadership background as short, midterm and long term goals were always something considered.
Presently I am studying exercise prescription for the disabled (for a future ACSM credential), functional movement screening procedures (as an adjunct to my corrective exercise programming) and diabetes management.
Two questions posed over the past week that brought me to this article. The first conversation was from a client of mine “What is minimum level of knowledge a personal trainer should possess?” I was initially stumped, and truthfully told her 48hrs later that I was still stumped. Not that I hadn’t given the question any thought…I was genuinely stumped.
The truth is, a trainers body of knowledge can be deep, shallow or somewhere in-between. Personal trainers, in my opinion, fall under three distinct groups: (1) Those that can work with some types of clients and achieve results. (2) Those that can work with a very wide variety of clients and achieve results. (3) Those that can’t seem to get results out of anyone.
Pressed for an answer (in an effort to de-stump myself and forgetting trainer type #3) I would say the following is my definition of the minimum body of knowledge a trainer should possess:
1- CPR/AED/Basic First Aid. Current and genuine, not earned online.
2-Ability to design training programs for apparently healthy and medically cleared individuals. Training children and older adults may be outside some trainers body of knowledge.
3- Familiarity with the safe operation of free weights, resistance machines, body weight exercises and cardio equipment operation.
4- Ability to take and record client measurements. Minimum requirements are the operation of bodyfat reading instruments, tape measures and scales.
5- Ability to assist clients in conditioning, weight management or muscle gain. Assisting clients in sports performance, power lifting, rehabilitation, medical exercise programs or correction of muscular imbalances require a deeper body of knowledge and/or experience.
6- A basic level of knowledge in human anatomy, muscle function and nutrition.
I’ve had the fortune of working with several trainers that held only entry level certifications but were quite adept at servicing a wide variety of clients and are skilled in their craft. I’ve also had the misfortune of meeting trainers that were severely limited in skill. Certification aside, those that engage in some form of continuous education seem to be ahead of their counterparts.
There are many (way too many in my opinion) certifying organizations for personal trainers. Some have notoriously difficult proctored exams (ACSM, NSCA and NASM) some considered comparably easier and others that are taken online, allowing for open book and open internet.
The CPT (certified personal trainer) designator is the entry level requirement that any personal trainer should hold. The general prerequisite for most of the accredited organizations CPT is the candidate be at least 18 years old, be a high school graduate with valid CPR and AED BEFORE the test is administered (1).
Not all organizations follow this standard. One particular organization has decidedly less challenging prerequisites:
“A minimum age of sixteen and possess good reading skills; You should have some basic resistance training, aerobic, martial arts, or yoga experience. You need to be familiar with resistance equipment and exercise machines.” (2)
So I’m to understand a 16yr old that has been lifting weights for a semester in gym class can be a trainer? and he doesn’t even have to be CPR/AED certified?
Far worse than that, I found one particular organization that will grant you a trainer certification provided you pass their online test, if you don’t pass it then you don’t pay…but you get plenty of chances! To illustrate how bad this situation is, the organization and their practice was outed after a 12 year old girl passed, and was certified as a Kettlebell Instructor. (3) (SIDEBAR-They also offer a Master Personal Trainer certification!)
The second conversation took place during a break by another trainer while I was reading up on spinal conditions and exercise prescription. He asked if I was “trying to learn how to work around it?” (As in, how to not deal with the problem by avoiding it completely) My answer was fairly short… “No, I’m reviewing spinal stabilization techniques to build a program that suits the needs”
I lacked the time at the moment to explain that there is no way (at least that I know of) to simply “work around” a problem like that. (ANOTHER SIDEBAR- A trainer at another gym told me he could work around a clients problems…which happen to be numerous joint and muscle dysfunctions from the knees to the shoulder including the hip complex and spine. He never worked with the client, but I would have loved to have seen his exercise programming.)
As I said, a trainers body of knowledge can be shallow, deep or somewhere in the middle.