Professionally Speaking

You probably don’t need government statistics to tell you there is a surge in the fitness industry. Just look at the people coming to your facility.

Do you see more Baby Boomers, determined to fight the effects of aging as hard as many fought for women’s rights and against the Vietnam War?

How about youngsters? Do you see kids who are looking for that competitive edge in sports? How about those without school fitness programs, or the home schoolers looking for fitness options? Or kids who have succumbed to the obesity epidemic and are doing something about it?

These individuals and every age between are showing an increased interest in physical fitness. They are demanding more classes, more equipment and more services. Among the most popular is the request for personal trainers.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Handbook of Occupations, “Personal Trainers work one-on-one with clients either in the gym or in the client’s home. Trainers help clients assess levels of physical fitness and set and reach fitness goals. Trainers also demonstrate various exercises and help clients improve their exercise techniques. Trainers may keep records of their clients’ exercise sessions to assess clients’ progress toward physical fitness.”

BLS also states in the Handbook that jobs in the fitness industry are growing “much faster than average.” That is governmentese for a growth rate greater than 27 percent.

And that means jobs to fill.

Hiring Personal Trainers

The BLS Handbook explains that Personal Trainers must be certified as a requirement for employment. Further, it states: “Becoming certified by one of the top certification organizations is increasingly important.”

It is estimated that more than 300 organizations certify personal trainers. A certification establishes, through testing, that an individual has acquired the fundamental knowledge and skills required for a particular field, and is minimally competent to work unsupervised in that field. With the multitude of organizations certifying, you may see a confusing alphabet soup on job application forms.

So, how do you assess the personal trainer you are hiring, especially if the individual is entry-level?

According to the BLS Handbook, “One way to ensure that a certifying organization is reputable is to see whether it is accredited or seeking accreditation by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA).”

Ask About Accreditation

Jim Kendzel is the Executive Director of the National Organization for Competency Assurance (NOCA), a non-profit organization created in 1987 with predecessor organizations dating back to 1977.

“NOCA provides educational resources and best practices for organizations with certification programs, and NCCA, the accreditation arm of NOCA, evaluates those programs based on predetermined and standardized criteria,” explains Kendzel.

The criteria used by NCCA are stringent and thorough, and cover not only the validity of the test itself, but many organizational aspects as well, such as disciplinary policies and mechanisms for consumer questions.

A wide range of professions and occupations are accredited by NCCA--190 programs in 78 organizations. While a majority of the organizations are health-oriented, such as those including nurses, chiropractors, massage therapists and dental assistants, automotive professionals and crane operators are also on the list of accredited programs.

The accreditation process for personal trainers was given a boost by the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA). The IHRSA board issued a resolution stating: “Whereas, given the increasing importance personal training plays in health, fitness and sports clubs, IHRSA recommends that … member clubs hire trainers who hold at least one current certification from a certifying organization/agency that has obtained third-party accreditation of its certification procedures and protocols from an independent, experienced, and nationally recognized accrediting body. … IHRSA has identified NCCA as being an acceptable accrediting organization.”

“Currently there are eight organizations with accredited Personal Trainer certifications,” says Kendzel. He is quick to point out that organizations that have accredited certification programs cannot require an individual to take their training programs, although all eight do offer training programs or study aids.

Organizations With Accredited Personal Trainer Certifications

The following is a thumbnail description of training and certification offered by each of the eight accredited organizations as explained on their respective Web sites.

1. The Cooper Institute

The Cooper Institute was founded in 1970 by Kenneth Cooper, M.D., M.P.H., the bestselling author of the watershed book Aerobics, published in 1968. Cooper is a leader in the international physical fitness movement. The Cooper Institute offers two options for training--a four-day workshop or a personal training DVD and one and a half days of applied hands-on training. To sit for the 150-question certification exam, a candidate must be 18 or older and have a current CPR certification. The cost of the exam is $250. Recertification is required every three years with 30 continuing education units (CEUs).

2. The American Council on Exercise (ACE)

ACE was founded in 1985, and the organization is “committed to enriching quality of life through safe and effective exercise and physical activity.” ACE was granted accreditation by NCCA in 2003 for four programs: Personal Trainer, Group Fitness Instructor, Lifestyle & Weight Management Consultant and Clinical Exercise Specialist. It states it is the only fitness organization to offer an accredited certification for Group Fitness Instructor and Lifestyle & Weight Management Consultant. ACE offers a variety of home-study packages. To take the exam, a candidate must be 18 or older and have a current CPR certification. The cost of the exam is $249. Recertification is required every two years with two CEUs.

3. The National Council on Strength and Fitness (NCSF)

“NCSF is a member-driven organization and board for certification that provides support services, educational programs, public outreach and professional credentialing for the Personal Training profession.” NCSF offers weekend workshop training, an eight-week training school, home-study courses and individual study materials. College credit for classes is free. To take the exam, a candidate must be 18 or older and have a current CPR certification. The cost of the exam is $199. Recertification is required every two years with 10 CEUs.

4. The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)

Founded in 1987, NASM has more than 100,000 members in 80 countries. Its mission is to “empower individuals to live healthy”; its purpose is “to deliver evidence-based health and fitness solutions that truly educate, motivate, and inspire.” NASM offers training packages that range from textbook, study guide, DVD and live workshop to textbook only. To take the exam, a candidate must be 18 or older and have a current CPR and AED certification. The exam cost is not listed on the Web site. Recertification is required every two years with two CEUs.

5. National Exercise Trainers Association (NETA)

NETA is an educational and training organization for fitness professionals. It is dedicated to providing the fitness industry with the highest quality education at the most reasonable cost. Since its founding in 1977, NETA has certified more than 120,000 fitness professionals. For Personal Trainers, NETA offers a two-day seminar and home study for exam preparation. To take the exam, a candidate must be CPR-certified. The cost of the exam is $249. Recertification is required every two years with 20 continuing education credits (CECs).

6. National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA)

In 1996, NSCA became the first organization to have its personal training certification accredited by the NSCA, a program it first offered in 1993. The mission of NSCA states: “As a worldwide authority on strength and conditioning, we support and disseminate research-based knowledge and its practical application to improve athletic performance and fitness.” More than 9,600 fitness professionals hold the NSCA-CPT certification, out of a total of 79,600 fitness professionals certified through its programs. The organization offers a number of study materials for pretesting review. NSCA requires hands-on training and skills-performance evaluation prior to registering for its certification test. Candidates must be 18, high school graduates and CPR- and AED-certified. The cost of the test varies with membership and format. For the computer-based test, the cost is $285 for members and $405 for non-members. Recertification is required every three years with six CEUs.

7. National Federation of Professional Trainers (NSFP)

“It is our organizational mission through vision and insight to lead the personal training industry, through quality education and credentialing, into a future of public and government respect, trust and confidence. As a professional fitness organization, it is clearly our intention to work in any way possible to provide fitness trainers with the educational tools and the appropriate credential needed to address failing health in America.” NFPT has been certifying since 1988. It provides home study, computer distance learning, workshops and college courses. To take the certification test, you must have a high school diploma or equivalent and more than two years of fitness-related experience. NFPT strongly recommends but does not require CPR training. The cost for computer-based testing is $44. Recertification is required every year with two CECs.

8. American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)

The ACSM was founded in 1954. Its mission is to “promote and integrate scientific research, education and practical applications of sports medicine and exercise science to maintain and enhance physical performance, fitness, health and quality of life.” Today ACSM has more than 20,000 international, national and regional chapter members. The cost of the certification test is not listed on the Web site. Recertification is required every three years (as of 1/1/2005) with 45 CECs.

Another Plus

Most NCCA-accredited certified personal trainers are eligible for discounted insurance. Jim Foley, an agent with InterWest Insurance Service in Sacramento, Calif., says this is an indicator of the performance of personal trainers certified by a third-party accrediting body. InterWest provides insurance to ACE-certified personal trainers.

“Over the past ten years we have had phenomenal success in safety and very few claims.” Remember to ask your trainers to add your facility as an “additional insured” to their policy.

Linda Stalvey is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Parks & Rec Business and Camp Business magazines. She gave up Washington, D.C., public relations to indulge her passion for parks, the environment and outdoor activities in Medina, Ohio. You can reach her at