Wednesday, March 20, 2013

[GUEST OP-ED] Reaction to NYT Article: A Jobs Boom Built on Sweat


[ The State of Personal Training: Personal Reaction to the New York Times Article, "A Jobs Boom Built on Sweat in an Age of Belt-Tightening" (June 30, 2012) ]

Last year, the New York Times published a story which argued that the career of personal training as being the job of the future. It highlighted the fact that there is recent boom in the amount of personal trainers in the industry citing statistical growth (link) of close to 44% occurring between 2001 to 2011 (to a total of 231,500).

On the whole these numbers make for a great statistic given the current unemployment rates (link) of today's economy. But while these numbers demonstrate raw growth, they say nothing about the quality of personal trainers that are coming into the industry.

What's more - the fact that this article emphasizes that anyone can jump into being a trainer by taking a simple test online (link) without an education background that shows that there is still this stigma that anyone can be a personal trainer. Retired, or just lose your job? No big deal, go be a personal trainer. It’s super easy and there are little to no educational requirements. I’m sorry but that will not fly with me.

Admirable as it may be, to say that “many Americans are trying to transform a passion for fitness into a new career;” statements like these are a slap in the face to fitness professionals who have invested time, money to earn a proper education in kinesiology, or exercise science, or related degrees.


For me, fitness isn't a fly by night job - it's a professional career. I started my education looking at a future in physical therapy, however that plan didn't quite come to fruition the way I wanted it to. I did however posses a degree in health science and decided to continue my education to earn a degree and license in massage therapy.

In addition to the massage degree, I took a 4 month course in advanced personal training just to further my educational background.

Along with my NSCA (link) certification, I have also earned an education in kettlebells (link) , TRX, and ViPR. I have also learned on my own the Gray Cook’s FMS system. 

All of that education gave me all the tools that I needed to become a great, successful personal trainer that has the ability to handle a great deal of clients with a myriad of issues. Sine then, I have always made it a point to continue my education through seminars, conferences and workshops.  And i'm not alone in my conviction for education.

For those of us that have taken the time and hard work to make our careers successful, the prevailing attitude that anyone can - or should - be a personal trainer is disrespectful (and downright dangerous). 

The fact that certification groups are offering cheap and easy ways to get certified is a disgrace. You wouldn't see that with any other career field. There wouldn't be an “easier and cheaper” way to become a doctor because people have a passion for medicine. Why would there? The medical field (link) is serious business. As a doctor you hold people’s lives in your hands. It is just as easy to say that as personal trainers, we hold people’s lives in our hands as well.

With obesity and obesity related diseases on the rise, it’s up to us as trainers to promote change in those clients to help them lead a happy, long life. As a society we have also become a very sedentary group of people (link) . This has led to a lot of postural complications, movement deficiencies, and as a result a lot of unnecessary injuries. As trainers, we should be able to assess a client’s posture and movement patterns, and from that be able to write a program that will not only correct or help those issues, but also keep in mind that specific clients personal goals. 


How are you going to learn program design, training high risk population, postural assessment, and movement assessment by taking an online exam? The answer is that you won’t. It’s impossible. It takes hard work, and a lot of practical experience to become proficient at that. 

How can you assess how someone moves without studying kinesiology (link -the study of movement)? While trainers should not be providing nutritional guidance, how can you affect change in your clients without any knowledge of nutrition  (link) or how a body’s hormone levels change in response to exercise? You can’t. 

It’s pretty safe to say that training is more than just coming up with a few “cool” exercises and counting out reps while your client is struggling to do ONE pushup because their core is so weak it can’t support their own bodyweight, and its way more than to just yell at your client to work harder when they can’t do that ONE pushup.


There needs to be some sort of regulation of the industry. There is regulation of pretty much every industry in the country, but not training. Cutting a person’s hair requires going to school, taking necessary classes and passing them, then going through an apprenticeship for a few years before you are even able to take a license exam. Yes a license for cutting hair. 

Why strict requirements for cutting hair, but not for personal training? You can argue that there is a greater risk training a client and injuring them than there is cutting their hair, yet one you can take an exam online and the other requires an education. That seems a little ridiculous. 

Let's compare this to a related field - a registered dietitian (link) for example. Personal trainers and RD’s both have similar goals for their clients in that they are both involved in a healthy lifestyle. 

In New York State, the requirements are at least a bachelor’s degree that has “at least 45 semester hours of course work in the professional dietetics/nutrition content area and have at least 20 semester hours in other sciences.” It also states that you need 800 hours of work experience. That is definitely a great place to start when talking about requirements for personal training.
< RELATED >  More Trainers Called On For Nutritional Advice (Huff Post)  (link) 
If you can’t teach someone to squat in a normal movement pattern, or one of my biggest trainer pet peeves, swing a kettlebell, there is serious risk for injury. Trust me, I see inexperienced trainers try to teach their clients to swing a kettlebell because it looks cool, and I’m waiting for their back to go out (the client not the trainer). Then that client gets injured, and forever has this opinion that trainers are awful and will only injure me or associate kettlebells with injuring their back. That one “client” can spread that message to other people and there is a whole circle of people that are lost on personal training because of one bad trainer. So my first requirement for becoming a personal trainer is a mandatory education in anatomy (link) and physiology, kinesiology, exercise science, assessment, and nutrition. 

My second requirement would be to have some sort of internship or mentorship program (link) so that potential trainers have some hands on real world experience. The best way to learn is by doing, and by following an experienced trainer, a “student” would learn without potentially harming a client. Only after going through the education process and then the internship/ mentorship would someone be up to take an exam for certification or even licensure. 
Yes, I understand that this process would knock out many great trainers, however for every 1 good trainer, it would weed out 10 bad ones that could be potentially dangerous.

Lastly, a certain set of continuing education hours (link) would be necessary. As it stands, most of the major certification groups like the NSCA require a set amount of continuing education every few years. This would maintain a trainers standing as an educated professional, not someone that does it as a hobby.   



Chris Cooper has been an NSCA Certified Personal Trainer for the past 6 years while maintaining a high level of education so that his clients get the very best out of their session. He hold specialized certification in kettlebells, TRX, and ViPR.

Chris also has a Bachelors degree in Health Science from Hartwick College, and an Associates degree in Occupational Studies for Massage Therapy. The combination of the two fields of study has enabled Chris to bring a unique experience and knowledge to his clients programs.

Join Chris at Eclipse 2013 in this not to be missed Fitness event!(link)

Standard Disclaimer: Opinions and views containing in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the Fitness Education Institute. Comments should be directed to the contributor. If you wish to present an opposing view, please contact FEi via email or by leaving comments in the space below. Before embarking on any exercise or program, we urge you to consult a qualified medical professional to determine your readiness. Exercise protocols and descriptions contained herein or across FEI related sites are informational only and are provided solely for the educational purposes of qualified fitness professionals.

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