Personal trainers looking to launch their careers can expect a steep uphill climb rife with challenges from landing clients and building a reputation to niching down and a host of others. But one more has slowly crept into that list – which PT certification programs should they take?
It may not sound like such a problem until you realize that there are a thousand and one programs out there, ranging from the ridiculously cheap $100 programs to those that cost $1,000 and offer to help you build your business from the ground up.
As a beginner personal trainer chasing success, you’re bound to get confused, and I feel your pain. This article is one part, me lamenting about these useless programs, and one part me trying to point out how to find authentic ones.
What’s wrong with so many certification bodies?
Above all else, personal trainers go to learn one thing in certification programs – how to take care of their clients. You want to know how to design a routine and help your clients achieve their goals.
And to do this, you’ll learn a bit of anatomy, some physiology, some sport science, and depending on the program, you may even learn about how to keep your clients motivated.
The problem here is that the educational path is pretty simple. Different programs can add to these things, but at the end of the day, there are specific things you need to know to be a good personal trainer.
But when a program offers to certify you in 4 weeks for a quarter of the cost, you can expect significant tradeoffs. They might have you read textbooks without any actual classes, and administer laughable exams. Or worse, they might not even test you at all and simply award a certificate because you paid the registration fee.
When the number of certification bodies grows, you can expect these tradeoffs to get increasingly ridiculous. While a 4-week certification program might sound great to you, it’s a terrible way to launch your Workout Pro career.
The market is saturated with less-than-adequate PTs
The number of PTs in the market has grown considerably (IBISWorld), and not necessarily because the industry is in a boom. Sure, people are increasingly aware of the importance of physical exercise, but there’s also an increase in the number of online resources available for these people to get in shape.
No. Personal trainers are in excess supply because there are just too many certification bodies. Anybody can part with $100 and become a PT in four weeks.
Can they design a tailored program for a client recovering from back surgery? Fat chance! Do they know how to safely train a morbidly obese client without putting them under undue stress? I think not.
The saddest part is that most PTs from certification mills don’t know how underskilled they are. They’ve been deceived into believing that they are perfectly equipped to help clients achieve their results.
We also have to talk about people who have managed to get shredded and suddenly believe they are equipped to guide clients through their various workout goals. The first problem with this is that you don’t need to be shredded as a PT. Plus, without the proper education, you expose yourself to lawsuits, client injuries, and a host of other complications.
Many of them aren’t traceable
These certification programs have become like the diploma mills we all know and hate. They gain accreditation from some obscure body that nobody knows, respects, or even acknowledges and proceed to issue credentials that are basically worthless.
All anyone needs to do is Google the organization’s name, and they’ll be overwhelmed by Reddit complaints, skeleton social media accounts, and a website that looks like it was built at the height of the dot com bubble.
Well, that’s not entirely accurate. Many of these certification bodies have great-looking websites, which, again, is part of the problem.
The sites are so appealing that unsuspecting prospective PTs enroll, thinking they are going to get a quality education only to trade their valuable cash for a worthless piece of paper and membership in an alumni community that is pushing for a refund.
How do you find a good certification provider?
I’m not naive enough to think that we should get stricter regulations on who can certify PTs. Surely I can dream about it, but I know it’s never going to happen. Instead, the responsibility should fall on PTs to select their programs wisely and prioritize education and actual skills over certificates and the rush that comes with knowing they are a PT.
If you’re reading this and thinking about becoming a PT, before you take any certification programs, ensure it has these qualities.
Minimal hate on Reddit
People call Reddit many names, from the front page of the internet to the toilet of the internet. But it can also be one of the most valuable research tools out there, especially when you’re trying to verify the authenticity of a product or service.
All you have to do is Google the name of a certification body, add the “Reddit” keyword, and you’ll find all the evidence you need. If every comment is filled with regret and cautionary tales, that’s not the program you want to take.
Bear in mind that someone on Reddit is bound to have a negative opinion on even the best services. Take this comment on NASM certification, for example.
You want to check out the general consensus and see how other personal trainers respond to the overall idea.
NASM is accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA), a nationally recognized agency. That’s a prime example of what you want.
On the other side of the spectrum are bodies accredited by agencies that sound legit, but there’s absolutely no way you can verify. You want to stay away from certification bodies like these.
You do not want to get certified by a body that was launched yesterday. They may know their stuff or regurgitate a textbook like NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training; there’s just no way to know for sure.
Instead, stick with tried and true certification bodies – those with a track record of producing highly skilled PTs who are actually capable of importing their clients’ lives.
List of reputable PT certification agencies
- National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)
- National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA)
- American Council of Exercise (ACE)
- International Sports Science Association (ISSA)
- National Council of Sports and Fitness (NCSF)
These are more expensive than the lesser known bodies, with some costing over $1,000. Still, you can be sure you’re getting your money’s worth in terms of quality of education, reputation, and the gravity that your certificate carries.
Be careful with the big names
A note of warning if you do go with the popular certification providers – they will try to charge you as much as you can pay. At the end of the day, they are a for-profit organization, which means they need to make as much money as possible.
To this end, they’ll try to upsell you and tack on additional (but unnecessary) lessons. Unless you’re certain you actually need them, go for the simplest package, get certified, and start kicking ass as a personal trainer. You can learn about which equipment belongs in your starter kit later.
Become an even better PT
Workout Pro is dedicated to providing valuable information to anyone looking to become a successful personal trainer or run a small to medium size gym. If you’re passionate about guiding people towards their health and fitness goals, you want to bookmark this blog and keep coming back.
And while you’re here, check out this post on how to design an effective routine for lazy clients.