Certified Doesn’t Mean Qualified
By KT Streder, MS, CSCS, USAWII
The fitness industry is plagued with numerous organizations peddling their own certifications and brand-name fitness regimens. None of which hold any real authority; as anyone can call him or herself a coach or trainer, with or without a certification (referred to as a “cert” from here on). Plus, many trainers hold one or two certs, but train clients in more than what the cert covers. This lack of regulation stems from the fitness industry’s young age. People didn’t use to participate in structured exercise like they do now. If they did, they were athletes and it was part of their job. Manual labor jobs often met what are now physical activity recommendations for health benefits. Presently, the high number of jobs that can be classified as sedentary, plus the abundance of cheap, convenient, high calorie foods, create a problem. Due to these factors, among others, regular exercise is necessary to stave off heart and other metabolic-related health problems. To experience more than just minimum health benefits, people need to perform structured, habitual, and goal-focused exercise. This can be difficult for people who do not enjoy being physically active, recreationally or otherwise.
While obesity awareness and the popularity of various forms of exercise has risen in recent years, a new problem has sprouted. With no defined education and training standards, the quality of trainers and coaches is left to the discretion of the facility where they work. Some may think, “any certification is better than nothing,” or “my trainer has a BS in Kinesiology.” Would you trust a chiropractor or physical therapist who only did a weekend workshop and passed a broad, watered down test? These clinicians are working with the neuromuscular and musculoskeletal systems. Depending on their education, training, and experience they can either help you or hurt you. Same is true of trainers; yet there are no enforced degree or credential requirements. Most biological science based professions actually require further schooling or testing after obtaining an undergraduate degree.
On that note, even an undergraduate degree in Kinesiology should not be viewed as a stand-alone indication of a quality trainer. These higher education programs are very broad and focus primarily on theory and biological effects of exercise. Far more often than not, the neuromechanical applications of said information is not given the attention it sorely needs and deserves. To teach people how to use their bodies in a biomechanically safe and effective way, coach them to maintain these motor patterns, and then adapt them correctly to different movements takes more than theoretical knowledge. Internships are sometimes offered or even required, but not always. Even then, a single internship of 10 to 20 weeks is not enough experience to classify someone as ready to work with any and all of the general population. Most people have some kind of chronic pain, movement limitation, or recurring injury due to a past event. Add the aging process and poor movement patterns and behaviors for years, and an average Joe or Joan is not the young and healthy (easy to work with) client a personal training cert promises. Another issue to consider is the education, training, and experience of the trainers or coaches who are mentoring these prospective trainers. Hands on training and experience is the most influential and therefore has the best or worst effects on a future fitness professional.
Kinesiology is a phenomenal and much needed foundation for careers involving strength and conditioning or commercial health and fitness. Those who study it gain knowledge and practice in important skills such as motor learning and control (teaching and coaching movements), biomechanics (how to move safely and effectively with or without external load), and exercise physiology (muscular and cardiorespiratory training effects of exercise). In addition to this background, trainers should have had specific training or certifications in each specialized skill they are teaching. Whether it’s general resistance training, powerlifting, Olympic weight lifting, or kettlebell training; if a weighted implement is used, specialized training is a must. All-inclusive certifications are popular right now and pose a greater risk. An example is certs built around some form of circuit training. The problem is these certs tend to focus more on how to design a circuit and interval ratios as opposed to actually lifting and moving properly. Even when how to use weights correctly is covered, there are so many pieces of equipment and exercises that these trainers are not sufficiently experienced in anything they learned to be teaching others. It takes 10,000 hours (equated as 10 years) of DELIBERATE practice to be an expert. This means repeated practice of the skill with proper technique, as opposed to performing a million repetitions poorly or fatigued. I am not saying every trainer should achieve this for every skill, weight lifting method, or exercise class they teach, but they should be striving for that. All-inclusive certs do not elicit this frame of mind of those who hold them.
The purpose of this page is to dispel the vast misinformation and lack of understanding behind what it means to be or have a qualified trainer. A small series of public service announcements (PSAs) will be posted addressing several issues to help make the general public aware of common hazardous training practices. Research regarding the topics will be cited to show readers these articles are not opinions, but empirically supported information.
Thank you for reading.