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Licensed to Train: The Case for Professional Standards

What’s In a Name?

For most fitness professionals, national certification is the first step toward laying the foundation for a successful career. Yet a simple web search will render dozens of certifying bodies with vastly varying degrees of credibility and requirements. Thus, when a consumer hires a personal trainer, or signs up for a group exercise class, there is no guarantee that the trainer or instructor has enough knowledge to help their new client safely achieve their goals. As a growing range of certifying bodies continues to flood the market, there is great disparity among the credentials of certified professionals.

Raising the Bar

barbell workout
In light of the variance in qualifications among fitness practitioners, there has been a movement afoot for the past several years to standardize baseline requirements for certification. Many feel that licensure provides a reasonable route to ensuring that fitness professionals universally provide the same quality of service, reducing the threat to client safety. Others feel that standardizing credentials through licensure will enable trainers and other fitness practitioners to demand more equitable wages. It could also potentially put fitness professionals on a par with other care providers, including physical and occupational therapists, and make clients eligible for insurance coverage for fitness services.

Calling the Shots

tug of war
Most of us can agree that there should be some standard by which we measure qualifications. However, some argue that licensure is merely a mechanism to keep fitness practitioners from competing with therapists and other health care providers. Indeed, a recent effort to regulate personal trainers through licensure under the guise of consumer safety failed miserably in Washington D. C. There is no statistical evidence to support the argument that unlicensed trainers pose a threat to consumer health. Furthermore, the D.C. legislation was engineered by the Board of Physical Therapy, and critics argue that the proposed bill aimed to eliminate competition between fitness practitioners and physical therapists.

The Future is at Stake

While most fitness practitioners agree that all certifications are not created equal, many worry that licensure will impose rigid standards that will bar many individuals from entering the industry, or from maintaining their current profession. Gym owners are concerned that wages will go up, cutting into their bottom lines. But in an industry where pay scales are as variant as credentials, it is difficult for ambitious fitness professionals to carve a career path that promises to provide long-term stability and upward mobility. Licensure could be the solution that makes fitness a viable career choice on a par with other health care services.

What Do You Think?

Whether you are thinking about a career in fitness, are a novice beginning your fitness career, or a seasoned veteran who has watched the industry evolve, the issue of licensure should command your attention. What do you think about standardizing credentials? Is licensure the way to go, or are there other solutions? Who should steer the path toward licensure and engineer legislation? Please leave a comment and let us know your thoughts!


W.I.T.S. is dedicated to promoting professionalism in the fitness industry. We feel that fitness professionals should be able to build a life-long career, with pay scales equitable to other health care professions. We provide tools to help you build your business and grow your cash flow. To make the most out of your career, stay on the cutting edge with courses from the W.I.T.S. Fitness Business Institute, and visit our booth at the Club Industry Show, October 9-11, 2015 in Chicago.

References and Credits

Club Industry: Personal Trainer Licensing Remains a Topic of Discussion in the Industry

Daily Signal: DC’s Plan to License Personal Trainers Hits a Snag

DC’s Plan to License Personal Trainers Hits a Snag

IDEA Health and Fitness Association: Licensing Debate: Personal Trainers, Group Fitness Instructors
Licensing Debate: Personal Trainers, Group Fitness Instructors

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1 thought on “Licensed to Train: The Case for Professional Standards

  1. Michelle: Very good points made throughout. It is a tough question, “to be licensed or not to be”? In the long-term, the industry should have licensure but it should also have four to five areas for this licensure. For example, someone with an associates degree or outside training course set, and CPR certification, should be able to sit for a general “personal trainer” licensed. Others should include- a group exercise leader, a health coach or behavior specialist, an athletic conditioning specialty, a metabolic and cardiorespiratory medical fitness specialty, and a corrective movement, and neuromuscular specialist. Many of the major personal training bodies already offer these specialities.

    The major problem is the expense and lack of content management of the NCCA accreditation to the certifying bodies, and the drive to have short cuts in the educational and experiential process and refer to someone as a “specialist” with a 4-8 hour course. Standardized tests, protocols, and licensing requirements may seem to squelch individuality, but someone does not want a creative surgeon working on them! Nice article.

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