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Personal Trainer Certification: What Does it Mean?

Our focus this month is on professional standards in the fitness industry. In any credible profession, there should be a “path” one must follow to become “certified” and steps to ensure that anyone calling themselves “certified” has the requisite qualifications, education, and training. This seems like a pretty simple, undisputed concept. However, it does not reflect the reality of the fitness industry.



When I think about “certification” in the fitness industry, it reminds me of a recent story I saw on 60 minutes about the discrepancies in fees for an airplane flight. In this story, they showed how just about everyone on the same flight paid drastically different rates, based on where they bought their ticket, when it was purchased, and a host of other variables. I understand that there should be a different price for a first class ticket, but if I’m sitting in 10B, should I be paying twice as much as the person in 10C, and half as much as my neighbor in 10A? As the story indicated, this is based on “supply and demand”, but nonetheless, is frustrating and it feels like the price for a ticket is a moving target. I want to feel good about my purchase–not feel like I was treated unfairly.


Applied to the fitness industry, you can line up 10 “Certified Personal Trainers” and they will have VERY different levels of education and training. Their paths to certification will be very different. Some will have completed years of college education. Some will have taken a continuing education class. And some will have completed no education at all—and will have passed a written exam. Between these extremes, are dozens of variations. Yet, all of these individuals will have the same “certification” and letters behind their name.

Does this make sense?

There has been ongoing debate as to exactly what “certification” means and what the path to certification should entail. Given the potential impact a Personal Trainer can have on a person’s health, and the significant positive contribution as well as harm that could result from working with a Personal Trainer, it is clear to me that requirements for education, training, and testing must be rigorous, AND consistent. The consumer should have confidence that when they hire a Personal Trainer, the person has completed a comprehensive program that provides education and training. This does not mean that all Personal Trainers will be equally competent and effective; but we should be able to increase the chance that all have taken similar paths and received appropriate education and training.


I’ve seen many doctors over the years. I felt more comfortable with some, than with others. Some had better communication skills—or a bedside manner that fit my personality. But I never had to question that any of them with the MD after their name had completed a comprehensive and specific education program, received a considerable amount of hands-on training, and passed a standardized board exam.

So, what does “certification” mean to you? Does it make sense that 10 different “Certified” Personal Trainers can have very different levels of education, training, experience? Does it make sense that they can have the same credential, but have taken extremely different exams and paths?

What do you think should be the minimum requirement for “Personal Trainer Certification?”

Join our webinar, Thursday, September 18th at 3pm EST. We will be discussing these issues and more in preparation for the 4th Annual Personal Trainer Summit at Club Industry in Chicago. Have your voice heard as we shape the future of our industry! For webinar information and registration, please call W.I.T.S. Customer Service at 888-330-9487.


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3 thoughts on “Personal Trainer Certification: What Does it Mean?

  1. Your airplane purchasing analogy actually really put this dilemma into perspective. We have been looking for a fitness trainer, and we hadn’t even thought of it like this, but we really should. The fitness trainer that we hire should have completed some kind of comprehensive program, you are right. Great read, and thank you!

  2. Thanks for sharing this information on personal trainer certification. It sounds like it could be tough to tell whether a personal trainer’s certifications are good enough for them to help you in your path to fitness. However, in my opinion, it is probably best to choose a trainer that you think can help you achieve your goal the best. That way, you aren’t too worried about finding the trainer with the best “certifications.”

  3. A certified personal trainer is certified and well trained professional who will assist you to meet your exercise and fitness goals. These professional helps in enhancing the performance and health of an individual.

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