Raising Requirements for the Fitness Industry: The Template for Change Has Arrived!

By Dr. Amy Hyams

Fitness industry professionals, educators, and leaders have talked for years about the need for higher standards in the training, preparation, and practice of fitness professionals.   Over 15 states over the last 15 years have looked into licensing personal trainers to define their capabilities and qualify their working with the public.  In more recent years, there has been an effort to consider fitness an integral part of the healthcare continuum.  As part of these discussions, we have sought to have fitness services and in particular, personal training, recognized and recommended by medical professionals; as well as accepted by health insurance companies.  However, despite these conversations, very little has changed.  A few certification groups spearheaded having NCCA accredit the written exams as the legally defensible standard to work with clients as a Personal Trainer.  The issue arose as to why, as a health occupation, we do not do more qualifiers to ensure that fitness leaders are beyond reproach.  If we are to achieve the recognition and respect we deserve, we must re-evaluate and raise the standards. Simply stated, we need to match other professions with solid education, training, testing, certification, and continuing education of personal trainers and all fitness professionals.

As with the preparation of most healthcare professionals, one of the most important steps is having a high quality educational program.  This helps to ensure that foundational knowledge is acquired and mastered.  This cannot be achieved in the “weekend warrior” courses or online test review courses provided as the standard by most personal training programs.  Similar to the development of an effective exercise program, a quality education program must follow best practices and specific steps for optimal learning.   The World Instructor Training School (W.I.T.S.)  follows these standards and has received recognition from the American Council on Education (ACE) for our educational programs.  With this recognition, students who complete our educational programs can also receive undergraduate and graduate level college credits.

In addition to the foundational knowledge gained in an educational program, we strongly believe, as with other health occupations, that hands-on training is necessary.  It is not enough for personal trainers to just learn from a picture in a book, but must also receive training and practice in performing the requisite skills.   Working with clients, practicing safe exercises, designing exercise programs, and using equipment cannot be effectively taught in a classroom or on a computer.   Unfortunately, this hands-on training component is not included in most personal training courses.   W.I.T.S. has historically included hands-on training and practice, in a “real” fitness club setting as a core feature in our certification programs.  W.I.T.S., in our unique partnering relationships with higher learning colleges and universities, focus half of our program on mastering the essential practical skills to individually lead all types of clients safely and effectively.

While quality education and training are essential to the preparation of qualified fitness professionals, we also understand the importance of a valid testing and certification process.  Given the hands-on nature of the work personal trainers perform, the testing process must include a practical exam as well as a written exam.   W.I.T.S.  has emerged as the ONLY personal training certification that has both their written and practical exams accredited by the National Commission For Certifying Agencies (NCCA.)   This accreditation is considered the “gold standard” in the credentialing of health professionals.  There are many other fitness certifications that have achieved the NCCA recognition, however without an accredited practical skill competency exam.  80% of trainers hired today are out of the business in a year.  Employers and clients have less confidence that those who take only a written exam can apply the knowledge and perform the skills of a personal trainer.   Building out the infrastructure for this approach started 25 years ago for W.I.T.S.  Most certification groups have been around 35 or more years but for some reason have neglected this simple health occupational profession standard like EMT’s, therapists, nurses etc.

Finally, the last but equally important component of developing a qualified personal trainer is the ongoing continuing education activities and requirements.  It is not enough to achieve certification, but we must continue to develop and grow our knowledge and skills.  We believe this requires more than the “typical” social continuing education activities that involve little more than participating in an hour exercise class at a conference.   Where is the assessment tool to verify knowledge and or skills learned post the event?  Continuing education courses must also follow best-practices in their development and delivery.   To ensure we exceed the highest standard, W.I.T.S. is accredited by the International Association of Continuing Education and Training (IACET.)   The IACET/ANSI Standard follows strict guidelines in the design, delivery, evaluation, and assessment of continuing education courses, as well as the consistent calculation of CEUs.   Fitness professionals and employers can feel confident that if a course is offering IACET CEUs, they will enjoy a quality learning experience and definable assessment to prove they learned and mastered the necessary information to maintain a safe working relationship with the public at large.

It’s time to stop just talking about raising standards in our self regulated fitness industry.  The time for serious leadership and change has arrived.   Through quality educational programs, effective hands-on training, accredited practical and written certification exams, and rigorous continuing education courses, we can finally elevate the standards in the preparation and practice of personal trainers and gain the acceptance and respect from other healthcare occupations.

For more information, please contact Dr. Amy Hyams at ahyams@witseducation.com

Dr. Amy Hyams has over 25 years experience in continuing education and training. She earned her B.A. in Criminal Justice, her M.S. in Sport and Fitness Club Management, and her doctorate in Higher Education Administration. Amy currently serves as the V.P. of Educational Services for W.I.T.S.   In addition, Amy is a Commissioner for the International Association for Continuing Education and Training and an Assessor for the American National Standards Institute.