Personal Training Certification is NOT a Scam

Lucy_certified2I don’t normally vent online, but okay, for this topic, I’ll make an exception. I came across an article titled…”Certification is a Scam”. That’s what ‘they’ said. Who are ‘they’ you ask?? Let’s face it, usually, ‘they’ are people with some kind of an agenda or something to sell. In the case of personal trainer certification (which was the basis of the article that I read) I believe that ‘they’ are people who don’t think that the average consumer is responsible enough to educate themselves and make wise choices. Okay, maybe that’s harsh, but true. Unfortunately, in my view, the new social norm is a bunch of hand holding entitlement where everyone wins a trophy. Okay, maybe that’s even more harsh…but this is my personal opinion, I’m going with it. IMO, if you’re going to win a trophy, you better earn a trophy! So how does this circle back around to personal training? Well, as a potential client, if you’re going to ‘win’ a great trainer, then you should do your homework. ‘Interview’ your potential trainer, don’t commit until you know that they’re the trainer for you…and, for some icing on this cake, a savvy client should at least know that certification for personal trainers exists. There is a consumer responsibility in everything we purchase, why not training services? A lot of clients don’t even know that a trainer should be certified. And, on the flip side, as a trainer, you should educate your clients and potential clients on this subject. If you’re going to ‘win’ a successful personal training career, then be prepared to go beyond what the client assumes or expects…teach them. And also be prepared yourself to learn a thing or two along the way. We can live and learn, or we can research and learn.

First Things First…Getting Certified.

Certification is nothing new. People like to ‘dog’ on certification, or, better yet, get their cat certified to prove some crazy point (this was a story that happened about 8 years ago. Note that it was not under NFPT’s watch, we certify people not pets. This scam was perpetrated by someone who wanted to write a story about it, so they went out of their way to defraud a certification company). Come on, really?? I could enroll my dog (I don’t have a cat) to an online technical college if I was really committed to the scam. This doesn’t do it for me. And I doubt, after I get my dog certified as an Automotive Technician, that anyone will hire her. Just sayin. We could all pretend to be something we’re not if we really try hard enough. My point: certification isn’t the be-all end-all to life as a trainer, especially a successful life as a trainer – but it’s the start. Just like getting your Automotive Technician certification doesn’t mean you’re going to be the best darn mechanic in town and everyone’s going to be thrilled with your work. That proof is in the pudding. But if you want to be a mechanic, you have to start somewhere, so you get certified. And, as a consumer of mechanical services to my own personal vehicle, I’m going to ask around for recommendations, I might even look at my mechanic’s track record and I’m going to at least go in to that relationship with a good feeling that my mechanic knows what he’s doing…if not I could be in a world of hurt. But the risk that I took when I brought my car into the shop is partially mine. On the other side of that, if my car stalls out on the highway (and I live to tell about it), well then I’m going to make sure that my now ex-mechanic doesn’t work on any other car of anybody that I know…and I’m probably going to spend some time reporting, and poorly reviewing, him too.

Certification for validating the skill of the individual, where it pertains to job applicable knowledge, is nothing new – it’s just not the whole picture. The concept of certification has been around for a very, very long time. There are many types of certification across hundreds of different industries, it’s a pretty standard concept for establishing a baseline. Here’s why I say ‘Certification is NOT a scam’:

We All Start Somewhere.
Health-Club-Staff_Cert-Section_Intro_RFEditsEvery expert was once a beginner. You start with a desire for something, a strong passion to be better at something, to know more and grow in it – and then you have to take the first step. Certification is the first big step to getting serious. But to think that certification alone makes you an expert is just not true. The ‘certification is a scam’ argument works off the assumption that people equate certification with expert, and maybe that’s where the bigger problem lies. Maybe the focus should be on making clear what certification does do, instead of everything that it doesn’t. Certification offers a baseline, a foothold, a pre-qualifier to greatness (if you will), but it’s all up to the person getting certified to take it to the next level. Becoming an expert in anything (or even just ‘good’ at anything) takes experience, practice and continual education. To be certified opens the door, but you still have the whole house to walk through.

Certification Establishes a Baseline.

There has to be a baseline for just about everything, how else would we discern between two people that say they’re good at something? If it weren’t for certification, then what would be the baseline – a degree or a license perhaps? In my opinion, that may be a very good solution, for the aspiring expert, but what about the guy or gal just getting started? Should the enthusiast turned trainer have to spend a small fortune (or large fortune, depending on who has their hands in it) and wait to become an expert before they’re allowed to motivate me to work out? Since when is personal training rocket science?! Sure, it can be if you’re working towards expert level greatness and wanting to work in a medical facility, for example – but I think they call those Physical Therapists. For the trainer who is working hard to get their client great results, in their local gym or in their private studio, it’s not rocket science. Science constitutes about half of it, the other half is the person themselves. There are a lot of qualities that make a trainer great, like being a great motivator, an effective communicator, a person who cares about what they put into their body and how they train it, a person who leads by example, in and out of the gym – that’s at least half the job.

The Paper Isn’t the Person.

When you get certified, you get a certificate. This certificate tells people that you have passed a test. Plain and simple enough. Whether it be a degree or a license, you have to pass tests – to varying degrees of difficulty and quantity but, still, tests. My degree hangs on my wall, I got it in 2001 from a top-ranking business school, but, I’ll admit, I can’t remember too much about what I learned in my advanced math or brain wracking stat courses – it’s gone, poof. But what I can tell you is what I’ve learned in my business, at my job, in my industry and among my peers – because practice makes perfect (now don’t get me wrong, I’m nowhere near perfect, I just like the adage. It gets the message across). The time I spent in college was invaluable, I’ve never questioned that, but it doesn’t make me, me. If I left my position with NFPT and pursued another, my degree would get me an interview, but it wouldn’t get me the job. The paper isn’t the person.

So it’s time for me to get off of my soap box and bring it home. Reputable certifiers are not running a scam. Notice the qualifier. In every industry, ours being no exception, there are continuous improvements which should be made, no doubt about that. From our individual selves to companies to industries, we all need continual improvement and accountability. Standard setting is a good thing. With that, please note that my thoughts on the subject of ‘certification is NOT a scam’ does not reach so far out there that I mean every Tom, Dick and Harry who slaps the word ‘Certified’ on something makes it legit – not true. Insert sentiments on being a careful consumer here. I say again, standard setting of Certification Companies is a good thing. Solve the problem from the source, not after the outcome. Unfortunately, the challenge with standard setting of personal trainer certification companies is who gets to call them ‘worthy’ of being reputable? A bigger subject, for another time.

Certification is not a scam. It’s the people who prey on the misunderstanding or heedlessness of others who are scammers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

About the Author:

Angie Pattengale has been with the National Federation of Professional Trainers, NFPT, since 1994. Currently, she serves in the capacity of Certification Director. Angie received her professional degree from Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management in 2002, and now she oversees the coordination of NFPT’s certification related activities. Angie manages efforts to assure legal defensibility of test development and delivery, as well as coordinates and maintains NFPT Certification functions related to industry accreditation and best practice standards. Angie also serves the NFPT organization and its members by maintaining accessible certification processes and recertification requirements while promoting NFPT certified trainers for their skills, hard work and dedication to the fitness profession which betters people's lives, every day.