Achieving an accredited certification in the health and fitness industry is a big deal; one that deserves fanfare and ample celebration. However, the achievement of the certification is the starting point – not the ending point. Therefore, continuing education is one of the most critical elements to not only maintain your certified status but to remain relevant and current in your field. Finding out how and when to keep up with your CECs is critical to maintaining your certification, and also your business.
First things First
One question I am frequently asked by new professionals and students is, “How do I go about staying on top of my continuing education and when do I start?”. The answer I give is, “Right away!” This does not mean jumping right into taking a lengthy course or reading a journal cover to cover and taking all available quizzes. It means to begin right away planning how you will coordinate your education efforts and balance them with the work you intend to do.
Upon becoming certified through any organization, you will be given a certified status, likely a laminated card, and a certificate to display. You will also begin receiving industry-related newsletters and a communication from your organization telling you how many education credits you need by a certain date. Recertification windows vary from one year to three to five-year cycles depending on the company/organization.
(*NFPT’s certification requires yearly renewal, however CECs to do so are provided for free through our organization, and not necessary to accumulate until after year one of your certification). This is important information as you will learn how much time (in hours or categories of education) you need to invest to obtain recertified status.
First, research and note the following:
- How long the recertification cycle is
- How many credits are required in that timeframe
- How a credit is defined – is it contact hours, is it types of events, etc.
- How to submit continuing education credits or units (especially if you take a class outside of your primary organization)
- If CPR/AED certification is required to maintain certified status. If this is the case, you will need to plan to renew this if it expires before your certification in the fitness industry does.
Once you have these details outlined, it will make it easier for you to plan how you will achieve those credits.
Where to Start Seeking CECs
When it comes to seeking out continuing education, start within your organization to see what options are available. This might include webinars, mini-workshops or live classes, writing or publication opportunities, journal quizzes, or other home study courses. Many CE options are available for free through NFPT. I recommend choosing a variety of styles and classes as each one offers a different perspective and some offer unique networking opportunities (which is important in our line of work).
Next, evaluate what other accredited organizations offer and if you can obtain credit at your certifying agency. Sometimes, you must appeal a credit submission. This sounds scary, but it’s simple. Often, webinars or classes or quizzes have pre-approved continuing education for a wide variety of certifying agencies. All you would need to do is ask your certifying agency if a course you are planning to take can be counted toward your education. If not, you may want to seek out another opportunity.
A third option is to look at continuing education outside of specific agencies in terms of classes, webinars, or quizzes. Conferences offer a bundle of units for you to capitalize on. It can be cost-prohibitive to travel yearly to multiple conferences, so plan accordingly and make sure these costs are included as part of your business budget. You could even consider teaching a class or taking a class from an accredited institution. Be sure to check with your certifying agency if you have questions or if it is not obvious that those credits could count toward your certification renewal.
Map it Out
Just as you devote regular time to business tasks, carve out time for learning. One model (there are many) that I like to follow is a quarterly plan. My certification renewal cycle is two years. After renewing, I start planning out what topics I want to learn more about, and I break that up into quarterly chunks over the next two years. Here’s what that could look like for a single quarter.
Depending on how detailed you wish to make your plan, you can include links to the courses, websites of the providers, and a “due by” date. This will vary greatly between professionals and, most likely, from year to year depending on your client list and additional responsibilities.
|Topic/Subject/Specialty Cert||Type of Activity Available||# of Credits Awarded||Quarter & Cost|
|Addressing Weight Bias in the Industry||Webinar||.1 CECs||Q1 ($20)|
|Programming for Strength||Online Course||.7 CECs||Q1 ($150)|
|Group Coaching||Webinar||.1 CECs||Q1 ($20)|
When I have an idea of how I will move forward with what topics I want to tackle, I will set aside time in my Outlook calendar to commit to learning. One misstep I see new professionals make is to put education on the back burner and set a good intention of “I’ll get to it at X time” and then something inevitably usurps that time. The second error I see is waiting until the last quarter or month before the recertification is due and then it’s a mad rush to get enough credits or – eek – have to renew that CPR/AED certification.
Continuing education is not about taking random courses or quizzes to fulfill a requirement or check a box. The purpose is to help you continue to sharpen your skills in the industry and allow you multiple avenues through which to learn and grow as a professional. If you have not thought about a continuing education map, give it some consideration and see if this approach can aid you in being more productive and committed to staying abreast of the ever-changing landscape of the industry.