Fitness Certifications: A Closer Look

By: Matt Weik
IML Blog

What Fitness Trainer Certification Do You Need?

I have a feeling this article may ruffle some feathers, but the facts are the facts. I’ve been a certified personal trainer, strength and conditioning specialist, and sports nutritionist for many years. Guess how many of my clients have asked me who I’m certified through?  The answer is zero.  I will say, however, that many people have asked for my credentials.  They wanted to know if I have a degree in the field (which most don’t—and I in fact do) and if I’m certified.  That was the extent of it.  No one even asked for proof that I’m indeed certified or in good standing with my instructor certifications.  So, I’m a little jaded when people ask me, “what fitness certification should I get?”  I’m not even sure there’s a right or wrong answer, honestly.

Have You Tried MuscleGelz?

This brings up another question as to whether you should even be certified? While automatically I say yes, I often wonder if that piece of paper and the letters after your name are really worth anything these days? And I’ll be totally honest, I’ll put my four-year kinesiology degree up against any certification out there—I don’t care whose it is.  These certifications can’t hold a candle to what is covered in a four-year degree in kinesiology.

Does who you’re certified through really matter?

You could be certified through, ISSA, ACE, ACSM, NASM, AFPA, AMFPT, NSCA, ISSN or whoever and in my opinion the only thing that could hold you back from getting a job is if a certain gym only wants to hire trainers with a specific certification. Maybe one gym only hires trainers who are NSCA or ACSM certified yet you’re certified through another great organization such as ACE.  That would be a limiting factor on whether you get hired or not.  But, the fact of the matter is, if you have a fitness instructor certification you can train clients.  And an extremely high percentage of those clients won’t even know the difference between all of those certifications anyway.

So, this all begs the question – in the grand scheme of things does it matter who you’re certified through? Yes and No.  If you want to work somewhere specific that requires a certain certification, then go ahead and get certified through them if that’s the gym or location you want to work at.  Otherwise, pick a certification that you are well educated on and feel would be the best fit for you.

Regardless of who you got the fitness certification through, the key thing is to ensure you are constantly educating yourself on new techniques and staying up to date on what’s trending in the industry. People are going to learn about and hear different training techniques, so it’s good to be well-rounded.  Your main focus should be on being the best at what you do to ensure your clients achieve their goals through your programs and protocol. Knowledge is power and if you don’t keep up with the times and your clients aren’t hitting their goals, they’re bound to leave you for another trainer. Never stop learning and improving your skill-set.  Try to attend as many conferences and workshops that you can in order to learn something new.  It doesn’t mean you NEED to apply it to your training style, but just looking at things differently or learning new techniques could help you think more creatively about the things you are currently doing and could tweak them a little in order to make them better.

Fitness Instructor Certifications Can Help in Ways that Go Beyond Training Clients!

I’ve learned first-hand that my certifications are actually worth their weight in gold—only outside of the personal training side of the business. Some of you might know that I worked for one of the largest supplement manufacturers in the world for about a decade.  During that time, I held the positions of regional sales all the way up to running my own division within the company where I oversaw the day to day operations on a national level and held many titles and responsibilities in doing so.  One thing stayed true the entire time—my certifications got me business and helped me move forward in my career.

When you are in sales, people generally only see you as a “salesman”. That term isn’t always a good one—thanks to long standing perceptions of used car salesmen.  When people hear the term “salesman” they often think they are going to be begged and pleaded to purchase a product from someone who more times than not, has no true idea what they are selling. This becomes very frustrating and uncomfortable for the consumer.  However, when people found out I was a trainer, strength coach, and sports nutritionist, what I said held a little more weight.  I wasn’t some bum coming in off the street trying to just sell something.  I knew what these people needed because their clients are essentially the same as my clients.

How many people do you see out selling gym equipment, supplements, or anything related to health, fitness, and wellness that are certified? Probably none, right?  And that’s what gave me an edge over my competition.  When I was working with (and I still am) professional teams and athletes, their dietitians and strength coaches appreciated me more than the competitors they were working with at the time simply because I wasn’t a normal “salesman” (I was one of “them” as if I was part of their inner circle).  This eventually gave me the book of business.  When I worked with this supplement company as well as some of the brands I broker for now, I’m going up against people like Gatorade who have more money than they know what to do with.  But one thing has stayed consistent regardless of how much money they had—I continually stole and chipped away at their business because of my certifications and who I was in the fitness industry.  The people calling on these professional teams are simply salesmen who pick up the phone and dial, begging for orders.  They don’t truly live for what they do.  It’s a paycheck to them.  That is what differentiated me from everyone else I was up against because I was passionate and they knew I lived it and breathed it every day.

That’s something else you should think about as well. What’s your long-term strategy? Are you getting a certification because you want to be a trainer your entire life?  Or is this just the tip of the iceberg?  Look at the location you plan on training in and if your salary is going to be enough for you to live off of.  And I’m not saying that because trainers don’t get paid good money, some of them absolutely do.  But, depending on the area you work, it could be dismal to the point where you can’t get enough clients to actually pay the bills, or on the flip side, it could be so oversaturated that you need to be one of the best around in order to get clients. Look at the demographics and let them help you decide your plan of action.  Maybe you are looking to be a personal trainer on the side to bring in extra money—that’s perfect, good for you.  Maybe you’re training until something more lucrative comes along or until you have enough money to start your own business. There’s a lot you can do with your certification.

Fitness Certifications for Instructors and Trainers

Think long-term with your certifications and how else they can help you, your business, or the company you work for. Your company might even be willing to pay for your certifications if it helps grow their business and brand.  So, don’t think that these certifications are ONLY for personal trainers or the like.  These types of certifications can go a long way in helping you in your career.  Do your homework on each certification and decide for yourself which one you want to be a part of.  From there, the sky’s the limit on your potential growth in the industry and beyond.

Be sure to visit the Training Blog for some useful insight.