One of the ACSM’s top fitness trends of 2010 is personal training, fitness professionals, and working with a personal trainer.
While I really like the sound of that (being a personal trainer), I realize that it’s difficult for people to know the specifics about personal training. I hope to remedy that in this post.
This is a huge topic, and so, this post is large. If you get tired, take a break and come back. If you have specific questions, send me an email or leave a comment.
Before I get started on the specifics of personal training certifications, let me say this – Before you hire a personal trainer, or even contact one about training:
KNOW WHAT YOUR GOALS ARE AND HOW YOU WANT TO ACHIEVE THEM.
A personal trainer is a professional who has knowledge about the human body specific to the attainment of physical fitness goals. They cannot make you a certain way - only you can do that.
It may be that you have no specific goals. “I want to get in shape,” is a common goal trainers hear all the time. On the surface, it’s relatively meaningless. “In shape” can mean anything – barrel, pear, apple, Arnold, Bruce Lee, the Hulk, Linda Carter? But at least it’s a goal. From that basic goal, you can refine your goal as the process continues.
It may be that you have no idea how you want to achieve your goals right off the bat. Make them up. You’ll know what you gravitate toward/away-from. Some people like to play games. Some like to lift weights. Some like to jog. You know, deep down, what you like. Being up front about that with yourself and a trainer in advance will make the process work. Not being up front will ensure failure.
A personal trainer can help you to get to your goals without injury, with the best additional effects (e.g., “I want to lose weight” and you gain strength along the way), and in the shortest possible time.
First, personal training is not a nationally regulated industry. Know that. There are no regulations (amazingly) regarding the level of knowledge needed for a person to call themselves a personal trainer. So, unlike massage therapy, acupuncture, and other alternative medicine forms, or more traditional forms of therapy and medicine (MD, psychologist, psychiatrist, physical therapist, etc.), you have to be careful when choosing your trainer.
That is not to say that just because a person made up their own certification (for instance, if I said that I’m “Leeger Certified”) that they don’t have the requisite knowledge or skill to train you. They might be the best trainer in the world. But you’ll have to take their word for it.
Also, certifications can be purchased relatively easily. It takes more time and effort to pass the tests for more advanced certs, but they still can be done by people with only minimal knowledge/experience, given enough study time.
A certification, then, really represents two things – commitment to the profession of training (most certs are not cheap, and require continuing education and other credits to maintain), and affiliation with the school of thought represented by that particular certification.
Let’s talk about some of the certifications that are out there. I’ll really just go over the few that have been around a long time, and that seem to me to be the “best.” Again, each of these certifications represent a different approach, or school of thought, regarding exercise and the human body.
ACSM – CPT (Certified Personal Trainer)
The American College of Sports Medicine is the most “clinical” of the certifying organizations out there right now. Their trainer certification demands a relatively high level of knowledge. That being said, the ACSM-certified trainers I have met are rather “clinical” in their approach. They tend to use physical-therapy based exercises, cables/machines, and other toys more frequently than others might.
If you’re of that mindset, and/or you have some serious clinical issues, an ACSM trainer might be the best bet for you.
NASM – CPT
The National Academy of Sports Medicine was created by a couple of physical therapists. Their approach reflects that field, by using a lot of “functional” exercises, and emphasizing strict form and “balance” between muscular groups.
I am an NASM-certified trainer, and found that it was a really good way to start. It’s not as clinical as ACSM, but still approaches the body from a very “scientific” viewpoint.
If you like “functional” training, and want a trainer qualified to instruct you on good form for general conditioning, an NASM certified trainer is a good bet.
NSCA – CSCS
The National Sports Conditioning Association, and its certification – the CSCS (Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach) is generally recognized as the athletic strength-conditioning certification. NSCA’s cert also focuses on good form, but emphasizes the laws of biology/chemistry (or anatomy/physiology) from a much more practical (rather than clinical) perspective.
Seek out an NSCA-certified trainer if you’re interested in a more athletic-type strength conditioning approach (or, you really are an athlete).
The American College of Exercise’s trainer certification is probably the most common certification in the country today. ACE’s cert is literally designed for personal trainers. It’s meant to provide a good general level of knowledge and practical experience for people working with the average person.
While the above are the major personal trainer certifications out there today, there are some “niche” certifications that you may encounter. Most of these also require the person to be certified by one of the above organizations as a personal trainer. I’ll go through them here, so you have an idea of what you’re dealing with.
Paul Chek has created his own certification process. Chek was originally a massage therapist. He took a lot of ideas and cues from his sports background, his prodigious reading and studying, as well as his interactions with the physical therapists in the clinic he originally practiced in, and turned them into his own school.
That being said, Chek has no advanced exercise science degrees (or even undergraduate, that I know of). His system is based on his own view of the human body. While I really like a lot of Chek’s stuff, much of his approach relies heavily on a “cult-like” approach to exercise. Lots of dogma. You’ll find this in many of the niche certifications.
Since most Chek trainers have other certifications, what you’ll find in a Chek trainer is typically someone who is very “functional/therapeutic” oriented. If you have serious musculo-skeletal issues, a Chek trainer might be a good bet for you. Or, you could just go to a physical therapist.
There are about four kettlebell certifications out there right now that are “legitimate.” The RKC is Pavel Tsatsouline’s organization. This group promotes Pavel’s material across the board, emphasizing muscular tension, and explosive strength. The AKC is Valery Fedorenko’s organization, and promotes the “sport” of kettlebell lifting (the focus is on economy/efficiency of movement). Also, two long-time kettlebell users have broken off and begun their own certifications – Steve Maxwell and Steve Cotter.
The certs offered by the two Steve’s will be least “cultish.” The other two certs definitely have a somewhat antagonistic view toward one another, and are more “cultish” than those offered by Maxwell and Cotter.
Again, some (or many) kettlebell-certified instructors will have some other “personal training” certification. You can basically decide which kettlebell trainer to go to based on your level of personal connection with that person.
Crossfit offers its own certification, and I don’t think a personal trainer cert is required to get it. Crossfit has its own approach to exercise. This organization is extremely cult-like. The workout program is incredibly difficult. Members will often say they are seeking the goal of “rhabdomyolosis” – a clinical condition in which ones muscles eat themselves due to a metabolic dysfunction caused by extreme muscular overload (which can often lead to death).
To do Crossfit, you can either go to the Crossfit website and follow the “workout of the day,” or go to a Crossfit gym. Many of the affiliate Crossfit gyms will also offer other services, such as mixed martial arts, traditional personal training, etc.
Crossfit is a way of life. If that’s for you, go to it! It is not, however, necessarily about (your) health and fitness.
A fresh new upstart in the training community, EA offers a trainer cert as well. You do have to be a personal trainer, or have some sort of physical-health background to qualify for an EA trainer cert.
The EA cert is supplemental to an existing personal training certification, and means that the certified trainer appreciates the value of play in everyone’s life, and will use play principles in their client’s sessions, if not base the entire thing around games and play.
Here are some good questions for you to ask your prospective trainer:
What is your educational background (any exercise science?)?
What is (are) your certification(s)?
How long have you been training people?
Who were they?
Can I speak with one or two of them?
Where was that (what type of facility)?
How are you going to help me to get to my goals?
Most important is that they understand the fundamentals of how the body works, whether that’s through experience, booklearning, or both. You have to click with this person, which is equally as important. No chemistry = lame results.
What About the Price?!
Here’s where it gets tricky. Most personal trainers work in/for gyms. That means that the gym is taking a cut of their fee.
If the trainer works for a gym, the gym is taking roughly 70-80% of what they’re charging you. The trainer is getting the other 30-20%, before taxes.
If the trainer is working out of a studio, in your home, or meeting you in a park, their fee may be a little less, but consider the fact that they are (usually) their own sales, marketing, bookkeeping, admin, and janitorial departments. Oh yeah, and they’re the trainer, too.
Hence the high price of personal training.
Expect to pay anywhere from $60-$120/hr. for high quality personal training. There’s no real differential there – I’ve known very highly qualified and capable trainers who charge $60/hr., and very lowly qualified and incapable trainers who charge $120. Use your interview (above) to find out which one you’re talking to.
You can often save a bunch of money by training in small groups. Typically, trainers (and some corporate gyms) will offer small-group training (I’m talking 3-6 people here) that splits the cost of a single hour among participants. While you won’t be getting total 1-1 attention, you’ll still be better off than going it alone. Also, training in groups helps with motivation.
Alternately, you can offer barter/trade for services with a trainer. If you have a skilled trade, and are willing to make that deal, this can be a great way to go. Many personal trainers (or their clients) will eventually need the following – internet/web design folks, accountants, massage therapists, childcare specialists, dieticians/RD’s, and physical therapists.
Training isn’t cheap. Even at $60/hr., you’re making a big investment. That’s another great reason to have very specific goals.
Is that all, folks?
I hope this entry was helpful. Please contact me or comment on this post if you want more detail, or have questions about anything above.