Kournikova on Biggest Loser: Is She Certified?

Have you heard? Tennis star Anna Kournikova will be replacing Jillian Michaels as a personal trainer in Season 12 of The Biggest Loser, a hit reality TV show on NBC.

Kournikova is expected to be a powerful motivator to Biggest Loser contestants, inspiring them to embrace the kind of drive that elevated her to elite-athlete status. But members of the fitness community are wondering: Is this former professional tennis player qualified to be a personal trainer?

The fitness industry requires personal trainers and fitness instructors to become certified and keep that certification current with continuing education. Certification is what sets fitness enthusiasts—people who are familiar with and enjoy exercise—apart from fitness professionals, who have undergone specialized education to teach fitness with safety and proficiency.

Despite the importance of certification, the general public may not think to ask trainers about these basic job requirements.

Certification is an objective way to ensure there’s a level of standardized competency and protection to the general public,” says Cedric Bryant, PhD, chief science officer at the American Council on Exercise (ACE), a nonprofit fitness certification, education and training association. “You can’t mistake being around training techniques and a training environment for being a skilled trainer.”

“Just because someone exercises regularly and understands how to train their body does not mean they understand fully how to efficiently, effectively and safely train other people,” says Sherri McMillan, MSc, a certified personal trainer, educator and owner of Northwest Personal Training, with studios in Vancouver, Washington, and Portland, Oregon. “They need to acquire a much broader perspective on various training techniques and modifications for a variety of people.”

So, Is Kournikova on the Ball?

As it turns out, Kournikova will bring both skill sets to The Biggest Loser ranch, where contestants work out with trainers to lose weight. In a May 25, 2011, release from Reuters, Kournikova is quoted as saying she’s a “certified trainer.” A representative for The Biggest Loser confirmed that Kournikova holds a certification from the International Sports Science Association (ISSA), a distance education institution and certifying agency. ISSA has verified this, stating that Kournikova was certified on December 23, 2010, and will remain current through December 23, 2012, at which time the credential will need to be renewed.

Kournikova’s new high-profile training position sheds light on the role that certifications play in the fitness industry for demonstrating core competencies. However, celebrity trainers shouldn’t be the only ones held to task on proving their qualifications. All fitness consumers have a right to know what certifications their trainers and instructors hold, and whether these certifications are kept current.

Surprisingly, 45% of fitness professionals claim to be currently certified when they are not. To help protect fitness consumers and promote credible fitness pros, IDEA created a free service called IDEA FitnessConnect (www.ideafit.com/fitnessconnect). It’s the largest directory of fitness professionals, connecting more than 16 million consumers to more than 200,000 fitness professionals with credentials verified by the top 23 fitness certification bodies.

“IDEA FitnessConnect was designed to separate the pros from the posers,” says Kathie Davis, co-founder and executive director of IDEA Health & Fitness Association. “Consumers can look at professional profiles, which include a standard set of qualification data, to help them make safe, informed decisions. It includes data such as certifications, college education, CPR status, specialties, ratings, reviews and club affiliations.”

Access IDEA FitnessConnect at www.ideafit.com/fitnessconnect.

Share Your Opinion

Come and share your opinion on The Biggest Loser and its impact on the fitness industry at the IDEA World Fitness Convention™. The executive producer and one of the star trainers of the show will discuss the issues in an open forum with two of the fitness industry’s elite trainers. Sure to be a topic of conversation will be the selection of Kournikova as the new trainer for season 12.


  • Who: Panelists include JD Roth, executive producer for The Biggest Loser; Brett Hoebel, personal trainer for The Biggest Loser; Jonathan Ross, 2010 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year; and Shannon Fable, a finalist for 2010 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year. Moderated by veteran fitness professional and journalist Amanda Vogel, MA.
  • What: Session 410: Weighing in on The Biggest Loser
  • When: Saturday, August 13, 4:00–5:50 PM
  • Where: IDEA World Fitness Convention™, Los Angeles Convention Center, LA Live (August 11–14), www.ideafit.com/conference/idea-world-fitness-convention-2011.

For detailed session descriptions, schedule and more information on the 2011 IDEA World Fitness Convention, see www.ideafit.com/conference/idea-world-fitness-convention-2011.

For the latest research, statistics, sample classes, and more, "Like" IDEA on Facebook here.

Amanda Vogel, MA

IDEA Author/Presenter
Amanda Vogel, MA, is a presenter, group exercise instructor and the owner of Active Voice, a writing... more less
July 2011

© 2011 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

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Article Comments

Shannon Stoughton
On Jul 05, 2011
"...with credentials verified by the top 23 fitness certification bodies." An unfair statement, I think- just because these organizations have agreed to partner with IDEA in verifying credentials doesn't mean they are the "top". One organization that has "street cred" is AFAA which apparently is not a verifying agency on your site and the agency Jillian Michaels has certification from. Is AFAA not a top certification agency in the industry, for which you need to pass a written and performance test as well as stay up-to-date in AED/CPR/First Aide training?

I really like the idea behind IDEA Fitness Connect; however, I do not like the favoritism the site has toward certain certifications over others...
Katie Santos
On Jul 05, 2011
Seems like the question of Certification either having or not having as well as by whom is being brought up not only by us as professionals but by clients as well. Yay for that! I do have to say that our industry does not "require" certification by any stretch. Many clubs list instructors as "certified" who are not leaving those of us who spend the time, money and sweat to be certified to pick up the pieces! We need to begin to have a better standard than what is currently available. Read our take on it: http://absolutecenter.wordpress.com/
Shannon Stoughton
On Jul 05, 2011
I really see the great value in IDEA and IDEA Fitness Connect and as an AFAA certified instructor it just kills me to see my profile listed as "Unknown, Not verified and now as Agency Unavailable," because I am certified and keep my credentials up-to-date which I feel is very important as a fitness professional! I have asked AFAA as well why they do not participate to no avail...
Patrick Marsh
On Jul 05, 2011
Does being certified mean that you can train? Does it let the consumer know what your actual training experience is? I'd have to bet that Anna has very limited experience APPLYING whatever knowledge she may have about training in the process of actually BEING a personal trainer. This move for the Biggest Loser is all about ratings and has nothing to do with putting a qualified, credentialed, personable trainer on the show. There isn't a serious trainer out there that I know who considers trainers like Jillian Michaels to be a GOOD personal trainer. Does anyone remember Cindy Crawford's first fitness video put out by the great Radu?
Mike Bannan
On Jul 06, 2011
Shannon, thanks for voicing your support of AFAA verifying certifications on IDEA FitnessConnect. I wish they would verify, too. Rest assured that we show no favoritism toward any certification or training on IDEA FitnessConnect. AFAA was one of the very first folks we called before our launch in August, 2010. We have about 50 agencies verifying credentials now, with only AFAA refusing. (We expect to be working with 130 US and Canadian agencies by the end of the year.)

I talk to executives at certification and training agencies every day. To be fair, their most common question is "what's the catch?" IDEA FitnessConnect is free (certification and training agencies don't pay anything either), so what's in it for IDEA? The answer: We want to raise the bar of professionalism in the industry; we want to increase the value of getting and maintaining certifications and specialty trainings. A big part of what IDEA does is help professionals do this. So we benefit. Certification and training agencies also benefit. Consumers benefit, too. And the professional integrity of the industry goes up.

To my great chagrin, the executives at AFAA don’t see it this way yet. I hold out hope that they’ll hear from enough of their certified professionals—and from other certification agencies—that we really are trying to do the right thing, and they’ll change their minds.

Thanks again for raising this issue, and for wanting to raise the bar for our industry.
Rhonda Johnson
On Jul 07, 2011
I'm in agreement with the others, I doubt that just because she is certified, how does she have any hands on experience!? I have been in the business a long time, and there are many a trainer that can memorize anatomy and such, and pass a test. But until that knowledge is utilized on different people, with different attitudes and expectations, and enviroments...etc, do you become a good trainer. Unfortunately, you either have it or you dont in my opinion. It takes a combination of education, experience, people skills, and how you present yourself and convey your knowledge to your clients. I believe when working with my trainers, that proof is in retention! If you are a "good trainer" your clients will keep coming! As far as "the Biggest Loser" it is so unrealistic I hate it, but I love that it has motivated boundless people to know that you just have to do it!! And it helps us in the industry because they usually reach out to get the help to start! Of course, I will be watching to see how Anna handles it...ready to judge!! lol
Barbara Saunders
On Jul 07, 2011
I have been certified continuously with ACSM since 1997. When I practiced in a health club, I was also certified with ACE and NASM. Education and experience are important, I agree. Being certified CAN indicate education and experience. However, let's be frank.

Rhonda Jackson points out that one can be certified but not experienced. One can also be experienced, educated, and qualified and not be certified. Where states have determined that specific formal recognition is required to protect public safety, they require a license. Your doctor, your psychotherapist, your attorney must hold one to practice legally. Some would argue that personal fitness trainers ought to be licensed, also. But there is no such requirement now.

It represents a conflict of interest for organizations that SELL certification programs to perpetuate the notion that uncertified people are necessarily unqualified. It also represents slightly dishonest self-interest for certified people to imply that uncertified people must be unqualified. It's MARKETING.

I worked hard to earn my certifications, and I find them useful for marketing. I enjoy the publications I get, and the community with other instructors. Someday I will probably decide that I no longer want to pay hundreds of dollars a year to participate in the questionable exercise of taking quizzes where an answer key is provided to me as a supposed test of my keeping up in the field. When that day comes, the expertise that is the fruit of my years of experience with hundreds of clients; the articles I read out of my own curiosity and interest in fitness and health; the courses I take; and my four-year degree from an elite university will remain in my possession.
Teresa Cobb
On Jul 07, 2011
There needs to be some sort of credentialing in our industry. I applaud IDEA and other organizations that strive to set standards in this industry. I am glad that the Biggest Loser trainer holds a certification. They all should-minimally. I think it's irresponsible for the media not to apply the highest standards to their endeavors when so many people are looking to the them (Biggest Loser trainers and others) as "experts" in their field. So many of my clients will ask me about the exercises they see on the show and ask: "Is that safe?" or "Are those the latest techniques in training?" etc. I think we all know it takes more than education to be a great trainer. People skills and the ability to motivate and apply your knowledge are high on the list of skills needed to be a great trainer.
Katrina Nebel
On Jul 07, 2011
She is just as qualified as Jillian who is backed by AFAA but is not certified by AFAA. Look at her credentials at the end of her articles a long list of TV shows. She is a good actress not a certified trainer. At least Anna is an athlete who has had formal training. Maybe she will be professional and not yell at the contestants.
Dwayne Wimmer
On Jul 07, 2011
I have owned a personal training business for over 20 years and have been in the fitness business for 25, I have interviewed 100's of potential trainers. I have to say that just because someone has a certification doesn't mean they have the qualifications to be a personal trainer. It means they passed a test. I have hired more people without certifications then with because I have found that they are willing to learn, and they understand their limitations. Most people who have come to me with the price of paper stating they paid $200 and regurgitated the answers they were supposed to, also come to me with a sense of entitlement that since they have this piece of paper they should be making big money and not have to put in time to build a following and reputation. I would rather take someone who has a genuine interest and teach them how to train then have someone come to me with the attitude I see from people who think just because they new the answers to a test they are now somehow a professional.
Michele Blake
On Jul 07, 2011
Attending over 30 certifications through ACE, AFAA and many other certification organizations, it would be better for all of us to research before posting certain information. Since there is no state or national law that requires certification organizations to be credentialed through ONE agency, each organization has a right to pick the one they want.

FYI: AFAA is credential through the U.S. Department of Education. As a school teacher, this was a great decision. This is the pathway of college certification and degree programs.

Don't forget, ACSM , ACE and AFAA are the first front runners for all other certifications (big small, fitness gyms-in-house) and teacher trainings. I'm happy to see all the creative ideas. Yes, there is 'good' and 'bad' things with every organization. Hey, you try running an organization on that level and let me know when you become perfect.

A certification does not make a GREAT INSTRUCTOR and/or TRAINER. It's the person with a great and positive attitude and character. It's the willingness for personal development to always enhance their theory and practical application to improve the quality of life for our clients.

Let's not 'player hate' Jillian Michaels. There is more to her background than what is public knowledge. My style of training is different from her but when I got a chance to see the OTHER side of her, I gave her more respect. It's easy to talk about someone who we don't really know 100%. Most of us will never reach the fame and fortune of Ms. Jillian. She is working with other professionals. Check out her three articles in the AFAA magazine.

Supporter of both AFAA and ACE along with ACSM, NSCA, NASM, Cooper Institute

Michele C. Blake, BS (Kinesiology), MAFP
AFAA/ACE Continuing Education Provider
AFAA Fitness Practitioner Director
AFAA Certification Consultant
CSUN- SAEP Dance Teacher
CAHPERD Dance Presenter
Brandi Hunter
On Jul 08, 2011
While I appreciate everyone's commentary, I find it interesting that many of you continually state your case about how certifications and credentials don't necessarily make a good trainer and that we shouldn't base someone's skills and qualifications based solely on that. However, you didn't hesitate to list your various accolades and credentials. THIS is precisely the point of this article. We list our credentials because it sets us apart from "casual fitness junkies" who choose to read Muscle and Fiction type publications for their information. If nothing else, credentials and certifying bodies show our commitment to the industry and increasing our knowledge base. I don't know about you, but I wouldn't get on US Airways if the pilot just read a lot of books about aviation, had a genuine interest in the subject, a bubbly "go-getter" personality, and was "trainable and modable". You probably wouldn't get on that plane either, because it's a life and death situation. Well, so is mine when I work with a post MI stage 1 cardiac rehab patient, for example.

I am in firm agreement that there should be a licensure program required, similar to that of Athletic Trainers, but with an actual licensure. For these programs you must hold a degree in the field of study before you can even sit for those exams, similar to programs spearheaded by ACSM and NSCA, with both written and practical application portions. I also believe there should be a minimum number of service time one should have to log, prior to training clients on a one-on-one basis.

I do agree that credentials don't necessarily determine one's competency or success rate of a trainer, but it certainly enhances the quality of care we give. Those of us who have not only read, but participated in research about the industry and its many theories, truly are seeking a more skilled, qualified, and true collective body of professional trainers. While certification doesn't guarantee a successful trainer, it does give a great base of knowledge (how in depth depends on which agency you go with).

What I find intersting too, is that no one has mentioned how many trainers work in various industries without even having liability insurance. This means if a trainer injures someone because they caused or played a part in causing an injury or accident, the trainer could be sued and held personally liable, with no protection. Professionals who are serious about the industry, know they must equip themselves in more ways than one.
Susan Tracey
On Jul 08, 2011
My only complaint about IDEA is they do not give people with a BA, BS or MS in Kinesiology, Exercise Science or Physical Education as much credit as a person with a ISSA or other one test online or weekend certification. The people who have these degrees have taken years to study exercise science, and all the components including hands on teaching classes. Personally I would trust an Exercise Science Major over any of the other certifications.
jenn Santana
On Jul 08, 2011
I am beyond disappointed that the Biggest Loser made such a poor decision to hire someone like Ana who has now been a trainer for what 6 months? There are so many talented, amazing, experienced trainers available in the industry who are better prepared to deal with the obesity issues on the show. What a joke. Yeah, lets hire some young blond with no experience to work with these people who truly need veterans in there. I smell danger and injury for this seasons show.
Amanda Vogel
On Jul 08, 2011
This article came to fruition because as soon as Anna was announced as the next Biggest Loser trainer many people in the fitness industry balked, saying she has no certification. But how did anyone know without doing the research?

So now we know. She's certified. The next response from the industry: Well, it might not mean anything because she has no previous experience. But how do we know?

She might not have previous experience - I hope someone asks this question to the executive producer of The Biggest Loser at the panel we're holding at World. Why was she hired? If no one asks it, I will. (And those of you with all these concerns, opinions and questions are coming to the Biggest Loser panel at World, right?) Let's address how we can make the most of the way fitness is currently being portrayed on TV.

We are fortunate that IDEA is at the forefront of providing actual researched info and also a forum for us to discuss a topic that clearly hits a nerve with a lot of fitness pros.

Thank you to Brandi Hunter for that first point you made about certifications. Makes complete sense.
Steve Bellesiles
On Jul 08, 2011
AFAA? LOL! IDEA and ACE are laughable too. Truth is Jillian made millions for herself and her handlers with no certs, no training, no knowledge and no skill. Knowledge or skill as a trainer has no relevance to the Biggest Loser show. The question of the new person's certs is totally meaningless.
Michele Blake
On Jul 08, 2011
Being certified doesn't make us qualified. It's just the first step in the process. As fitness owner, I look for certification plus years of theory and practical training. Some trainers are certified but act like they are certified and/or professional. Since I run my own plus, I require certification, degree, years of work experience, years of education and professional fitness resources. A trainer would at least have to a certification, education and experience for me to give recommendation.

For those with more education and experience, let's mentor the trainers and instructors with less. Don't forget, we used to be them and someone give us chance and helped us become more qualified.If notice professionals have the right mentors, they will improve. It's important for us to mentor the new generation of trainers and instructor. Let's offer help in a positive way to other trainers if we see risk for injury to a client. Complaint about the trainer doesn't have the client.

Thanks to all my Kinesiology professors (CSU, Northridge) and jobs in the 1980s for giving me a chance and inspiring me to always enhance my education and experience.

It's rewarding that I was and still able to mentor so many novice professionals on local, national and international level.

Susan Tracey,
I know you understand what I'm trying to say. You remember not just the science courses from earning our degrees but the other core classes of Motor Development, Motor Learning, Sociology, Psychology, as it applies to us being fitness professionals.

Selina Sahba
On Jul 09, 2011
6 months certification does not a trainer make.a nearly anorexic anna also does not set a good example for the contests,who are striving towards a healthy body & lifstyle.bad example,but good ratings.poor choice.i am very disapppinted to have her represent the community of fitness professionals...
Susan Tracey
On Jul 09, 2011
I thought there had to be a huge staff of Personal Trainers and Fitness experts in the credits. http://tv.yahoo.com/show/37103/castcrew - I was very wrong!
Clint McDowall
On Jul 09, 2011
You're not even asking the right questions!

Personal Trainer certifications are a joke. I've known too many incompetent trainers who were both college educated and certified to ever put any faith in any of the current popular certs. I've also known several people who were not certified but who had all of the technical knowledge and skills to have become great professional trainers if they had so chosen.

The first question I always ask is "does this person know what s/he's talking about?"

"Is he or she qualfied?" is a completely separate question from "is he or she certified?"
Andrea Voras
On Jul 11, 2011
Many of you who have posted comments are correct. The reality is that many certifications do not make you a good or best trainer. It is the years of experience and true commitment to yourself to be a better professional that leads you to success! I hold a BA in physical education. I have been practicing for 20 years and I am fortunate that I work in a hospital teaching cardiovascular and nutrition classes. I am surrounded by cardiologists, nurses, dietitians who keep me up to date. I also take many ceus on line or any other workshops that will improve my knowledge. It is also about hands on experience. I agree it is MARKETING. Let's not confuse professions, I will not get in the plane with a pilot who only read books. Pilots must go through hundred of hours flying....
IDEA FitnessConnect
On Jul 11, 2011
Hi Susan,

Thank you for your comment. We agree, college and University degrees are valid qualifications for fitness professionals. The challenge that we have is on the verification side with so many colleges and Universities and no consistent way to verify that someone actually holds the diploma they are claiming. So, we've included them on profiles so that professionals can share those qualifications with prospective clients, but we don't put them front and center because we have no way to verify the veracity of the claim.

Thank you,

IDEA FitnessConnect
Andrea Voras
On Jul 12, 2011
Hi Idea,

You have a valid point. I can share with you my experience with my diploma. Every time an organization asks me to present my diploma, I call my university, pay a small fee, and I have the university send my transcripts to the organization. In that way they receive it directly from the university.
Susan has an excellent point because for all of us who went to study 4 long and intense years (plus hundreds of CEUs) would like to be also recognized by other organizations, or Health clubs that require certifications only for a liability purpose.
Susan Tracey
On Jul 12, 2011
Thank you IDEA, Michele & Fabiana for your response. I would be more than willing to spend the money to have my degrees sent and a small fee to IDEA for the processing. I believe the extra cost would be worth it.

Another thought, maybe a spot on personal website for conventions/workshops attended. I have gained so much from the IDEA Personal Training Institute and from ACSM Seminars and AAHPERD Conventions.

To get back on track, I would think that Kournakova has had some excellent Personal Trainers as she competed and hopefully she retained some of their knowledge. Of course, training a professional athlete is very different from training an obese client.

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