Introducing the IDEA Career Guide

by Sandy Todd Webster on May 26, 2011

IDEA’s new career portal at provides a free one-stop resource for content, certification guidance and numerous practical tools for fitness professionals in all stages of career development.

When you started in the fitness industry, what would you have given to have access to a well-organized treasure trove of career advice prepared by experts? What about resources and tools developed with the feedback of experienced professionals? Would having access to the most comprehensive, clickable guide to certification and training organizations ever assembled in one place have made your decision-making process clearer? No doubt it would have significantly focused your career trajectory. You likely could have saved a lot of time and perhaps even prevented a few missteps along the way.

Fortunately, such a resource finally exists. For the past 3 years IDEA’s content and Web development teams have been researching and building what is arguably the most relevant and useful career center for the entire fitness industry, period. Whether you or someone you know is contemplating a path in fitness; whether you are newly certified and wondering what your next steps are; or whether you have been in the industry for a while but are looking for a new challenge or direction, the IDEA Career Guide offers you a wealth of content and tools.

“Having a mentor is essential to maturing as a polished professional,” says IDEA executive director Kathie Davis. “But in the absence of a mentor, the IDEA Career Guide provides numerous resources organized in one place that provide answers to essential questions about the industry and that help people in all stages of a fitness career to plan—or to change—their path. It’s the most logical cache of tools we could have built to help everyone in the industry grow professionally. We’ve been humbled by the amount of work it took to organize all of this information into a single, accessible resource, but we’re thrilled to deliver it for all to use!”

The Industry’s Most Dependable Career Content

IDEA polled authors, presenters and committee members about what they felt were essential components in an industry career guide. We sent questionnaires to pros in every specialty area, and they contributed their expertise to follow-up planning. As the content package took shape, we assigned articles to experts in each field. And we developed and built Web features on certification, specialty trainings, academics, salary and compensation, and other important components. The result is an indispensible free tool for everyone in the industry to use.

“I don’t know that this career guide would have made a difference in my early choices, but it would have definitely put me on a fast track to where I wanted to go,” says Amanda Vogel, MA, author, presenter and owner of Active Voice Writing Service in Vancouver, British Columbia. “There were fewer choices of what you could do in fitness when I entered the field. Had I known that there was opportunity to do so much more beyond that, [a Web resource like this] probably would have helped me to get to much more specialized areas faster than I did, as opposed to staying more general.”

Ken Baldwin, assistant professor and program coordinator for the department of sports and wellness at State University of New York, Plattsburgh, sees the IDEA Career Guide as an important layer of career exploration for students. “It will further the education we already provide,” he said. “This will be a nice additional pathway for them to study and get a feel for what things might be like professionally once they graduate. It will give them important information about certification programs, continuing education and other areas.”

Linda McHugh, national manager of group exercise programs at 24 Hour Fitness corporate headquarters in San Ramon, California, says that although many people still enter the field spurred by their passion for health and fitness—and not necessarily thinking about long-term career planning—it doesn’t mean they have to travel the path blindly.

“There wasn’t a lot of information about career path, or where to go or how to do it, when I was coming up through the industry. It was still emerging,” she recalls. “Even though we’re still a very young industry, we’ve evolved quite a bit. Now that all this information is available and a resource like this exists, we need to use the available tools to educate ourselves and the people we manage about building the best careers for ourselves. We need to make sure we are making good decisions and planning well, just like people do in any other established career path.”

Read on to find out how you can improve your career planning or help those you manage or mentor, as McHugh suggests.

A Broad Look at the Features
From the Career Guide home page (, site visitors will find pages divided logically into three main stages of career development: “Starting Your Career,” which is geared to students or those considering fitness as a career; “Working Professionals,” which is designed for newly certified professionals; and “Established Professionals,” which speaks to the needs of seasoned fitness pros and opens the doors wide to the myriad options and skill-leveraging opportunities for growth and prosperity. Users can simply choose the page that fits them best and plunge into a world of customized resources.

The home page and these three foundation pages offer specific subsets of features and articles designed for the needs of people in particular career stages. For example, if you select “Working Professionals,” you’ll find

  • articles specific to those who are newly certified and who aspire to a career in the industry;
  • step-by-step guides on all specialty areas in the industry;
  • a detailed and dynamic certification and specialty trainings guide, which reflects the most current DETC-, NBFE-, NCCA- or NFLA-approved certifications in the industry—including links to each certification’s profile page—plus an ever-growing list of specialty and certificate trainings for specific programming or equipment;
  • a list of hundreds of college/university degree programs (searchable by ZIP code, university/college name and other filters) around the country that offer physical education, exercise physiology, kinesiology and associated health and fitness curricula;
  • recent data on compensation, salary and benefits for all specialty areas in the industry
  • a glossary of industry terms and acronyms
  • IDEA Answers, a dynamic question-and-answer section that the community shepherds and grows through meaningful sharing of thoughts and ideas; and
  • a resources section with hundreds of additional career-building articles and helpful links.

Fitness professionals will realize the importance of plotting a specific academic path; they will also learn the essentials of continuing their education postcertification and how to strategically pursue CECs that will make them expert in a specialty. The content will guide them in how to find a mentor and how to get hands-on experience through an internship.

Note that the IDEA Career Guide is as much for industry veterans as it is for students and newly minted fitness professionals. As Vogel points out, even veterans have aspirations to diversify and specialize their skills, but they may not know which niche is exactly right for them without some research or peer feedback. “You might not necessarily know [a lot] about a different focus in the fitness industry that you might want to participate in or experiment with. You might know personal training really well, but you may not know group fitness very well. Or you might know how to work with postrehab clients, but not necessarily with pre- or post-natal. [This guide] allows even experienced professionals in the community to branch out and find information in an area they’re interested in.”

Full-Featured Certification and Training Organization Profiles

In addition to building career “road maps,” the career portal introduces a rich directory of certification and training organizations as well as academic options. The “Browse Certification/Training Groups” section, accessible from the top right of all main pages, provides research at your fingertips for the next certification or specialty training certificate you want to earn. Below it (on the Starting Your Career and Working Professionals pages) is another section called “University Programs,” which links to a growing list of university and college programs that focus specifically on health and fitness curricula.

In today’s time- and economy-sensitive world, a resource like this is essential, says New York City–based Lawrence Biscontini, MA, author, presenter and 2004 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year. “[Managers offering] great jobs only hire those with valid certifications,” he observes. “Professionals have to know which are the ‘valid’ ones so we don’t waste time and money.”

Seeing everything in one place—so you can sort through it systematically—is also helpful, Baldwin says. “There’s so much marketing from all the different groups that a person can get inundated or overwhelmed with all the options. As an educator, I have to keep up with all of it, sift through it and then be able to introduce it to students and give them the pros and cons on all their options. This resource will help provide baseline knowledge on a particular training or training program so [users] can weigh whether they want to go forward and learn more or pass on it.”

How Does It Work?
Let’s say you are already certified to teach group exercise, but you’d like to expand your skill set by getting a personal training certification. It’s hard to know which one is right for you—especially because your true love is sport conditioning, and you want to specialize as soon as possible.

Start by selecting “Personal Trainer Certifications & Training Groups” in the search bar. (You can search all certifications and training groups by 17 types of specialty areas as well as by health- and fitness-related college and university programs.) From there, a drop-down menu further details your options. Among these, you can select “Sports Conditioning Certifications and Organizations.” A list of such programs will appear for you to browse. You can also refine your search by filtering for alphabetical order, “highest rated” or “most reviews.” The power of the community plays into the latter two options, as people who have experience with that certification can vote and offer comments to help others decide.

McHugh likens it to Yelp®, saying, “If people are going in and adding their comments regarding a particular cert or training, it sounds as if it will certainly help [site visitors] to narrow and target a decision more quickly by relying on other people’s experience with that particular training or organization.”

You can also sort by accreditation (DETC, NBFE, NCCA or NFLA); by cost ($–$$$$ for exam and materials); and by whether or not the organization is a verification partner to IDEA FitnessConnect. You can repeat this procedure for any certification or training you’re considering. In addition, you will find details such as exam delivery method, whether a practical exam is required, prerequisites (if any), certification renewal period, and CECs/CEUs needed per renewal period.

If you already know you favor a certain organization (perhaps your base certification came from there) and want to see what it offers in the way of specialization, you can go straight to that organization’s profile page within the IDEA Career Guide and see everything the company offers—and what the community is saying about it—in one place. Each organization’s profile not only highlights basic information about the company and the type(s) of certification available; it also lists the organization’s upcoming trainings, classes and events, CECs/CEUs, exercise videos, blogs, testimonials, reviews and social networking links. Plus, there is an interactive aspect to the profile that allows you to ask questions specifically to and about that organization.

Each certification profile page is managed by that specific organization (not by IDEA).

Jan Schroeder, PhD, professor of fitness at California State University, Long Beach, thinks her students will benefit well from the array of certification and training organization profiles presented. “Many students think that the degree is good enough to start their career, but our industry requires the individual to continue learning. Fitness is a relatively new field, and our understanding of the body and how it responds to training is always being updated as new research comes to light. We have a responsibility to our clients to remain up-to-date. Understanding the different options for CECs/certifications is important. You need to stay on top of what is going to help you further your education in the area of your interest.”

Fellow educator Carla Sottovia, PhD, director of fitness and personal training education at Cooper Institute, Dallas, concurs, saying, “Many times when I teach our personal trainer certification courses, students look at me at the end of the training and say, ‘Okay. What’s next?’ They have never heard of a lot of the industry organizations out there—they don’t know anything about what’s out there beyond Cooper. Something like this that provides a clear-cut path and information source about certifications and trainings will be very helpful.”

Sottovia also points to the confusion that still exists among many regarding the differences between accredited versus nonaccredited certification, and regarding specialty certificates and trainings; she hopes the IDEA Career Guide will help clean the fog off the lens. “If a person doesn’t have an exercise science degree, they have no background in fitness. They at least need a certification to start with. Then they can follow up with advanced certificates as they move down their specialized path and become an expert in a certain field within fitness,” she said. “Today there are so many certifications out there, and many people still don’t understand the differences. The newer trainers I work with get confused by the number and types of certifications they need. If they can start with an idea of what arena and population they want to work with, it makes it easier to select which certification is right for their career path.”

As a professor, Schroeder is always looking for information and resources for her students to explore on their own time. “This career portal is a great tool to stimulate conversations about our industry. The site has everything students—or even veteran fitness professionals—would need to find out about careers in the fitness industry. After reviewing the site, they can all ask more informed and in-depth questions, as they will have gained a better understanding of what a fitness career has the potential to be.”

Let the conversation begin!


Career Issues

IDEA Fitness Journal, Volume 8, Issue 6

Find the Perfect Job

More jobs, more applicants and more visits than any other fitness industry job board.

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

About the Author

Sandy Todd Webster

Sandy Todd Webster IDEA Author/Presenter

Sandy Todd Webster is the editor in chief of the award-winning IDEA Fitness Journal. She is ecstatic to see this content development labor of love finally arrive in the fitness world.