Help build a successful career by carefully planning your continuing education courses.
The fitness industry has come a long way in terms of credibility and standards since the days of fuzzy leg warmers and terry cloth sweatbands. In fact, industry standards have risen so much in recent years that many companies will hire only those fitness professionals who have obtained their certifications from organizations approved by independent entities, such as the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). Certifying organizations who are accredited must comply with strict standards designed to assess professional competence and help ensure the health, welfare and safety of the public. Once certified, fitness professionals are expected to maintain these high standards by way of continuing education (CECs or CEUs).
Continuing education requirements are not simply an obligation. They provide trainers and instructors with the opportunity to take a professional, responsible approach to fostering the health and wellness of others. Yet, fitness pros often give little thought to their continuing education requirements and end up taking whatever courses are available at the last minute to keep their certifications up-to-date. By understanding and planning CEC requirements in advance (and narrowing your education focus to a specialization area), you will be able to use CEC-approved courses to establish yourself as an industry expert.
When you obtain your fitness certification from an approved organization, you are required to maintain a certain level of knowledge regarding industry principles and practices. These requirements are intended to help you improve your skills, basic learning and competency as a fitness professional. The number and type of continuing education requirements vary by organization, but generally speaking you need a minimum number of contact hours to maintain current certification status. Some organizations—such as the American Council on Exercise and the National Academy of Sports Medicine— require certificate holders to obtain 2.0 CECs every 2 years. Others, such as the National Exercise & Sports Trainers Association, require 4.0 CECs every 4 years to maintain certification. Usually, CECs are awarded at the rate of 0.1 credit per contact or study hour. With the ample time frames you have to earn your CECs, you can take a structured approach to obtaining them. Doing so can save you money, help you avoid any tendencies to procrastinate, and get you started on building your future as a specialist in the fitness industry.
Specialization is key, especially for personal trainers. Most trainers enter into the industry with little strategic planning to accompany their dream. They obtain a general certification in personal training or group fitness and then take a shotgun approach to obtaining CECs and attracting clients. Any person who walks in the door is considered a potential client, no matter what that person’s individual needs may be. On the surface, a trainer who can manage to pull people in by using this generic approach may seem like a success. However, in reality, this type of nonspecialized service sets the trainer up as a general-knowledge person who will be forever limited to charging low to midrange personal training fees.
Business-savvy fitness professionals take a more calculated approach to their careers. They find their particular client niches and set about educating themselves in those specialty areas. For example, many clients suffer from temporary or chronic injuries that adversely affect their fitness goals. A “generic” trainer may not know how to help such clients, and so the clients will quit training after a period of time. However, trainers who have taken several CEC courses related to injury/pain issues and who specialize in corrective exercise will not only be able to help the clients sort out their issues but will also receive referrals from these happy clients. In short, trainers who concentrate their educational requirements and services become sought-after professionals with a specific talent. As a result, they attract a specific clientele with specific needs who will pay higher fees because they know they are receiving the right help to meet their goals.
The amazing diversity of the fitness industry provides professionals with opportunities to specialize in almost any area. One way to determine your area is to seek out topics you have a personal interest in; for example, diabetes or a specific sport. Another way to decide is to look at your current skill set. If you have a lot of experience working with, say, able-bodied seniors, then you might want to purposefully capitalize on that expertise.
According to the 2008 IDEA Fitness Programs & Equipment Survey, several specialty areas in the fitness industry are currently booming. Youth training, small-group training, seniors’ training, bodyweight/resistance training, sport-specific training, mind-body programs like Pilates or yoga, functional training and corrective exercise are hot topics just now and would therefore be good areas to concentrate on.
Regardless of the topic, the three most important questions you should ask yourself when deciding on your specialty area are the following:
Apart from the benefit of being able to charge more money for your services and getting more referrals, specialization can help you in numerous other ways. A clearly defined specialty area allows you to create a successful strategy for generating business. Whether you are an independent contractor or work in a facility setting, knowing exactly who can benefit from your services enables you to save time and money and to focus on the people who need or want your services the most. Thus, the clients you attract are more likely to succeed because you know specifically how to help them reach their goals.
Furthermore, taking a strategic approach to fulfilling your CEC requirements can allow you to plan your education budget in advance. If you know what types of courses you want, you can reference them and compare prices. Many organizations offer their members discounts on courses, so you may be able to save a bit of money if your organization offers CEC options in your specialty area. Planning your requirements in advance will also enable you to save up money for big CEC opportunities like internships, conventions, workshops or conferences that offer numerous sessions in your specialty subject.
Specialization will help solidify your reputation as a credible professional. Whether your aspiration is to be the best instructor in your facility or the most sought-after trainer in the world, it is important to focus on a chosen specialty area and learn it inside and out. Your high level of expertise is what will differentiate you from other fitness professionals. What’s more, in our current economic climate, that may just be the difference between making and breaking your career! n