Why did you decide to pursue a master's degree? How did you manage both going to school and working?

Jun 01, 2004

Tricks of the Trade

Should I get a master’s degree? I strongly debated this question at the time with friends, colleagues and members of my advisory board. I had already developed a good personal training client base and was happy with how other areas of the business were going. Through my conversations with my board members and others, I looked at my long-term goals of writing textbooks, lecturing, teaching and making the occupation of personal training more professional.

I realized that to be recognized as a professional I would need to get a master’s degree.

During my master’s program, I reduced my workload of personal training clients to accommodate my classes. I still averaged 15 personal training sessions per week and managed the overall operations of the company. One of my key employees, Susan O’Grady, took over the hiring and education of new employees, as well as some other management duties. She was very supportive of my choice to go back to school, and I would not have been able to go in this direction without her.

I firmly believe that my degree has opened up more professional opportunities. I have been able to present and lecture nationally/internationally and been given the opportunity to develop, coordinate and teach the San Diego State University Professional Certificate in Personal Fitness Training. I am also the assistant director at Purdue University’s fitness/ research area and am pursuing my doctorate.

My long-term goals have not shifted, but I have defined them more by focusing on the development of education and standards for personal trainers through collaborative efforts with professional organizations and colleges and universities around the country.

Ken Baldwin, MEd

Assistant Director, Department

of Health and Kinesiology

Purdue University

West Lafayette, Indiana

I decided to get a master’s degree because I was considering a career in medicine and thought a master’s would help my chances of getting into a good medical school in Canada. I received my master’s degree from the University of Toronto and did my thesis research at, and for, the Department of National Defense.

During my master’s work, I saw clients from 6:00 to 8:00 am, went to school from 10:00 am to 3:30 pm, saw clients from 4:00 to 8:00 pm and trained myself at 8:30 pm. Every third weekend I traveled as a spokesperson for a large company and presented at conferences and trade shows. I almost had a nervous breakdown!

Why did I ultimately decide not to go to med school? I love training. I can wear whatever I want, work whenever I want, choose who I work with and learn all the aspects of fitness rather than just focusing on one specific part of medicine. I have two offices in Toronto, one in Los Angeles (where I am most of the time) and a mobile gym in Vancouver. My business caters to the film industry, and we specialize in getting actors in top shape for film and TV projects.

Harley Pasternak, MSc

IDEA Master Personal Fitness Trainer

President and Owner, Bodiworx

Health & Fitness Inc.

Los Angeles, Toronto and Vancouver

I received my bachelor’s degree in exercise physiology from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1990. At this point it wasn’t clear where exercise physiology was headed. I had tried to find a position in a nearby hospital’s cardiac rehab department, but, at the time, this was still a position only for RNs. Then I searched for a position in exercise and ended up as a personal trainer in the summer of 1990 at Sports Connection in Costa Mesa, California.

At this time the field of personal training was very young. However, as I worked more closely with program design and implementation I was fascinated by the capability of the human machine. I wanted a more in-depth understanding of how and why the body works the way it does.

I entered my master’s program in 1992 and continued to conduct about 20–24 training sessions per week. I attended school part-time and took classes in the evening. On weekends I did my research. In 1994 I had to take a year off due to a serious injury. This break only made my studies more important. I realized that if I could not depend on my body, I wanted to further my knowledge about the workings of the human machine in order to share that knowledge with more people, whether as a trainer or a teacher. With diligent rehab and the use of a personal trainer, I discovered that the body truly wants to work the way it is supposed to. Having a more in-depth understanding of the body helped me fully recover, and I could better share information with clients and trainers.

The personal training industry was taking off around this time. When I was about to complete my degree in 1998, I considered the possibility of teaching at a university. However, during my oral exams a professor asked what I was thinking of doing next. When I told him what I did currently and how much I made, he said, “Wow, that’s about what we make.” At that point I realized that personal training was becoming a viable career. I had worked for myself for over 7 years and wanted to pursue more opportunities in training.

My business continued to flourish to a $100,000 career, at which point I decided to open my own facility (with a partner). Pursuing my master’s degree and staying current with continuing education keeps my passion alive and has helped me retain clients for 10 to 14 years.

Katherine Coltrin, MS, CSCS

President, Back Bay Fitness Inc.

Costa Mesa, California

I decided to pursue my master’s degree in exercise physiology because, at the time, I was working as an independent fitness instructor. Knowing I wanted to continue with a career in fitness, I realized I would need more knowledge and experience (other than teaching fitness classes) in order to work in a variety of settings. While I was not certain where I would apply my education, I knew an advanced degree would open far more doors and give me the academic grounding and credentials I could leverage for years to come.

I continued to work as a part-time fitness instructor while in graduate school. Much of my time was spent in the exercise physiology lab getting practical experience, as well as in the library doing research and writing papers.

When I graduated with my master’s from the University of Southern California in 1986, employment opportunities centered on corporate fitness, cardiac rehabilitation or research-related positions. At the time, I had no intention of becoming a personal trainer; the industry was not as defined as it is today. My first job out of graduate school was program director for the Pritikin program. I managed the program’s nutrition, exercise and medical aspects.

Since then I have enjoyed a variety of employment opportunities. For example I owned and operated a fitness consulting business, conducting fitness testing, cholesterol testing, lectures and seminars in many corporate and civic settings. My most recent position as an employee was as a clinical exercise physiologist for the Pasadena Rehabilitation Institute. I gained valuable clinical experience working with physical therapists, physicians and psychologists in an outpatient rehabilitation setting. However, my years as an independent contractor made me long for a position with a flexible schedule.

After taking a few years off, I re- entered the workforce to find that the personal training industry had grown significantly. Fortunately, I found a position where I can use my knowledge and expertise with my client base while maintaining a flexible work schedule.

Melissa H. Wogahn, MA, CSCS

Personally Fit of Rancho Sante Fe

Rancho Santa Fe, California

I knew early on that I wanted to get my master’s. My theory was that the fitness industry was quickly evolving to a point wherein an advanced degree would be a requirement to advance in your career. I also wanted to gain as much knowledge in exercise physiology as possible and I thought the master’s could give me that opportunity. I knew that I wanted to work with a variety of clients, from athletes to those with chronic diseases, so I wanted to learn as much as possible about these populations under professional guidance.

During my master’s work, I scheduled work around school. I went straight from undergraduate to graduate school without a break. I was also fortunate enough to get a graduate assistantship, which paid for school and helped me gain experience teaching groups and testing individuals while I still trained.

Chad Odaffer, MS, CSCS

Personal Trainer/Strength and

Conditioning Coach, National

Institute for Fitness and Sport

Indianapolis, Indiana

Topics

Career Issues

IDEA Fitness Journal, Volume 1, Issue 1

© 2004 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.