Around 20 years ago I voiced this very same opinion to a company that now is a staple of the industry. Back then I was a master instructor in the very early days, actually the launch, of the Spinning certification program. Many of the folks wanting to get certified had never taught a group class, nor had any certification for PT or GFI but were great cyclists or already Spinning enthusiasts. I was really beside myself, worrying that people taking classes from instructors with practically no working knowledge of anatomy, physiology or kinesiology would get hurt. It really troubled me since I think group fitness classes can be more challenging to teach than private sessions where a client can easily communicate their discomfort one on one. I’ve seen students practically pass out, sustain bad injuries and have other emergencies – sometimes it was the students’ fault for not listening to their bodies, other times it was the instructors fault for poor / no cuing and pushing students beyond realistic limits. Eventually that changed of course and people going through the certification must have an initial certification first.
I agree with AFAA’s post and see that with many of the “branded” workouts. I think instructors and trainers should have a base certification (or related degree) before taking any of the “specialty” or branded certs because you never know when you’re going to need to step out of the box and draw on broader knowledge.
The only time a soft certification is OK in my book is if it’s secondary to your real [not soft] certification! If a person is silly enough to hire a trainer with a soft certification, they will get soft results! I am an AFAA certified personal trainer with a high retention rate. When I train I explain. My clients love it!
As mentioned in a previous post, AFAA defines a “soft” certification as one without checks and balances such as an accredited exam and ongoing continuing education requirements. As you may recall, we listed the following criteria that we use to differentiate between a soft certification and an actual accredited certification:
1. Is the certification accredited?
2. Is the educational curriculum accredited?
3. Are there prerequisites?
4. Is there a monitored practical exam?
5. Is there a monitored written exam?
6. Does the certification expire?
7. Is continuing education required to maintain the certification?
When using these criteria as a tool to evaluate the rigor of a certification program, consider the amount of responses that elicit a “no.” The more “no’s” you get, the “softer” the certification.
As an accredited personal trainer and group fitness instructor who has a lot of “soft certifications” under my belt I see both sides to this argument. I hold multiple “soft certifications” because I love to learn. I love attending workshops and meeting other fitness driven people. I have learned more about the industry from these workshops than I have from my NCCA accredited exams. Now did I learn more about the basic fundamentals needed to understand how and why we as trainers do what we do in terms of anatomy, body movement etc. Sure didn’t.
But to my main point that I got from this blog. In it AFAA stated “will employers easily be able to fully identify the differences between these soft certifications and actual accredited certifications?” – – – As the hiring manager at my facility it is the first thing I look at. If someone comes in with a specialty certification in which their certification states “Certification of Completion” vs an actual certification – should I hire them? Well if they hold an NCCA accredited PT certification and a KB “soft” certification of completion and are applying for a PT job than why not? If I am hiring a kettlebell specific group fitness instructor and that certificate of completion tells me they spent maybe 2 hours getting it maybe not. Then it may be time to look for a more accredited certification.
I like to think that the people in position of hiring trainers and instructors do their research and know the difference. My list of soft certifications is what sets me apart from other trainers. My soft certifications show (to me) that I am willing to constantly learn and better myself, to travel across the country and pay out of my own pocket to train and learn from some of the top professionals in the world. It should show that I take my continuing education seriously. I know trainers who rather than do any continuing education courses they simply retest in 2 years with their NCCA accredited organization.
Is there a right or wrong here? Does any type of education make any one trainer a better trainer. No. But we live in a country that really has no set regulations for our industry. It is essentially in the hands of those who do the hiring.
I have to agree with a lot of the other posts, as well as some of the comments in your blog.
I started out in this industry with a group certification from AFAA, and while I learned a lot, it has been the easiest certification I have achieved to date. While, yes it is true that there was a practical application portion to the exam, the instructors prior to the test, gave many clues as to what they would ask and what they would be looking for as to answers. While this was helpful to some, it certainly did not weed out those who were not yet ready to take the test or apply the knowledge they had learned. Of course, this may have just been the instructors who were at my particular test, but it was my exerience.
On that same note, I do not believe that any class, CEU or certification can fully prepare you for what you will or may encounter when teaching a class or instructing a client. Sure, some certifications are not held to the same standard as others, and yes, I believe that this can “soften” the industry as a whole, I think the problem is bigger than just “soft” certifications. As another person put it, till there are some regulations within the industry that are required for all personal trainers, group instructors, etc, there will be issues. I also believe that practical, hands on, experience should be required before training clients. Much like nurses, physical therapists, etc, have to have a certain number of hours of practical application of their skills before they can sit for their exams. If we, professionals in the fitness industry, truely want to be incorporated into the continuum of care with the medical community, then we need to up our standards as such.
But just as there are “soft” certifications and CEUs in the medical community, there will always be “soft” certifications within the fitness community.