The personal fitness training (PFT) industry is still in its infancy, but it will transform in dramatic fashion by the year 2022. One area presently concerning me—education levels and standards for PFTs—will undergo the most noticeable changes.

In numerous conversations on this topic with physicians, physical therapists, professors and PFT colleagues, the collective sentiment seems to be that if personal training is to be taken seriously as a profession, then we as an industry must evaluate and refine our education standards. I believe that once quality measures are entrenched, other priority concerns of our profession—established career paths, salary structure and benefits—will click into place.

Think of the professionals who service you every day: physicians, physical therapists, dentists, attorneys, CPAs and many others. Before any of them could practice a specialty, mandatory standards demanded they complete formal, college-based education processes. Additionally, they all were required to take either a state or federal examination confirming their competency to work with the public. As a final measure to ensure quality, each of these professions is regulated on an ongoing basis.

How does this compare to our industry’s modus operandi? Do our certifying bodies provide adequate education for PFT students to train the public?

The Here and Now

Let’s face it, it’s very easy to become a certified personal trainer. One can select any of the five most recognized “national certifications,” study at home for one to two months (or take a crash course studying over a weekend) and pass the test. Just like that, you are granted the right to say you are a certified PFT.

Shouldn’t we expect candidates to have more education to enter this profession? Would you want to hire a physical therapist or CPA who had studied for a total of one or two months and then passed a test to enter the profession?

What if the public knew how easy it is for trainers to become certified? Would they want these trainers working with them or their family members? If our clients were to study for a month and pass the exam, would they have amassed enough knowledge to train themselves any better?

On the other side of the equation, some trainers have earned formal college degrees and advanced degrees in exercise science fields; some have taken college fitness certification programs and then passed a certification exam. Another subset of such experienced trainers have earned and maintained one PFT certification, continuing each year to educate themselves through every means available. This is a testament to their dedication. However, this is a very select group.

Before hiring a PFT, most consumers will ask what certifications the trainer has. Most consumers do not know the difference between college-educated PFTs and those who may have taken a weekend crash course to gain certification. Because of such scenarios, college-educated trainers may feel forced into taking a national certification exam just to survive.

Looking Ahead

What will PFT education requirements be in the future? I firmly believe that anyone entering the field will be required to have completed a college-based curriculum. This would include either an associate, undergraduate or master’s degree in exercise science, or the successful completion of a fitness certification—a four- to 12-month intensive program—at a college or university.

In 20 years or perhaps sooner, colleges and universities will offer bachelor’s and master’s degrees in personal fitness training. A degree program will focus on both the science and business skills required to succeed in this profession. In addition to exercise physiology and kinesiology, a sample curriculum will include topic areas such as:

Additionally, I see PFT curriculums and degrees becoming available through the Internet.

Regulation

How will PFT education guidelines be regulated? I foresee a national regulatory body that establishes education standards for the industry. Trainers will be aware of clear professional expectations and consumers will understand the in-depth educational process these certified trainers have undergone and must continually maintain. In order to get a job at a health club, medically-based fitness facility or YMCA, trainers will have to meet the regulatory body’s standards, which will include college education and a special curriculum, plus ongoing education.

To support the college-educated fitness professional, more continuing education will be needed in areas such as sport-specific exercises, senior fitness and children’s fitness.

The Impact

Focusing on education will enhance the credibility of our profession and provide trainers with better benefits, higher salaries, excellent career paths, and opportunities to work hand-in-hand with other allied health professionals. As the physical therapy industry changes, personal trainers will have an excellent opportunity to provide a viable service to an aging and expanding unhealthy public. Now is the time to establish the educational framework that will advance this profession into the future. l

IDEA PERSONAL Trainer FEbruary 2002 training in 2022 IDEA PERSONAL Trainer FEbruary 2002IDEA PERSONAL Trainer FEbruary 2002