Active Voice: Personal Trainers as Professionals

By Richard T. Cotton, M.A.

Viewpoints presented in SMB commentaries reflect opinions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect positions or policies of ACSM.

Richard Cotton is ACSM’s National Director of Certification and Registry Programs. He has worked in the health and fitness industry for more than 30 years. Cotton earned a B.A. in education from Wayne State University, Detroit, and an M.A. in exercise science from San Diego State University. He holds ACSM certifications as Preventive and Rehabilitative Program DirectorSM and ACSM Exercise Specialist®. He frequently serves as an expert source on behalf of ACSM in print, broadcast and Web-based media
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While Frank Bruni’s July 27 column in the New York Times, “Our Pulchritudinous Priesthood,” may accurately reflect some personal trainers in the industry, I’d like to highlight some of the recent steps ACSM has taken to further solidify professional education and certification for fitness professionals.As the American College of Sports Medicine’s national director of certification, I know the process by which we have certified thousands of highly qualified exercise professionals who, each day, make a significant difference in their clients’ health. A standard of best practices does exist for personal trainers in the fitness industry, and most of ACSM’s certifications require a bachelor’s degree in exercise science or kinesiology at minimum — and we certify up to the Ph.D. level. When selecting trainers, the best criteria to use are their education, certification and training background, not whether they themselves appear to be fit.

Recently, ACSM played a lead role in a multi-organization effort to develop a new set of benchmarks representing minimum expectations (a standard) for health and fitness facilities. This standard was developed by NSF International, an accredited, third-party body and WHO Collaborating Center, and has subsequently become an ANSI Standard (American National Standards Institute). NSF and ANSI are devoted to setting standards, product testing, and certification services that affect public health, safety, and the environment. One of the areas that this new standard addresses is credentialing and professional education of trainers and other professional staff in health/fitness facilities. A standard such as this, if adopted across the fitness industry, can help consumers make the right choices about where and with whom they pursue a fitness program.

The greatest value a trainer can provide is support of safe and effective exercise and workable solutions for sustainable behavior change with the goal that the client eventually can exercise consistently without the help or motivation of a trainer. Ultimately, a good trainer will work herself out of a job, but in doing so, provide so much value that she will build a reputation that keeps her business thriving.