Getting the skinny on personal trainers

Only six of about
300 certifications
are accredited.
Monday, January 1, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 2:14 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

America’s waistline is growing. Almost a quarter of the population is obese, according to a 2005 report by the Trust for America’s Health. But health club membership is also increasing.

More than 41 million Americans had health club memberships in 2006. That’s up from 17.3 million in 1987, according to IHRSA, the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association.

The number of health clubs has grown, too, almost tripling since 1987.

To keep up with those climbing numbers, the personal training industry has boomed as well.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, personal trainers and similar positions are expected to increase much faster than the average job growth through 2014.

The personal training industry, however, lacks a universal standard.

About 300 different certifications are available. Some certifications are available after just three hours. But only six personal training certifications are accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies, the NCCA, the accrediting body of National Organization for Competency Assurance, the NOCA.

But for people seeking a personal trainer in 2007, the acronyms at the end of many trainers’ titles, like ACE for the American Council on Exercise, can be confusing.

“While I completely understand that,” said Todd Galati, certification and exam development manager for ACE Fitness, the largest provider of personal training certifications, “there is a lot of information that the consumer has to sift through.”

Galati believes that an accreditation process will help bring clarity to the industry. “I think the water will become a little less muddy,” he said.

The lack of clarity regarding accreditation and the numerous certificates available are why Galati and Columbia area trainers recommend that prospective clients do their homework before they jump into the fitness and weight-loss game.

“Choosing a personal trainer without proper credentials and insurance is like going to a doctor without licensing and insurance,” Galati said.

“Ask them what their qualifications are, then ask them if their certification is NCCA accredited, or go to their credential’s Web site and see if they are accredited,” he said.

Stacy McKinney, fitness supervisor at Wilson’s Total Fitness at 2902 Forum, said that a trainer’s success rate with other clients is very important.

“They should be able to tell you right away who they’ve had success with,” McKinney said. Wilson’s requires trainers to have a certification from one of the accredited organizations.

At the MU Student Recreation Complex, all personal trainers are required to take an in-house certification class designed to prepare them for the ACE personal training exam. They must pass that exam within the first six months of employment.

At Gold’s Gym, personal trainers are required to be certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine. “NASM is a step up from ACE. ACE is really basic while NASM focuses more on functional movements,” said Preston Dickerson, personal trainer at the Gold’s Gym at 10 Nifong Blvd.

Sitting down with prospective personal trainers is also highly recommended before committing to one. “You don’t know until you talk with the trainer how they’re going to be,” Dickerson said.

Galati agrees.

“When you’re talking to the PT for the first time, it’s similar to an interview,” Galati said. “Make sure it’s someone you can work with.”

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