The importance of trainers and instructors possessing reliable and credible certifications continues to be at the forefront of industry discussion.

The importance of trainers and instructors possessing reliable and credible certifications continues to be at the forefront of industry discussion. But, how do facility operators know whether their instructors and trainers possess such a certification? The answer to that is confusing to many. Today, there are more than 200 certifying organizations. Some are one-day certifications, while others require weeks and even months of preparation before taking the exam. Some offer online and/or in-home study, while others require in-class instruction or a combination of both. Some require only a written exam, while others require both a written exam and practical application. Some require college credit or degrees, while others require only a high school diploma. The process required to obtain a certification is not necessarily what makes it reliable and/or credible. What matters is whether the exam adequately measures how well-prepared the instructor/trainer is to prescribe and lead exercise programs. For now, no legal standard is set with which the fitness industry must comply, which has generated criticism from other industries. For instance, all medical professions not only have these guidelines in place, but also a governing body to create the guidelines and enforce them.

IHRSA steps in

To counter these criticisms and to help improve the safety and effectiveness of certification programs, the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) adopted a resolution in March 2005 recommending that, "beginning January 1, 2006, IHRSA clubs hire personal trainers holding at least one current certification from a certifying organization/agency that has begun third-party accreditation of its certification procedures and protocols from an independent, experienced and nationally recognized accrediting body." This body was determined to be the National Commission for Certification Agencies (NCCA). To have a certification accredited by the NCCA, an organization must meet 21 standards in the areas of 1) purpose, governance and resources; 2) responsibility to stakeholders; 3) assessment instruments; 4) recertification and 5) maintaining accreditation. It takes, on average, two-and-a-half years to become accredited by the NCCA. Currently, five certification organizations are accredited by the NCCA, and another five are in the process of receiving accreditation. Why the NCCA? Established in 1977, the NCCA is recognized as the accrediting body for all types of professions, most notably for healthcare professions. And, because the fitness industry clearly has ties with the healthcare industry, it seems logical that we should align ourselves with NCCA.

Certifiers cry foul

But many certifying organizations cried foul about IHRSA's recommendation. First, many in our industry don't want to see standards set forth, for fear of greater legal implications, as well as the potential for higher trainer salaries due to more rigorous training/testing. But, second and more importantly, there was dissension about who should set the standards. For instance, IHRSA chose only NCCA, and didn't name another accrediting body, the National Board of Fitness Examiners (NBFE), which was founded in 2003 for the express purpose of helping to set standards for the fitness industry. The NBFE is a nonprofit organization created to 1) "address and define a series of prescribed scopes of practice for all fitness professionals" and 2) to "determine the standards of practice for various fitness professionals, including floor instructors, group exercise instructors, general personal trainers, specialists in areas such as youth and senior fitness, and medical exercise specialists." The NBFE is currently in the process of developing a national exam that will be "a set of standardized tests ... [developed] with input from the fitness industry and in conjunction with Thomson-Prometric and leading assessment experts." According to NBFE's website, there are currently nine "affiliates" that have "successfully completed the first phase of evaluation of their curriculum against the standards set by the NBFE for the Personal Fitness Trainer Examination Part 1."

It's your choice

What is clear is that certain organizations have obtained respect for providing certifications that are much more credible and reliable than others. Yet, those organizations that have not gone through the accreditation process should not necessarily be discounted. Several provide excellent educational materials and testing curricula that can benefit both aspiring and seasoned trainers. Remember: No two certification organizations provide the same curricula, and all offer distinct content that can be of potential value to the professional. Provided here is a list of what we have determined to be the major certifying organizations, and what type of training they provide. This list is far from exhaustive of what's available to trainers and instructors. A more complete list of certifying organizations can be found in Fitness Management's annual Buyer's Guide, which is mailed to subscribers yearly and can also be accessed online at www.fitnessmanagement.com.

Purchasing Guide

Academy of Applied Personal Training Education (AAPTE) 631 462-0666; www.aapte.org AAPTE offers a Personal Trainer/ Health Fitness Instructor Certificate Program at Hofstra University College for Continuing Education. Hofstra University is accredited by Middle States Association of Colleges, and is recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Individuals must attend one semester of classroom study, as well as 18 hours of practical, hands-on resistance-training exercises, assessment skills and methods of teaching resistance training exercises. An optional three hour review course is available prior to the written exam. To be eligible for the certification course, individuals must have completed a university- level course in human anatomy and physiology. Certification renewal: Yearly NCCA Accreditation: No NFBE Affiliate: Yes Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA) 877 968-7263; www.afaa.com AFAA offers six certifications: Personal Trainer, Primary Group Exercise, KickBoxing, Step, AFAA Challenge and The Wave Workout. Certifications involve onsite workshops, and require written and practical examinations, CPR certification and a one-year membership to AFAA. Specialty workshops are also offered, including Practical Pilates, Practical Skills and Choreography, KickBoxing Skills and Choreography, Step Skills and Choreography, Mat Science, Aqua Fitness, Midlife Fitness for Women, Perinatal Fitness, Senior Fitness and more. Certification renewal: Every two years NCCA Accreditation: No NFBE Affiliate: Yes American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) 317 637-9200; www.acsm.org ACSM provides two health/fitness certifications: ACSM Certified Personal Trainer for fitness professionals involved in developing and implementing an individual approach to exercise leadership in healthy populations or those with medical clearance (requires high school diploma), and ACSM Health/Fitness Instructor for leaders of preventive health programs in corporate, commercial and community settings aimed at low- to moderate-risk individuals or persons with controlled diseases (requires associate's or bachelor's degree in health-related field). ACSM also provides two clinical certifications: ACSM Exercise Specialist for professionals performing exercise testing and training clients with cardiovascular, pulmonary or metabolic diseases (requires bachelor's degree in an allied health field, as well as 600 hours of practical experience in a clinical exercise program), and ACSM Registered Clinical Exercise Physiology for professionals providing exercise management for patients with a broad spectrum of chronic diseases or disabilities (requires master's degree from a college or university in exercise science, movement science, exercise physiology or kinesiology, as well as a current or expired ACSM Exercise Specialist certification or 600 hours of clinical experience). All exams are computer-based and given at an authorized testing center. Proof of CPR certification is required. Optional, paid workshops are available. Certification renewal: Those certified prior to Jan. 1, 2005, must renew their certifications every four years. Those certified after Jan. 1, 2005, must renew every three years. NCCA Accreditation: Yes NFBE Affiliate: No American Council on Exercise (ACE) 800 825-3636; www.acefitness.org ACE is a nonprofit organization offering five certifications: Personal Trainer Certification, designed for trainers providing any form of one-on- one exercise instruction; Group Fitness Instructor Certification for those providing any form of group exercise instruction; Lifestyle and Weight Management Consultant Certification to develop sound, balanced weight-management programs (requires a current ACE Personal Trainer, Group Fitness Instructor or Clinical Exercise Specialist Certification, a NCCA-accredited certification or a bachelor's degree in exercise science or related field); Clinical Exercise Specialist Certification, an advanced certification that demonstrates the ability to work with individuals who have special needs and have been cleared by their physician to participate in exercise programs (requires 300 hours of work experience, as well as a bachelor's degree in exercise science or related field, or a current ACE Personal Trainer Certification or NCCA-accredited certification); and a specialty certification: Peer Fitness Trainer Certification Program, designed for firefighters and emergency medical technicians, administered exclusively through the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF). Certifications are either home study or workshop participation. Testing is conducted onsite at various locations. Certification renewal: Every two years NCCA Accreditation: Yes NFBE Affiliate: No American Fitness Professionals and Associates (AFPA) 609 978-7583; www.afpafitness.org AFPA offers distance learning education for certification and continuing education. Certifications include Personal Trainer, Advanced Personal Trainer, Group Fitness (Aerobics) Instructor, Strength Trainer, Functional Training Specialist, Sports Conditioning Specialist, Post-Rehabilitative Exercise Specialist, Nutrition and Wellness Consultant, Sports Nutrition Consultant, Pilates Fitness Instructor, Cardio Kickbox Instructor, Yoga Fitness Instruction (Levels I and II), Qiqong Instructor Training, Children's Fitness Specialist, Senior Fitness Specialist, Indoor Cycle Instructor, Aquatic Instructor, Stability Ball Trainer, Trainer of Special Populations and Pre-/Post- Natal Exercise Specialist. All certifications are home study, and must be completed within three months. Testing is submitted via mail. Certification renewal: Unknown NCCA Accreditation: No NFBE Affiliate: Yes American Senior Fitness Association (SFA) 800 243-1478; www.seniorfitness.net SFA certifications are for professionals planning to focus on the older adult population. Three certifications are offered: Senior Fitness Instructor for those who plan to lead active older adults in group exercise programs; Senior Personal Trainer for those who plan to provide specialized one-on-one training for older adults ranging from typical healthy individuals to post-rehab stroke and cardiac clients to active senior athletes; and Long- Term Care Fitness for those working with frail and disabled older clients in nursing homes, congregate living facilities and adult daycare centers. Programs require the successful completion of a proctored, closed-book exam, as well as proof of CPR and Basic First Aid certifications. Certification renewal: Every two years NCCA Accreditation: No NFBE Affiliate: No Aquatic Exercise Association (AEA) 888 232-9283; www.aeawave.com AEA offers the Aquatic Fitness Professional (AFP) and Aquatic Fitness Instructor (AFI) certifications, both of which are based on the Aquatic Fitness Professional Manual. A Deep Water Module certification, which complements the AFP program, is also available to those already holding AFP or AFI certifications. Review courses and a Home Prep course are available. An onsite written test is required, as is CPR certification. Certification renewal: Every two years NCCA Accreditation: No NFBE Affiliate: No Certified Professional Trainers Network (CPTN) 416 979-1654; www.cptn.com CPTN offers the Certified Personal Trainer certification, as well as specialty certifications: Certified Pilates Mat & Ballwork Specialist, Certified Post-Rehab Conditioning Specialist, Ice Hockey Conditioning Specialist, Junior Athletes Training Specialist, Periodization Planning Specialist, and Strength and Conditioning Expert. All certifications require current CPR and Emergency First Aid certifications. Written and practical exams are required at onsite locations. Certification renewal: Every year or two years NCCA Accreditation: No NFBE Affiliate: No C.H.E.K. Institute 800 552-8789; www.chekinstitute.com The C.H.E.K. Institute offers four certification programs, including the C.H.E.K. Exercise Coach, a five-day course focusing on the design and implementation of personalized exercise programs that incorporate traditional exercise with mind-body exercises; the Corrective High-Performance Exercise Kinesiologist (C.H.E.K), a two- to four-year program to train individuals to become highly trained exercise therapists and strength and conditioning specialists; the Golf Biomechanic Intensive, a five day course that teaches how to improve the function of the golfer; and the CHEK Nutrition and Lifestyle, a three- to six-day course that trains about symptoms of disease and stress and how they can be prevented through principles of proper eating, exercise and stress management. All courses are onsite and include a written and practical exam. Certification renewal: Every two years NCCA Accreditation: No NFBE Affiliate: No The Cooper Institute 972 341-3200; www.cooperinst.org The Cooper Institute offers five personal training certifications, four basic certifications (Law Enforcement Fitness Specialist, Master Fitness Specialist, Coaching Healthy Behaviors and Biomechanics of Resistance Training) and 16 specialty certifications. Attendance at all course lectures at The Cooper Institute; a written, verbal and practical examination; and a current CPR certification are required. Certification renewal: Every three years NCCA Accreditation: Pending NFBE Affiliate: No Fitness Instructor Training (FiTOUR) 281 494-0380; www.fitour.com FiTOUR offers both in-home and workshop certifications. Core certifications include Primary Pilates, Advanced Pilates, Primary Yoga, Advanced Yoga, Hatha Yoga, Primary Personal Training, Advanced Personal Training, Primary Group Exercise, Primary Aqua, Indoor Cycling, Group Kickbox, Primary Nutrition and Advanced Nutrition. An additional 13 specialty certifications also offered. All certifications have four levels: Level 1 Instructor (entry level), Level 2 Specialist, Level 3 Practitioner and Level 4 Master Practitioner. Level 3 and 4 choices are for Pilates, yoga and personal trainer only, with Level 4 adding group exercise. Exams are taken online at the FiTOUR website. Certification renewal: Every two years NCCA Accreditation: No NFBE Affiliate: No International Fitness Professionals Association (IFPA) 800 785-1924; www.ifpa-fitness.com IFPA offers Personal Trainer, Certified Lifestyle Fitness Coach, Sports Nutrition, Sports Conditioning Certification, Personal Training Certification Elite Education Success Program and Group Fitness certifications, as well as a host of other specialty certifications. Certification materials are purchased online, and workshops and the written exam are conducted at onsite locations. To obtain the certification, individuals must have a high school diploma and a current CPR certification. Certification renewal: Every two years NCCA Accreditation: Pending NFBE Affiliate: Yes International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) 800 892-4772; www.issaonline.com ISSA offers the following certifications: Personal Trainer Certification (CFT), Specialist in Sports Conditioning (SSC), Endurance Fitness Trainer (EFT), Fitness Therapy (FT), Specialist in Martial Arts Conditioning (SMAC), Specialist in Fitness for Older Adults (SFOA), Specialist in Performance Nutrition (SPN), Youth Fitness Trainer (YFT) and Water Fitness Trainer (WFT). Three study options are available: independent study with access to an 800 help line; interactive learning, which includes online courses; and two-day onsite seminars. Exams are onsite. Certification renewal: Every two years NCCA Accreditation: No NFBE Affiliate: Yes National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) 800 460-6276; www.nasm.org NASM offers one certification: Certified Personal Trainer (NASM-CPT). The NASM-CPT certification prepares individuals for entry-level jobs. The Performance Enhancement Specialist (NASM-PES) Advanced Specialization for professionals working with individuals in rehabilitation, reconditioning and performance enhancement programs is also available, and is only available to NASM-CPT-certified individuals. Preparation courses are offered. Participants must have a current CPR certification. Exams must be taken at LaserGrade testing centers within 120 days of enrollment. Certification renewal: Every two years NCCA Accreditation: Pending NFBE Affiliate: No National Association for Fitness Certification (NAFC) 800 324-8315; www.body-basics.com NAFC offers five certifications through home-study correspondence courses, including its Personal Trainer, Group/Aerobic Fitness Instructor and Wellness Consultant certifications, as well as its Sports and Recreation Trainer and Expecting Fitness: Pre- and Post-Natal Fitness advanced specialty certifications. Students must videotape their practice training sessions and take a written, proctored onsite exam administered by "a responsible person such as a local librarian or school teacher." Certification renewal: Between two and four years, depending on test score NCCA Accreditation: No NFBE Affiliate: Yes National Council on Strength and Fitness (NCSF) 800 772-6273; www.ncsf.org The NCSF Certified Personal Training (CPT) credential can be obtained by completing a written exam that is administered at more than 400 Thomson-Prometric testing centers nationwide. While NCSF courses are not mandatory, three options are available: a weekend interactive workshop, an eight-week training course or a home study course. Certification renewal: Every two years NCCA Accreditation: Yes NFBE Affiliate: No National Exercise and Sports Trainers Association (NESTA) 877 348-6692; www.nestacertified.com NESTA offers Personal Trainer, Advanced Personal Trainer and Master Personal Trainer certifications, as well as a variety of primary specialty programs, sports conditioning specialty programs, nutrition and weight-management specialty programs, complementary fitness training specialty programs, Spencer Institute Life Coaching certifications, specialization certifications (circuit training, mental skills, senior fitness, etc.), and John Spencer Ellis education and business programs. Certifications are home study, and a test-only option is available. Tests are onsite and proctored. Certification renewal: Every four years NCCA Accreditation: Pending NFBE Affiliate: No National Exercise Trainers Association (NETA) 800 237-6242; www.ndeita.com NETA offers a Group Exercise certification, a one-day course for beginning instructors; a Personal Trainer certification, a two-day course including 14 hours of lecture, demonstrations and practical, hands-on applications; a Pilates Specialty certification, a two-day workshop providing intensive, hands-on training for beginner-level Pilates exercises; and a Yoga Specialty certification, a two-day workshop on teaching a multi-level traditional yoga class. Home study options are also available, as are test-only options. Tests are administered at more than 500 locations. Certification renewal: Every two years NCCA Accreditation: No NFBE Affiliate: Yes National Federation of Professional Trainers (NFPT) 800 729-6378; www.nfpt.com NFPT offers its NFPT-CPT (certified personal trainer) certification, as well as an Advanced Personal Trainer certification, Nutrition Specialist, Weight Training Specialist and Endurance Training Specialist programs. Individuals completing all three of the specialty courses are awarded NFPT's Master Trainer certificate. Home study materials are required; however, individuals may test for the certifications without purchasing materials. Testing is onsite at more than 300 locations. Certification renewal: Every two years NCCA Accreditation: Yes NFBE Affiliate: No National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) 888 746-2378; www.nsca-cc.org NSCA offers the Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) certifications. CSCS is for professionals who design and implement strength and conditioning programs for athletes in a team setting. CPT is for professionals who work with both active and sedentary clients in one-on- one situations. Current CPR certification is required for both the CSCS and CPT certifications. Study materials are available. An onsite three hour written examination is required, with some of the questions corresponding to a videotape. Certification renewal: Varied NCCA Accreditation: Yes NFBE Affiliate: No National Strength Professionals Association (NSPA) 800 494-6772; www.nspainc.com NSPA offers Personal Trainer, Conditioning Specialist, Cycling Instructor and Secondary School Teachers certifications, as well as a Certified Weight Management course. The Personal Trainer and Conditioning Specialist certifications require a current CPR certification to be valid, and the Conditioning Specialist requires at least two years of relevant college courses or another equivalent certification. Courses are required and conducted onsite, as are the written and practical exams. Off-site retesting is available in certain regions. Certification renewal: Every two years NCCA Accreditation: No NFBE Affiliate: No Pilates Method Alliance (PMA) 866 573-4945; www.pmapilatescertified.com The Certified Pilates Teacher (CPT) certification teaches professionals to create and implement safe and effective individualized programs for apparently healthy clients. To sit for the CPT exam, individuals must have a current CPR certification and must meet one of four criteria: 1) 200 documented hours of teaching Pilates, 2) six months of full-time employment as a Pilates instructor, 3) current licensure as a healthcare professional through an accredited program (e.g., M.D., R.N., L.P.N., D.O., P.T., O.T.R., D.C.) or 4) certification from an NCCA accredited program. A three-hour written examination is required. Certification renewal: Every two years NCCA Accreditation: Pending NFBE Affiliate: No Professional Fitness Instructor Training (PFIT) 800 899-7348; www.pfit.org PFIT offers Personal Fitness Trainer (CPFT), Rehabilitative Exercise Specialist (RES), Exercise & Sports Nutrition Specialist (ESNS), and Pilates Plus Instructor Training and Mat certifications. To become certified as an RES or ESNS, individuals must first be certified as a CPFT. Courses run multiple days and are available onsite at various locations. Courses are not mandatory prior to taking the exam, which consists of both written and practical sections. Certification renewal: Every two years NCCA Accreditation: No NFBE Affiliate: Yes World Instructor Training School (WITS) 888 330-9487; www.witseducation.com WITS offers Personal Trainer, Group Exercise, Aquatic Instructor, Fitness Management, Senior Fitness and Children's Fitness certifications. Courses are conducted onsite at colleges, community health centers and fitness centers across the U.S. The exams include both written and practical sections. Certification renewal: Every two years NCCA Accreditation: No NFBE Affiliate: Yes