The Certification Edge

Once your trainers and group exercise instructors know the basics, there are other interesting trainings and certifications available. These unique classes and programs can give your fitness center an edge over the competition.

The fitness industry is ever-changing. New formats, new pieces of equipment, and new studies on what is safe and effective are introduced all the time. While a lot of great information is available from the industry's primary certifications, there are also some fun and unique things out there that perhaps most fitness professionals haven't yet considered. How do you set yourself and your fitness center apart? By offering something that is different and unique to your community. Here are four exercise formats and certifications that can bring a new dimension to your programs.

Chi Running

Chi (pronounced "chee") is the Chinese word used to describe "the natural energy of the universe." Therefore, everyone has it, but not everyone uses it in the most efficient way possible, or can help clients do so. At Chi Running, Owner Danny Dwyer and his master trainers help people in all parts of their fitness journey to use their chi to run (or walk) pain-free. Those who are certified go on to lead more workshops for members and clients, and spread the word about proper body and mind alignment during Chi Running.

"The first part of the workshops show you how to get in alignment," says Jennifer Whittaker, director of programming and events at Chi Running. Those looking to become certified have had their study materials and videos a minimum of three months, but, still, at the beginning of their four-day certification course, master trainers ensure that those they are certifying "get it." "It's not something you learn immediately after one class," says Whittaker. As students continue working on their form - balancing the upper and lower parts of their body, leaning forward to allow gravity to propel them forward and engaging the core - people eventually have an "ah-ha" moment and never look back.

Those interested in a Chi Running certification start with study materials and an in-person workshop where they learn the form and have the opportunity to become proficient at it. By the time they come to the certification class, they understand the material and have seen trainers lead others in learning the form. Through the course of the four-day certification process, the trainers-to-be take tests, teach others in their class, and either "graduate" ready to teach or go back for some additional practice - essentially taking the workshops and certification course again. "Some people do really well on paper, but just need extra work in helping others learn the form," says Whittaker.

According to Whittaker, Chi Running instructors typically already have either a group fitness or personal training certification, and bring this additional expertise to their fitness centers in either format. It works especially well for practicing personal trainers, because they already have the clientele.

Chi Running offers marketing assistance in the form of banners and signage for those who will be hosting a workshop. They also allow certified instructors to post their workshops on the Chi Running webpage.


Exercisers can work the entire body on a rower, and expend lots of calories. But, the Rowbics instructor training program will give instructors great ideas for keeping it interesting, either individually or in a group format. "The first step is to learn how to demonstrate proper rowing technique, identify common technique errors, understand the biomechanics of rowing, use and maintain the Concept2 Indoor Rower, and deliver methods to achieve optimum results for your students/clients," says Victoria Draper, founder and CEO of the Rowbics Training Program. "This class was developed by Concept2 and approved by ACE [American Council on Exercise]."

Once the first program is conquered, there is more training available. "The advanced workshop is perfect for the group fitness instructor who wishes to master the rowing stroke, classic rowing drills, cues, terminology, group dynamics and the Rowbics unique QuadCore Conditioning System," Draper says. Typically, instructors looking to get certified are not coming from a rowing background, but are looking for something new to offer members and clients. "You can really only run and walk on a treadmill," says Draper. "You're really only working your legs on a bike. You normally have to hit 10 different machines in the gym to work all the [major] muscles. ... With this one machine and the Rowbics format, you can achieve it all."

Students are typically high achievers in the fitness field. "The people we have coming through our certifications are those who want to be the best at what they do," says Draper. "They usually come in with a mission to master the machine so they can go back to their facility and have a leg up on the [competition]. They immediately increase their value as an instructor and trainer, become more sought-after by [members], and [so] increase their value at the facility. They tend to be highly motivated and driven people who like to excel in whatever they do."

Seeing rowing from the client's point of view is important in the Rowbics certification. "The Rowbics certification teaches the instructor how to approach the equipment from the client's perspective," says Draper. "Most people are intimidated by this piece of equipment ... and the sport. ... We talk about what is specifically intimidating, and how to break down those barriers that keep people from walking over to the machine and ... taking the step toward one of the best workouts available to them."

Regarding choreography, Draper says, "That's soon to come. We will have new workouts released on a regular basis that are banked online and to which certified instructors will have access with a login [name]. Both indoor rowing workshops have a manual, and both have a guideline for instructors to follow on how to create a workout."

Certification Sources

Chi Running 866 327-7867 Fittrek 800 345-1004 Nia 800 762-5762 Rowbics 888 ROWBICS Standing Pilates 800 505-1990


Most likely, Nia is unlike anything your members have ever experienced. It's a free-flowing movement class that allows participants to move in ways that feel good to them in an integrated mind/body, experiential way. Blending yoga with modern dance with tai chi with aikido, participants dance with bare feet in ways that are comfortable for their body. It is safe for fitness beginners, as well as those who have more experience, strength and flexibility.

"A Nia teacher requires no pre-requisite certifications, though they can receive ACE and AFAA certifications through taking a Nia intensive," says Shannon Day, with Nia public relations/product development. "He or she, upon certification, receives four new Nia routines, which they are expected to learn and master while teaching Nia for their first year. Nia teachers are required to wait at least one year between belt certifications to ensure the retainment of indepth information and embodiment of the movement practice."

Instructors training to teach Nia graduate through different belt colors as they become more proficient, just like martial arts. The belt levels are 1) White belt - Physical, 2) Blue belt - Relationship, 3) Brown belt - Energy, 4) Black belt - Mastery and 5) First Degree Black Belt - Trainer.

An instructor who has completed the white belt training is eligible to license the Nia name as an instructor. "We have also integrated a new belt just this year called the green belt," says Day. "This training is five as opposed seven days. In the green belt intensive, under guidance and supervision, an instructor will learn to develop and refine their teaching skills, integrating the white belt principles."

Nia is a little out of the box for many traditional fitness centers and members, but Day believes that these are the kinds of facilities that might benefit from Nia's freedom of movement and expression, and constraints as to what exercise should look like.

Once certified, Nia offers "a network of support," says Day. "The Nia headquarters provides a teacher-finder for every region in the world. ... A Nia teacher has a business and marketing manual with posters, press releases, marketing ideas and business cards. Nia provides new teachers with support from the marketing and PR department to help Nia classes grow and create revenue."

Nia doesn't invest much in marketing its product. "What is astounding about Nia is that it has developed by word-of-mouth," says Day. "People love Nia, and want to share their experiences. ... Nia classes [are offered] at all Equinox Clubs in New York City, Golden Door Spas, Canyon Ranch, Rancho La Puerta and so many more. Nia teachers are typically very accessible, educated and interested in growing professionally and personally. Many have come from their own experience as students, and have integrated Nia as a lifetime practice, because it 'calls' to all ages and fitness levels."


Fittrek is a walking program that uses poles and, in some cases, resistance belts around the waist that attach to the poles (called the LPI system) for a total-body workout. "Nordic walking," as it is sometimes called, is popular as both a group fitness class and with individual clients. Says Dan Barrett, president and CEO of Fittrek, "Participants get far more fitness results when using the poles, [as compared to regular walking], and our LPI system allows instructors to accommodate different fitness levels."

The Fittrek certification also offers information about special populations and clients either in or who have been in physical rehabilitation. While it's not hard to learn to walk with the poles, there certainly is a technique to maximize the benefit, especially when walking up and down hills, and when using the LPI belts. Instructors who are learning typically practice on their own, then with individual clients or small groups prior to instructing a larger group that has many levels and speeds.

Fittrek prefers that instructors who take the exam have a primary certification first as either a personal trainer or group fitness instructor. However, it will make exceptions for coaches and people with a similar health or sports background. It usually takes about one week to complete the certification, assuming mastery of the walking technique is quick.

Instructors and fitness centers can purchase the Fittrek poles from Fittrek directly via the website. Also on the website is a comprehensive outline of the certification program.

Standing Pilates

Standing Pilates is a variation of classic mat Pilates, except exercises are performed in a standing position. It is more suitable for group exercise classes, and appeals to a broader population - both beginners and advanced Pilates students. Participants perform Pilates exercises while standing primarily on one leg at a time, which means they must work harder to overcome the force of gravity, while at the same time strengthening the core and improving balance coordination.

The Standing Pilates certification is a two-day course and is open to instructors who have a mat Pilates certification or mat teaching experience. Instructors will learn 10 new advanced fundamentals, as well as the 21 class mat exercises reconfigured to Standing Pilates. The new exercise sequences require evolved technique, use of the deeper core musculature and more developed teaching skills. To complete the certification, instructors must be able to demonstrate the exercises with proper form and alignment, must know exercise terminology and be able to teach in a group setting with proper verbal cueing and modifications for special populations. A written and practical exam are also required.

The Standing Pilates classes can be supplemented with a new training device called the TYE4 harness, which can be purchased at a wholesale price by fitness centers and provided free of charge or sold to participants.

The right choice

Be picky when deciding if a new fitness certification is right for your resumé. There are space and location considerations for some options, such as Chi Running and Fittrek - both programs are held outside. Make sure your insurance covers these outdoor programs prior to initiating them. Many of these options, and others, are an easy addition to your portfolio, and a whole lot of fun for your members!
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