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Where is Personal Trainer Certification Headed?

Where is the fitness profession headed: certification, board examination and registration, or licensure?

Within the last several years, legislation has been introduced in Maryland, Massachusetts, Georgia and California to license or otherwise regulate certain fitness professionals - in many cases, personal trainers. While no licensure or regulation legislation for these fitness professionals has been enacted into law in any state, at least to date, legislation is under consideration in the District of Columbia.

Accreditation sought

The International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) recommends that its member clubs hire only those personal trainers with a current certification from a fitness certifying organization that has already received, or has begun the process to secure, third-party accreditation of its certification program from either the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA), or an accredited organization recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) or the United States Department of Education (USDE). IHRSA will recognize other, equivalent accrediting organizations, contingent on their status as an established accreditation body recognized by CHEA and/or USDE.

Some organizations opted to become accredited by the NCCA. These organizations include the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), the American Council on Exercise (ACE), The Cooper Institute, the International Fitness Professionals Association (IFPA), the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), the National Council of Strength and Fitness (NCSF), the National Exercise and Sports Trainers Association (NESTA), the National Exercise Trainers Association (NETA) and the National Federation of Personal Trainers (NFPT).

Others, including the United States Career Institute, the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA), the American Fitness Professionals and Associates (AFPA), and the International Sports Science Association (ISSA), have either received or are undergoing the process to secure accreditation from an organization recognized by the USDE/CHEA, namely, The Distance Education Training Council (DETC). As a consequence, all of these mentioned certification organizations are on an equal plane in terms of their compliance with IHRSA's 2006 resolution.

While the foregoing activities were taking place, the National Board of Fitness Examiners (NBFE) was established for the purpose of developing a uniform examination to test the qualifications of personal trainers on a national basis, followed by the registration of such professionals who successfully passed NBFE testing. Both a written and practical examination were developed by the NBFE. The NBFE is about finished with its examination development process, and intends to intensify nationwide efforts to offer both examinations at selected testing locations.

State regulations

At least two recent state proposals to license or otherwise regulate personal trainers were originally drafted in such a way so as to allow use of the NBFE examination process as part of the regulatory effort. While the proposed legislation in these two states - Georgia and Maryland - is not presently under consideration in either state, perhaps this approach at governmental regulation may be considered in the future in other states. While the NBFE has not taken any position, formal or otherwise, to promote state licensure legislation of fitness professionals, if regulatory legislation is ever passed by any state, a uniform national examination would seem to be a preferable testing mechanism to the alternative of 50 potentially different state examinations.

The industry position

The present industry position on the accreditation of fitness certification organizations began when a group of five established certification organizations were contacted by IHRSA to make recommendations about the need to improve the qualifications and training of personal trainers. These five organizations - ACSM, AFAA, ACE, the Cooper Institute and NSCA - provided input to IHRSA on this subject starting in 2001 and 2002. Eventually, with input from a wide number of other fitness organizations, IHRSA adopted its 2006 accreditation resolution. Since that time, these original organizations and several others have all obtained or are in the process of obtaining accreditation of their certification programs. These efforts have certainly helped move the profession forward, and should result in the more competent delivery of fitness services until, if ever, states move forward to regulate the profession. In the meantime, such "regulation" by the private sector may improve practices, and thus reduce the occurrence of untoward events and related claims and suits.
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