When Deena Christy decided to become a personal trainer, she first figured she'd get the training online. She paid the fee, did some of the course work, and then just stopped. "I paid $500 for a class I never completed," Christy said.
She is a former teacher and longtime landscaping business owner who decided to make a career change just a few months shy of her 62nd birthday. She is fit, with strawberry-blond hair and a direct, no-nonsense attitude that should serve her well when she starts working with aging baby boomers and overweight children. "So I came here to Colorado to take this course, because I need to be immersed in this to succeed at my goal," Christy said.
She is among the latest class of aspiring personal trainers at Philippe Ray's National Personal Trainer Institute of Colorado in Golden. The personal training course there is seven months long, and costs $8,400, a big jump up from the online course fee of $500. Christy believes it's worth the investment because Lifetime Fitness, 24-Hour Fitness, The Point Athletic Club and other fitness centers seek out NPTI graduates.
"Unfortunately, there are many ways to become a personal trainer, and if I hire someone who purchased their certification over the weekend, then I open myself up to liability," says Scott Preston, general manager at The Point.
If anyone can call himself a personal trainer -- state laws don't require certification -- then how are consumers supposed to sort the wheat from the chaff? "All credentials are not created equally," Ray says.
"I could go online and get certified in 40 minutes if I paid $2,000 and passed an exam. There are too many ways you can study for a half a day or a few days and get certified. That seems bass-ackwards, as we say in Georgia. You should go to school and then get certified."
Anthony Wall, the director of professional education for the American Council on Exercise, recommends researching a personal trainer's education and the agency that certified her (or him) before signing a contract. "There are more than 100 organizations that certify personal trainers in the U.S., but only 11 of us are NCCA affiliates, which keeps to a certain standard of teaching basic exercise physiology and understanding how to work with certain groups of people," Wall said, referring to the National Commission for Certifying Agencies.
A trainer certified through an organization affiliated with the NCCA must complete a minimum course of education. The basic course at National Personal Training Institute of Colorado is typical. It's seven months long and covers approximately 500 hours of basic anatomy, physiology, exercise science, diet and nutrition, and special populations.
After completing the course, new personal trainers take credential exams through an NCCA affiliate. Once certified, they must take continuing education classes and recertification courses. "What's important to us at ACE is: What's the best thing for the client, the consumer, the public?" Wall said.
"It's not about what's going to be best for us, but what's going to be best for a person who's overweight, who's stressed out and wants to feel better. Your personal trainer, group fitness instructor or health coach should be able to tell you not only what to do, but why you're doing it -- the intent behind a sequence of exercises."
That's especially important for personal trainers working with special populations, including newbies struggling with weight problems or aging gym rats. "An obese individual has a very different thought process from mine when I say, 'Let's get on the bike for 10 minutes,'" Wall said.
"Someone who's been trained understands that thought process, and how it's different from that of someone who's healthy. That individual has low self-esteem, and when we talk about exercise, they immediately think about why they can't do it.
"Our job is to try to change that voice in their heads, to say 'Here's a way you can be successful.' It's the same for someone who's elderly, or has a disability like Parkinson's Disease."
1. Where were you educated to become a personal trainer?
2. How many years have you been a personal trainer?
3. What organization certified you? Is that organization affiliated with the National Commission for Certifying Agencies? (The top certifying organizations are the American College of Sports Medicine, the National Strength and Conditioning Association, the American Council on Exercise, the National Academy of Sports Medicine, and IDEA Health & Fitness Association.)
4. Is your certification current?
5. What was the last continuing-education class you took, and when and where you did you take it?
6. Can you provide contact information for three clients whose goals and needs are similar to mine?
7. What is your philosophy as a personal trainer?
8. What is your policy regarding missed training sessions?
9. What kind of liability insurance do you carry?
10. Is your CPR/AED certification current?