Which Certification to Get?

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Q: First off, your blog is fantastic. I wish you could show up at the gym I go to and smack all the morons around. Unfortunately, I go to a Planet Fitness because most gyms in NYC where I live are quite expensive, so I do what I can.

Anyway, I want to become a CPT and wanted to ask if you recommended the NSCA, or if you think another organization would be more effective? It looks like it’s the most expensive one, but I assume that’s because it’s the best? Thanks for the advice, I truly appreciate it!

A: Thanks for writing, and for the kind words as well! I know it sounds cliche, but I really do appreciate all the support that people show towards the blog. I know it’s not quite a “geeky” as some people want it to be, but that’s because I’d rather talk about chainsaws and boobs than how the anterior fibers of the glute medius assist in hip internal rotation.

In any case, lets get to the heart of the matter. With regards to the CPT (Certified Personal Trainer, for those unfamiliar), I’m going to play the “biased” card and say that the NSCA – despite the recent hooplah over uninviting Mike Boyle from speaking at their national conference this year – is definitely one of the gold-standard certifications you can get in the industry. Although, for the sake of brevity, I’d also place the NASM and ACSM certifications in there as well.

In the grand scheme of things, however, you’re going to have to get certified through someone in order to get your foot in the door. Most gyms require that their trainers be certified. Sadly, some do not. Seemingly, so long as someone looks the part or, I don’t know, has a tribal tattoo on their bicep, that’s all a gym owner wants in order to hire someone.

Most establishments are going to require a specific certification in order to work for them (NSCA, NASM, ACSM, NINJA**, etc). Concurrently, for other places it won’t matter – they just want to see that you’re certified. Which, for the record, isn’t saying much since I could probably search online right now, and in a matter of minutes, get my electric toothbrush certified as a personal trainer for one easy payment of $49.95. I’m only slightly kidding.

All in all, it comes down to this. You need to get certified – preferably not through the interwebz. If money is an issue, then by all means go with one of the cheaper options. Who cares, it’s just a piece of paper. Just because you go through a cheaper organization doesn’t mean you’re any less knowledgeable or qualified than someone who paid more money. Believe me, I’ve met a lot of trainers and coaches who are certified through some very reputable organizations who don’t know their ass from their asshole.

That said, regardless of which organization you decide to go through, what you do with it is up to you. In my mind, what separates the good trainers from the bad trainers isn’t so much who they’re certified through or how many letters they have next to their name as it is how much pride they take in making themselves better.

Are they making it a point to attend seminars and conferences?

Are they reading books, journals, blogs, articles on a daily basis?

Are they establishing networks with other fitness professionals?

Can they actually coach a real live person, or are they just someone who “thinks” they know what they’re talking about because they have 23,769 posts on some internet forum?

You get the picture. In the end, that is what really matters. I hope that helps, and good luck!

** For the record, this isn’t a real certification. But lets be blunt – if you’re a ninja, it’s pretty much common knowledge you can get a job anywhere you damn well please.

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