Should You Get a Fitness Certification?

| Fitness

Calling all exercise and fitness lovers! The fitness industry is booming right now. With obesity rates on the rise, a microscope on sugar and diabetes, more research on cardiac disease and disorders, the nation needs health and exercise experts. If you're an active participant in regular exercise and you've tried a little bit of everything, it could be time for you to take the step and earn a certification (click here to see if you're an exercise addict or fitness fanatic). Of course, it's not just a little piece of paper that allows you walk into any gym and teach something, but it's a start. Furthermore, the certification process will give you more insight on how the classes you attend are developed and formed.


What certifications are available? There are a slew or organizations that offer fitness certifications. The top ones are the American Council on Exercise (ACE), the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA), the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) and the American Fitness Professionals and Associates (AFPA). These organizations offer group fitness (GFI), personal training (CPT), nutrition and behavioral certifications. Mind you, nutrition certifications are a complement to other degrees and certifications, but are not equivalent to the status of a registered dietician. You can also specialize in youth fitness, orthopedic exercise or sports conditioning among others.

What is the learning process like? Most organizations offer an independent study. You'll receive textbooks, manuals, flashcards and other studying materials, an exam voucher, access to online help and more. Usually, you'll pick the date for your exam, but the voucher will expire within 12 months on average. You'll teach yourself, take quizzes and join online study groups. There are some organizations that offer in-person classes that will probably take up your entire weekend. If you can't study on your own, this might be the best route for you. Here are the areas of expertise you'll learn:

  • Anatomy and kinesiology
  • Group exercise design planning
  • Monitoring and evaluating participants
  • Handling special populations: obesity, seniors, limited mobility, etc.
  • Injury prevention and first responder care, scope of practice
  • Business models and legal responsibilities
  • Code of ethics (via ACE and Becoming a Trainer)

Hesitating because you're not sure how to study? Read about 10 ways you can boost your memory.

What's the difference between a national certification and a specialty program certification? When you earn a certification with a nationally recognized organization like the ones mentioned above, you open several doors. You can teach any style of class you want: bodyweight, circuit, bootcamp, step aerobics, strength training and so on... If you are certified in a program with pre-choreographed material like P90X, Beach Body, Les Mills, CrossFit and others, you can only teach that exact program. Usually, the company will require a sponsorship fee from an approved gym or studio to allow the classes to be taught.

>> Read more: 29 Fitness Terms You Need to Know


What happens after I'm certified? You can shadow an instructor during your learning period so you can dive right into teaching after you pass your exam. The same goes for personal trainers. You won't be asked to memorize some glossary of exercises, so learn them through experience and Skinny Mom's Fitness Index. Sometimes joining a CPT team before going out on your own is best. You can also expect the following:

  • Add the certification to your general resume to help you stand out
  • Start looking for workshops and online opportunities to gain CECs (continued education courses) as you will need to gain a specific point value within two years to maintain your certification.
  • Develop your passion and niche interests by attending workshops and conferences of your choice. If you want to teach Pilates, you'll need to go through Pilates teacher training, or take several workshops specializing in Pilates education.
  • Get a job at a gym or studio to teach a group class or sign on to a personal training team; you can also begin taking clients as CPT (keep it simple to start).

How much does it cost? From group fitness to niche expertise, the certification programs average between $300 and $500. This includes all of your study material with varying study bundles and your exam. If you're going for a personal trainer certification, you're looking at an average of $1,000. Perhaps you have a degree in exercise science or kinesiology — you won't need to purchase the additional study material. Buying access to online test quizzes and study groups, though, is highly recommended. There are often sales and discounts, so keep your eyes peeled. (via Becoming a Trainer)