What Personal Trainer Certifications Matter MOST?

What Personal Trainer Certifications Matter MOST?

Permeable is one way to describe the fitness industry. And I may throw a lot of people under the bus in this post, but the barrier to entry in this biz is sorta a joke. Just like the Greeks smoothly slipping into the City of Troy by means of a wooden horse, it ain’t rocket science to coast on into the fitness industry and become a certified trainer. Heck, your 100 year old grandpa could become certified. But now that YOU’RE certified as a young professional, you must be LEGIT. Right???

For some, obtaining the bare minimum basic trainer cert takes just one month. Or…let’s all gasp…a DAY. (Oh hey CrossFit). And then BOOM. You’re sweating bullets on the gym floor, not from working out, but on the struggle bus designing customized plans, implementing exercise programs, realizing how hard it is to coach the dead lift hip hinge movement, and dealing with all populations under the sun – fit moms, pregnant women, pro athletes, old people with knee replacements and rotator cuff injuries, 7 year olds, VEGANS, women who only want to do cardio, and Mac Miller (true celebrity trainer story of one of my colleagues). 🙂

I do laud these newly certified trainers for following their passions to improve others’ lives. We need more people like this hustling to make a difference. And I do recommend first receiving a *basic* certification from a nationally accredited organization such as the American Council on Exercise or the National Strength and Conditioning Association to jumpstart your efforts as a CPT.

Then finally the day comes…you’re officially a certified trainer (time to post it as a Facebook status)! But it ain’t over until the fat lady sings. Or…until a CrossFitter stops talking about CrossFit (Oh, how I dream of this becoming the new paradigm)…

^ Ain’t that the truth. 

So if you have tapped the magic wand and became a trainer overnight, don’t stop there. Your journey has just begun, unless your lifelong dream has been to meander around a gym room floor and prescribe the same machine exercises for all of your clients and then tell them the classic trainer end-of-session-punch-line, “Don’t forget to drink your whey protein, kids!” And you continue this same philosophy for ten years of being in the biz. Yikes.

If you desire to expand your knowledge as a fitness professional, become more credible, call yourself a specialist, and mold into a more malleable trainer, here are a few extra personal trainer certifications that matter most (*disclaimer that these are not required if you are expanding your knowledge at conferences, seminars, etc.):

1) NSCA CSCS The National Strength and Conditioning Association Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) is considered the gold standard of all training certs. If you aspire to train youth, college, or pro athletes, it would be wise to pursue this one. I’m glad I have this cert, but the valuable knowledge I gained from simply STUDYING for this exam taught me (in intricate detail) about the *science* of sports training – plyometric programming, speed/agility, anaerobic and aerobic training, explosive lifts, and nutrition/supplementation. Very often high school coaches badge themselves with the title “strength and conditioning coach” without any real experience in plyometrics beyond just landing softly, or agility drills that require more than the icky shuffle, or lifting programs that are not just a conglomeration of big lifts. If you want to be a self proclaimed badass, but also a physical therapist combined with a strength coach, buy Essentials in Strength Training and Conditioning ASAP and go at it.

2) Precision Nutrition – So you eat healthy and all your peers turn to you for advice. You must be a Certified Nutritionist now, bro. Just eat some chicken and broccoli and your friends are good, right? Eh…there’s more to assisting your clients/friends with diet than simply having a clean one yourself because everyone and their mother is different. Precision Nutrition dives deep into nutritional science at the cellular, digestive, hormonal, and metabolic levels. This one is uber legit and the knowledge you’ll obtain will make you a nutrition god/goddess, and it also may be fun to revisit high school chemistry class. 😉

3) Functional Movement Screen – Movement. Then performance. Then skill. Too many times I’ve seen trainers prescribe squat jumps on a bosu ball and their clients’ knees have some serious valgus collapse. Or I’ll see some crazier off-the-map sh*t such as burpees in the middle of heavy dead lift sets (I’m getting carried away with the CrossFit jokes, guys). This all leaves me both frustrated and amazed that trainers pull this sh*t off! Before you coach some acrobatic moves and risk a client injury, expand your knowledge getting certified through the Functional Movement Screen. The FMS provides the trainer with their client’s imbalances, weaknesses, and movement limitations through a series of different screenings (rotary stability, shoulder mobility, trunk stability, hip mobility, and then some). And once these components are addressed, then the trainer can prescribe the safest program to get their client stronger in these areas, but also to reduce the chance of injury through corrective exercises.

4) StrongFirst Kettlebell Instructor – Now this one is  bit more specific and niche than the others, but kettlebells are extremelyyyyyy versatile for all client populations, becoming increasingly popular for the added variety on the programming menu. I have used them on my athletes, my fit moms, and my beloved senior citizens. A client can’t load their back for a barbell squat? Kettlebell goblet squat. Or a client wants to improve forceful hip extension but loathes bar power cleans? Kettlebell swings. Not to mention, the SFG certification course is a grueling weekend of not only listening to your lead instructor explain the Turkish Get Up leaving you scratching your head, but you ACTUALLY have to perform the basic kettlebell movements to the T. This course is super hands on, which is the best way to learn as a coach.

Books for outside reading:
Advances in Functional Training

Bodyweight Strength Training Anatomy

The New Rules of Lifting Supercharged

Burn the Fat Feed the Muscle

Strength Coaches to follow:

Eric Cressey

Jen Sinkler

Mike Boyle

Nick Tumminello

Jen Comas Keck

Comb through the books. Ready the blogs daily over a cup of Joe. Specialize in a niche. Further your education. Never stop learning. 🙂

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