I get the question of how one becomes a personal trainer quite often. The answer surprises nearly everyone. Buy the book, pass the test. That’s it. There’s no practical application or hands on work. This was the exact process in getting my NASM certification, which is a highly regarded certification. Personal trainers deal directly with a client’s physical well-being, shouldn’t there be more to it than a multiple choice exam?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m thankful for the ease of the certification process. If it wasn’t that simple I may still be sitting behind a desk staring at a screen all day. I was able to make a complete career change in my mid-twenties, years after college. But to be honest, the personal training certification process really should be more rigorous. I’m good at my job solely from experience and being a practitioner in the gym myself. That book and that test didn’t change a damn thing.
I’ve seen some crazy shit at the gym. Frankly I’m surprised more people don’t get injured, which goes to show how much the body handle. But the wear and tear will eventually catch up and the body won’t be able to cope with it. If you get bad advice from the beginning, you’re screwed. Habits are hard to break. A book worm that can memorize some vocabulary words won’t always be able to properly explain tension, posture, and form. One-on-one interaction is a completely different ballgame.
The solution is simple. Keep the textbook bullshit, it’s still somewhat relevant. And make no mistake, I’m not trying to make this a four year college degree. But every prospective trainer should have to complete an internship. Shadow an experienced trainer for awhile, perform a few sessions yourself, and work with different people with different levels of fitness. Get in the gym yourself as well, there’s no reason to not ‘walk the walk.’
Another controversial topic is the concept of out-of-shape trainers. One argument is that a knowledgeable and successful trainer doesn’t necessarily have to be in shape. The other argument is that the trainer should set a good example and maintain a high level of fitness. I certainly favor the latter. You don’t have to look like Phil Heath, but to me it’s hard to take an overweight trainer seriously. There’s an overweight trainer at one of the gyms I frequent. I’m sure he knows his stuff, but dammit when I see his pudgy ass shouting instructions I can’t help but shake my head. And as I’m writing this I just had a spontaneous thought; a trainer should have to pass a physical qualification test similar to the police academy.
Being a personal trainer is a noble profession. You can really improve the quality of someone’s life by getting them into shape. There is a bit of a stigma with trainers though, and I think much of it has to do with the simplicity of becoming one. If we change the process we can change the perception.