Do Certifications Even Matter For Personal Trainers?
Posted by Michael Vacanti
Mike, are you certified??
Yes, I am a certified personal trainer.
But guess what: My certification doesn’t mean shit.
And neither does yours. Nor does your trainer’s.
Two Reasons Trainers Get Certified:
- to work in a gym
- to not get sued
How To Get Certified:
Skim a textbook, register for an exam, and spend two hours mashing buttons in a Prometric center beside a nervous MBA to-be.
You may even have to play dumb at times, like when the certifying body is lagging behind current research, and select multiple choice answers like:
C) Breakfast, to elevate your metabolic rate!
I did not learn one thing from my certification.
In fact, if you derive any meaningful amount of trust from the fact that I am certified, I want you to abandon that life paradigm completely. And I don’t just mean in fitness.
Don’t blindly follow your financial advisor.
Don’t blindly follow the Fox News host.
Don’t blindly follow your parents’ advice.
Evaluate everyone on their merit, not the letters after their name.
Judge them on their work. On their past performance. On their last at-bat.
Remember: EVERY commercial gym trainer has a certification
You have seen trainers do dumb and dangerous things, right?
This is the part where most blogs insert the bosu ball squat image or maybe a lumbar-rounding deadlift meme.
But you aren’t five years old, and this isn’t a picture book. So I will reserve photos only for those times when they sufficiently stroke my ego. Like, the casual, well lit, carb-loaded biceps pump shot pictured above.
Let’s re-focus: if it is widely accepted that trainers at commercial gyms are pretty bad, and it is also accepted that 99% of these trainers are certified, remind me why we value certifications.
Actually, let me take a few guesses.
And I need you to be super honest with yourself. You might feel the urge to get upset, but try to think objectively.
1) You are jealous that some hot girl on instagram who isn’t certified is making six figures by affiliate marketing her mostly naked body.
Remember, her lack of a certification does not automatically lend credibility to those who are certified.
2) You are defensive about a degree or a qualification YOU may have obtained in the past.
Possibly an advanced training cert that didn’t yield the expected dividends. Or, maybe in a field unrelated to fitness; maybe you worked very hard to get your PhD, so you [overvalue] formal qualifications in general.
While completely understandable, it is important to seek and develop world views grounded in truth rather than those that ease your mind and reinforce past decisions.
3) You’ve been burned by a fitness fraud.
Perhaps you trusted an Herbalife “coach” only to wind up in the middle of a supplement pyramid scheme.
If this is the case, I completely understand your reliance on certifications. But I would still encourage you to continue reading because later we discuss the important factors that actually legitimize a trainer.
One common defense of certifications is that “OMG EVERY GIRL WHO GETS ON STAGE IN A BIKINI THINKS SHE’S A TRAINER. SCOFF. SHE ISN’T A TRAINER! SHE DIDNT TAKE A TEST!!!”
Well guess what:
I would rather be coached by a first time bikini competitor than a random draw of all CPTs
Yep. I think getting stage ready is a greater accomplishment than getting certified.
The experience offers more relevant knowledge, more appropriate tools, and a deeper understanding behind the psychology of dieting than does passing a computerized test.
But let’s talk about what really matters in a trainer.
Pick One: Heart Or Brains
Yes, of course you want both.
I bet you were just a blast at sleepovers too.
Take the next eight seconds, be less annoying, and just play by the universal rules of hypothetical either/or/would-you-rather games.
We have two trainers:
- Trainer A: nine different certs and objectively the greatest hypertrophy programmer of all time
- Trainer B: no cert, has a basic understanding of exercise form, and really wants to help people
Trainers B is better for 98% of the population
Magic programming isn’t what creates results (outside of advanced trainees).
Showing up creates results.
Being consistent creates results.
Working hard creates results.
So if you are a trainer who can make fitness stuff fun, integrate it with real life behaviors like getting lean while drinking alcohol, and be good enough at the technical stuff, you are a going to have greater impact.
And yes, obviously being a world classes programmer and an empathic trainer is ideal. Thanks for playing my silly game 🙂
So You Think Education Is Bullshit?
Slow down there angry reader!
I think education is massively important.
It’s why I have spent thousands of hours reading, observing, and questioning different training and nutrition practices over the last 12 years of my life.
But there is a difference between getting smart and appearing to get smart.
Does that make sense?
You don’t get a pretty plaque for staying up until four o’clock in the morning reading every word on bodyrecomposition.com for your entire winter break.
But somehow you become a more legitimate trainer by sleeping through Rick Mayo’s talk, waking up for the hands-on demonstration, ignoring the instructions on how to modify single-leg moves for knee problems, and spending the remainder of your one day seminar aggressively lobbying for your partner Samantha’s phone number.
You get smart because you are hungry and tenacious and a winner and you want it. Not by checking required boxes for “education credits.”
Plus, you don’t need that plaque to show off your fitness intellect.
It will show through your work.
It will show through your client results (like my clients).
So go to seminars, read books, and study your face off; but do it because that material will truly move you in the direction of your goals, not to appease others.
Certified App Developer
Mike… you’re making a macros app?? Are you even certified???
Truth be told, that ten word email prompted this post.
When I read it, I thought: I really wish I had a rant-y article to send this girl.
Actually, my first thing thought was how the hell can you be certified in macro-app development.
But anyway, because I had not yet written this article, I very kindly explained that I was indeed certified but that she probably shouldn’t put too much stock in that.
If not by formal means though, how do you get good?
How You ACTUALLY Become Certified
- You eat canned tuna in your friend’s basement at age 16.
- You spend hours caffeinated in the library reading every textbook, article, and forum post you can get your hands on.
- You take strength training and nutrition courses, but rather than blindly follow, you question everything.
(Bonus: you throw a tantrum in a 400 person lecture because the professor claims walking downstairs is a more effective eccentric move than a negative pull-up. Reminder: letters after your name ain’t shit)
- You obsess over your own training and nutrition.
- You get leaner, then stronger, then bigger, then leaner, and repeat over and over.
- You actually train hundreds of clients in the gym.
- You accost people smarter than you with questions. Not physically.
- You intern for free.
- You ask clients for feedback: what worked and what didn’t?
- You read thousands of research summaries, and a handful of actual studies. Because let’s be honest, reading the actual studies is painful.
How To Tell Who IS Legitimate
That is a damn good question.
With so many hucksters and so much deceit, how can someone relatively new to fitness distinguish the good from the bad.
Credentials feel safe. They seem like a good place to start. But you have to remember that if someone is smart enough to build a brand that rips people off, they are also smart enough to pass a CPT exam.
So what should you do?
Trainer Reputation: What Does The Market Say
The market rewards good behavior and punishes bad behavior.
Look at Amazon book reviews. Pay attention to youtube like-to-dislike ratios, which is a surprisingly good indicator of trainer quality.
What Do Others Say About The Trainer?
Do other trainers you respect speak highly of the person in question?
Can you find direct testimonial from clients?
Look for any kind of feedback from sources you trust, including the comments section of a blog, facebook page, or instagram post.
Does The Trainer Speak In Absolutes?
Language is a powerful tool. Speaking authoritatively makes you seem more knowledgeable. The thing is, there are so few instances where words like “always” or “never” make sense.
Instead, look for words like “often” and “generally” which generally signals honesty, experience, and knowledge.
Does the trainer ever admit that “they don’t know” and “it depends?” Because those are the right answers quite often.
If he or she has an answer for everything, be on guard.
Does The Trainer Look Like A Wet Blanket?
Now, being shredded isn’t a prerequisite, but the person in question should look like they have picked up a weight at least one time in their life.
Just one weight. Just once. Is that so much to ask?
Being On TV Doesn’t Mean I’m A Great Trainer
When I was on TV broadcasted to 100,000 people, I got a lot of attention. I received tons of congratulatory messages, including those from guys who made fun of me growing up.
Because people think TV is legitimate. They think TV means you’ve made it.
And that is so far from the truth.
Though, Scot Haney is the man.
Recognition from your parent’s media is no longer a stamp of approval.
Formal qualifications and accolades are largely shields that protect us from the fear that we aren’t good, smart, or qualified enough.
You know what’s more meaningful? Actually helping people, regardless of audience size or medium.
Most certifications just don’t carry real weight, especially personal training certifications.
The game is changing, and that’s okay.
You don’t need to kiss ass to get published. You don’t have to walk on eggshells to build an audience. And you don’t need a fancy certification to be a top trainer.
You just have to be good.
If you haven’t picked up The Beginner’s Fitness Guide, that’s a huge mistake. It’s free and it will help you get lean and strong and attractive. Plus you can email me directly after you get it. Right here.