Fitness Professional. Great concept. The challenge is, nobody has clearly defined what it means. That’s why people like Rascal exist. Rascal calls himself a trainer. He hovers between 265 and 290 pounds, a tattoo on his upper arm reads, “Nasty,” and he maintains a reputation for making clients sore, sometimes for days at a time. Rascal doesn’t believe he needs a certification. He’s competed in a few bodybuilding shows and believes that qualifies him far more than a written test would. His cards say, “Test Your Limits.” I believe Rascal’s testing his luck every day, and it’s only a matter of time until his “career” lands him in serious trouble.
As Professionals we understand that people don’t want to be sore. They want to achieve a given result, and if they have to pass through a bit of soreness to get that result, so be it. Professionals understand that pain is not a badge of training success, and credentials serve to document that a minimum standard has been achieved. We aspire to earn respect as Personal Training Professionals, to rise above the abysmal standards currently acceptable in our field, but we need some sort of a map to crystallize the destination.
I’ll provide a list of qualifications, attributes that in my opinion elevate a Personal Trainer to a Professional level. First I’d like to discuss why it’s even important to consider the attributes on the list. After all, we’ve all met trainers with questionable credentials who are training clients regularly, and being paid accordingly. If such an opportunity exists, why go through the time and effort of amassing qualifications?
Fitness Professionals share frustrations that legal, medical, and financial professionals are not likely to encounter. When people seek out medical or legal Professionals, they fully expect to overcome what ails them, yet while many Personal Training clients hope to overcome their fitness challenges, few expect to. This is the only industry in the world where clients are willing to accept blame for the failure of the programs and services they invest in. That categorizes us as individuals delivering hope with little guarantee of success.
There are reasons public perception of the Personal Trainer are so skewed. Many trainers have taken on the role of rep counters. There’s very little about counting backwards that summons up respect and admiration. Many trainers are willing to conduct their services for free or to regularly compromise their fees to “get” a client. It’s quite apparent these should not be the models we hold up to illustrate our value.
There are also more than a few wrongful death cases being brought into the courts with Personal Trainers as defendants. In most cases, these deaths could have been prevented if the trainers had sufficient training in recognizing risk factors or initiating emergency procedures. While there isn’t any nationally enforced law that presently requires you hold any certification at all, with enough legal attention it’s only a matter of time before our industry finds a legal requirement for a unified credential.
Fail to master the items on my “professional attribute” list, and while you might collect a few training dollars, career longevity and promise of a lucrative future are so fragile the bomb could drop at any moment. One injury, one client failure, or one change in the law can turn your career to dust.
By jointly committing to a standard high above that which the rest of the field finds acceptable, we position Professional Trainers to finally command the career security deserved.
At the conclusion of my Emotional Persuasion seminar at the 2000 IHRSA convention a trainer named Jenny asked for my advice. She’d earned a Masters Degree in Exercise Physiology. Certified through ACSM and NSCA, she's worked in health clubs for over eight years. She'd had over two hundred personal training clients and retained a completed health and exercise history from every one. Her question shocked me. She wanted to know how she could start getting paid for personal training.
Don’t misunderstand. Jenny doesn’t work for free. She’s compensated with a $28,000 salary, but while she conducts at least twenty personal training sessions per week, she has never been financially rewarded for the additional revenue she generates. As she absorbed the information I covered at my session, information that asked trainers to accept the importance of developing persuasion skills if we are going to become true “Professionals,” she realized her own limitations. Even if she influenced everyone on the planet to enroll in her Training services, her income would remain the same!
In working to establish Professional status in an industry where Professionalism is not clearly defined, there is more to the picture than credentials. I meet well-credentialed trainers who lack marketing skills, highly educated trainers who are not adept at converting technical knowledge into application, and enthusiastic trainers who have compelling personalities but have failed to amass any formal documentation of their skills. All fall short in quest of Professionalism.
The meeting with Jenny served as a reminder that our industry has yet to offer a career path for those who have acquired the clinical knowledge but haven’t developed mastery of business or people skills. I can’t think of any other industry where after spending eight years applying an earned expertise, a Professional would not find financial gratification.
In seeking to hire Professionals, I’m careful in wording employment ads, always including “Certified,” “Professional,” “Experienced,” and “References Required.” The stream of people that have paraded through my door in response to carefully constructed ads has never ceased to amaze me.
There was the stripper who claimed she used to be a substitute aerobic instructor. She insisted she was Professional and Experienced. I guess we had different ideas of how those words apply. There was the stable worker who thought that because he was strong and enjoyed working with horses he might do well working with people in a fitness setting. There were scores of Network marketers who saw the ads as an open door to shove product offerings down my throat.
In order to set a standard of excellence we must commit to, at some level, viewing ourselves as educators - educating clients, educating the public and perhaps most importantly, educating our own industry as to what we are truly capable of.
A quote from Executive Director, John McCarthy from IHRSA’s landmark report, Fifty Million Members By 2010, reads, “No one in the industry anticipated the depth of the market for personal training,” and goes on to outline how powerful a link between members and qualified training staff can be in member retention and revenue generation. While the quote offers evidence that we’re on the verge of breakthrough, the fact that until now no one anticipated our power to integrate profitably into the marketplace illustrates the lack of professional perception even within the health club field.
So, what qualifies someone to call him or herself a “Fitness Professional?” Since the leaders of our industry have yet to unanimously define the term, I developed a list. When holding the list up in front of the aerobic stripper, the stable worker, well-credentialed Jenny, or any other aspiring or existing trainer who has yet to hone all of the qualifications on this list, it will provide clarity as to what ingredients need to be added in order to acclaim a rightful position as a Professional.
I believe a Professional Fitness Trainer can and should possess ALL of the following traits:
- Extraordinary People Skills
- The Ability to Motivate
- An Acceptable Level of Knowledge in Exercise Technique
- An Acceptable Level of Knowledge in Exercise Theory
- An Acceptable Level of Knowledge in Human Physiology
- An Acceptable Level of Knowledge in Human Nutrition
- An Exceptional Knack For Applying That Knowledge to Bring Change in Others
- Concern for People
- Marketing Ability
- A Willingness to Keep Abreast of New Developments
- Exceptional Communication Skills
Changing bodies is serious business, and if we are going to create a ground army of true professionals, it’s fair to suggest that those who find the list overwhelming may not be ready for the ranks of Fitness Professionalism. It is possible to earn money in the field today, with only a partial mastery of the list, but if you seek career longevity, I’d encourage you to seek out and refine every attribute listed!
Before we expect the industry to recognize our value, we must find the self-respect we deserve. Then our potential for growth is without limit. I'm not suggesting anyone set their sights on the moon, but I am suggesting that if you're capable of roping in a few stars, you should look beyond the limitations of the horizon. Don’t let “the state of the industry” hold you down. Use your talents, unleash your potential, and as you rise to the highest levels of Professionalism, know that the future of fitness is in our hands.