The question of whether fitness professional legally need to be certified is a fundamental question, both for those starting out in the industry and for those who’ve been around a while who might be under the impression that industry practice might equate with legality.
Let’s talk briefly about the situation in the following countries: USA, Australia, Canada, UK & Brazil.
There are a number of states where there have been legislative moves to require certification or registration, but at the moment, only the District of Columbia requires registration. Registration as a personal trainer does not mean you need to be certified by any specific professional association or certifying agency. As we have discussed elsewhere, it can be very difficult to obtain insurance without having obtained qualifications which demonstrate your competency, and many of the certifying agencies offer those qualified through them the opportunity to participate in group insurance policies. In addition, if a gym is a member of IHRSA or IDEA, that membership requires that trainers employed or contracted by the gym be certified.
No matter what certification you choose, check to make sure that it is accredited by a reputable third-party agency. Below is a list of accredited and well-known certification organizations:
- American College of Sports Medicine – (Accredited by NCCA)
- American Council on Exercise – (Accredited by NCCA)
- American Fitness Professionals and Associates – (Accredited by Vital Research)
- International Fitness Professionals Association – (Accredited by NCCA)
- International Sports Sciences Association – (Accredited by DEAC)
- National Academy of Sports Medicine – (Accredited by NCCA)
- National Strength & Conditioning Association
- PTA Global
- National Federation of Professional Trainers – (Accredited by NCCA)
- National Council on Strength and Fitness – (Accredited by NCCA)
Once you are basically certified, you can consider more advanced training based on personal interest and business goals. For example, if you’re interested in specializing in athletic populations, high intensity and group training:, or special client populations:
- Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS)
- Certified Physical Preparation Specialist (CPPS)
- Certified Functional Strength Coach (CFSC)
- Crossfit Certification
- TRX Courses
- Corrective Exercise Specialist (NASM)
- Fitness and Exercise Therapy Certification (ISSA)
- Youth Fitness Specialist (IYCA)
- Senior Fitness Certification (ISSA)
- Golf Fitness Certification (TPI)
Personal Trainers are not legally required to be certified, but they must be insured – either through independently obtained insurance (difficult and more costly without certification) or through the group insurance policy available through a certifying agency – including Fitness Australia or Physical Activity Australia. The bottom line is that even though it is insurance that is legally required rather than certification, a personal trainer will struggle to find employment in the fitness industry without certification.
There are a series of standardized certification levels which follow the same National Qualification Framework that covers most occupations in Australia. These include:
- Level 1 – Certificate III in Fitness,
- Level 2 – Certificate IV in Fitness
- Level 3 – Diploma of Fitness.
Nationally accredited colleges that offer these certifications include: TAFE, Australian College of Sport & Fitness, Fitness Industry Training, Australian Institute of Fitness, and Australian Fitness Academy. Once certified, continuing education is required to maintain registration. These Continuing Education requirements often enable fitness professionals to undertake additional training in specialist areas like training children, strength training, nutrition, working with clients with chronic health conditions, weight loss, and rehabilitation.
Regulation for fitness professionals in Canada is a matter for the provinces, and at present none of them have any regulation surrounding the personal training industry. In practice, fitness industry employers and gyms vary in whether they will hire fitness instructors and personal trainers based on their level of certification or require that they hold a college degree in a health and fitness related field. The National Fitness Leadership Alliance (NFLA) is a Canadian partnership of not-for-profit organizations dedicated to developing, promoting and implementing national standards for the training and registration of fitness leaders in Canada. The individual provinces in Canada have recognized certification bodies that are accredited by NFLA. Without certification the instructor cannot hold the appropriate liability insurance in Canada and will not be covered in case of injury or accident.
There are four primary certifying bodies in Canada for the Fitness Industry: Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology (CSEP), Canadian Fitness Education Services (CFES), Canadian Fitness Professionals (CanFit Pro), and Certified Personal Trainers Network. Each of the bodies have their own education and training prerequisites. For example, CSEP requires a diploma or degree in an exercise related field, whereas CFES and CanFit Pro require experience and/or workshops. Some well-known private organizations also offer certification, including the YMCA and the National Exercise Prescription Accreditation, and ACE (American Council on Exercise). There are other organizations that provide education and base level knowledge but may or may not be accredited.
There is no legal restriction on using the title of Personal Trainer nor any formal body associated with regulating Personal Training in the UK.
A Fitness professional in the UK can choose to seek endorsement by the Register of Exercise Professionals (REPs). REPs is the professional association for the UK health and fitness industry, and does not award qualifications directly. Most health and fitness qualifications endorsed by REPs vary in levels from 1 – 5, 1 being basic GCSE level (high school) and 5 being advanced specialized training. For a qualification to become eligible for endorsement by REPs, it must conform to the National Occupational Standards (NOS), which are set at governmental level by the Sector Skills Council (SSC).
Most personal training qualifications are accredited through awarding bodies like CYQ (Central YMCA Qualifications), and Active IQ (Active International Qualifications). Once you have completed an accredited certification, candidates become eligible for Level 3 REPs status. University graduates with an appropriate honors degree can also apply to REPs for registration.
Brazil is the most regulated of all the countries on this list. All personal trainers must hold a bachelor’s degree in Physical Education. They also must register with the Conselho Federal de Educação Física (Federal Council of Physical Education). Personal Trainers risk criminal charges if they attempt to work in the fitness industry without meeting either of these requirements.
Finally, Regulations change, and what might be best established today might be different tomorrow. As with all things legal, check with your local, state, province, or national governmental agencies to make sure you are clear on the regulations that apply to your fitness business.