Lewis Bowling: What it takes to be a personal trainer

Jan. 09, 2013 @ 02:58 PM

Ever thought about becoming a personal trainer? For a number of years one of my jobs was to teach personal trainer certification workshops. I have done this for several years with two organizations, the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America and the American College of Sports Medicine. I must have certified hundreds of people as personal trainers over the years, teaching classes from Chicago to New Orleans, and I must have taught more than 10 workshops at the Dowd YMCA in Charlotte. Also I have traveled overseas to Thailand and Malaysia to teach sport conditioning classes, very similar to a personal training class, except that it was tailored more specifically to athletes. So perhaps I can “shine some light” on what it takes to be a personal trainer for those of you who might be interested in this profession.
An attribute of any good personal trainer is to have a good knowledge of how the body works. For example, human anatomy teaches us without a doubt that leg raises are not done by the abdominal muscles; all you have to do is look at the muscles and bones and it is clear that the abdominals do not attach to the legs, therefore it is impossible for the abs to lift your legs. Hip flexor muscles do this motion. Once you know basic anatomy you can plan an efficient exercise program. Do leg raises for hip flexor work, not for ab strengthening. A good personal trainer knows how to prescribe an effective exercise program.
The other main attribute for a good personal trainer, in my opinion is to be a good communicator. Having a lot of knowledge without being able to share it effectively with others kind of defeats the purpose.
To get certified as a personal trainer with a reputable organization, you will need a certain knowledge level in these areas: exercise physiology, human anatomy, kinesiology (study of how the body moves), nutrition, exercise program development and prescription, stress control, fitness testing, and several other areas depending on the organization you are dealing with. By the way, if I were you, I would definitely try to get certified with a nationally respected personal trainer organization. There are some out there who aren’t worth your time and money.
Also I must add that a person’s life experience in the fitness field can add greatly to being a good personal trainer. Quite frankly, I know some people who don’t have a formal certification or a college degree in a field such as exercise science, but know a great deal through self education, and who I would highly recommend. But having these certifications is a way to protect the fitness industry from having too many trainers out there that don’t know their biceps from their buttocks!
I can personally recommend the following organizations either because I have taught workshops for them, or because I have certifications from them. The “gold standard” of fitness organizations is the American College of Sports Medicine, and this is the general consensus of fitness professionals. Check out their website at acsm.org and you will find a lot of good information. The Aerobics and Fitness Association of America is also very good, their website is afaa.org. The National Strength and Conditioning Association is highly regarded nationwide and their website is nsca.org. Another highly respected certifying agency is the Cooper Aerobics Center and their website is cooperaerobics.com.
Of course, please understand there are others that are well regarded; it is just that I have personal knowledge of the ones I list here. In general, you can expect a three- to five-day workshop that you will need to attend. Study materials will be sent to you hopefully before the workshop. Most organizations will require both a written exam and a practical exam, with a passing rate of 80 percent or higher. This differs among certifying agencies, but the practical exam will consist of individuals actually demonstrating exercises, administering fitness tests, and answering questions orally. Sometimes this aspect of certification creates some stage fright, as you have to “think on your feet.”
Prices vary for these workshops, but you will pay around $400 to $600 for the three to five days of classes. But that is an investment that can easily be recouped in a short time once you are out there training your clients.
If you are thinking about becoming a personal trainer, there are many aspects to consider. Talk to people who are already working as personal trainers, study websites pertaining to personal training, and of course, write or call me. I will be happy to help you as best I can. Personal training is an exciting profession, can pay well, and can be very rewarding because you are helping others realize their full potential.
Lewis Bowling teaches at N.C. Central University and Duke University. He is the author of several books on fitness and sports. His website is www.lewisbowling.com. He can be reached at 919-530-6224 and at Lewis_Bowling@yahoo.com.