A personal trainer is an individual who has earned a certification that demonstrates they have achieved a level of competency for creating and delivering safe and effective exercise programs for apparently healthy individuals and groups or those with medical clearance to exercise. They motivate clients by collaborating to set goals, providing meaningful feedback, and by being a reliable source for accountability. Trainers also conduct a variety of assessments beginning with a preparticipation health-screening and may also include assessments of posture and movement, flexibility, balance, core function, cardiorespiratory fitness, muscular fitness, body composition, and skill-related parameters (e.g., power, agility, coordination, speed, and reactivity) to observe and gather relevant information needed to develop an effective exercise program and support client goal attainment. These assessments may be performed at the beginning of and after an exercise program to measure client progress toward improved physical fitness. They also provide education on many other aspects of wellness, including general health and nutrition guidelines. Helping clients to reach their full potential in various aspects of life requires a comprehensive client-centered approach along with a belief that clients are resourceful and capable of change.
Qualified personal trainers or certified personal trainers (CPTs) recognize their own areas of expertise. If a trainer suspects that one of their clients has a medical condition that could prevent the client from safe participation in an exercise program, they must refer the client to the proper health professional for medical clearance.
Purpose of personal training
The scope of practice for a personal trainer has a primary focus on prevention and involves enhancing components of health and fitness for the general, healthy population or those cleared for exercise.
Proper exercise prescription may result in improved body composition, physical performance, heart condition and health outcomes. The decision to hire a personal trainer may be related to a perceived health threat, a lack of knowledge, or a personal belief in one's ability to begin and adhere to an exercise program. Often clients will seek the guidance of a personal trainer for factors related to motivation and adherence. A personal trainer pays close attention to the client's exercise technique, workout routine, goals, values, and nutrition. Personal training in men and women has been shown to improve the benefit-to-concern ratio for exercise (decisional balance), and increase confidence to choose exercise in the face of other time demands (scheduling self-efficacy). Personal training results in higher strength, higher workout intensities, and higher perceived exertion during exercise.
The profession is generally not restricted by venue, and personal trainers may work in fitness facilities, in their personal homes, in client homes, over live video (also called "virtual personal trainers"), or outdoors. Almost all exercise professionals work in physical fitness facilities, health clubs, and fitness centers located in the amusement and recreation industry or in civic and social organizations. Personal training is not regulated in any jurisdiction in the United States except for Washington D.C. which adopted registration requirements for personal fitness trainers in February 2014. Some employers, such as gyms require personal trainers to be certified. However, this is not always the case and some personal trainers are able to find work without certification. Overall, personal trainers must possess certain skills, such as a passion for fitness and helping others achieve their goals, industry knowledge, leadership, and the ability to communicate effectively with their clients.
Personal trainers may specialize in a certain training type, training philosophy, performance type, exercise modality, or client population. In general, most personal trainers develop exercise plans for aerobic exercise, resistance exercise, and/or flexibility training. With aerobic exercise prescription, personal trainers determine the type of exercise, duration of exercise, and frequency of exercise. For resistance exercise prescription, the type of exercise, total session volume, rest period, frequency, and intensity are determined. Personal trainers may also be involved in the prescription of stretching routines or other approaches. Personal trainers help clients to perform exercises with correct techniques, minimizing the risk of injury. While some discuss nutrition, ergogenic supplementation, and spiritual practices with clients, there is debate within the industry as to whether it fits within their scope of practice and training qualifications.
As mentioned above, personal trainers may also work remotely with clients to improve their fitness. This is known as "online personal training" or "online coaching" and has become increasingly popular in recent years. This can be done via live video where the trainer instructs an individual or group while they exercise. However, an online personal trainer may also write a training plan for a remote client and allow them to complete their exercise on their own. This may involve a video analysis of the client's training session after the fact.
Personal trainer accreditation is a process that provides certification of competency as a personal trainer. Qualification standards for personal trainers vary between countries. Personal trainer accreditation is also viewed as experience in the field with many testimonials from clients on their achievements working with their personal trainer.
The International Confederation of Registers for Exercise Professionals (ICREPs) is an international partnership between registration bodies around the world that register exercise professionals. Member countries conform to the international standards set by ICREPs for personal training (and other exercise education credentials) and are transferable to other member countries. The current members of ICREPs (as of 2019) are: Fitness Australia, NFLA Canada, REPs India, REPs Ireland, REPs New Zealand, REPs Poland, REPs South Africa, REPs United Arab Emirates, REPs United Kingdom, USREPs and IranREPs.
In Australia, personal trainers may work independently with suitable insurance or choose to be a member of a registering body (Fitness Australia or Physical Activity Australia). The qualifications levels include; Level 1 - Certificate III in Fitness, Level 2 - Certificate IV in Fitness and Level 3 - Diploma of Fitness. These can be obtained from nationally accredited colleges (TAFE, Australian College of Sport & Fitness, Fitness Industry Training, Global Fitness Institute, Australian Institute of Fitness, Australian Fitness Academy). Once working in the industry, trainers who are members of associations are also required to complete short courses to obtain continuing education credit (CEC) points they need to keep their registration. A minimum of 20 CEC points every two years is required. Many personal trainers also have additional qualifications in weight loss, strength training, kid's fitness, and nutrition, which is in part due to the CEC program. CEC courses can cover a wide variety of topics such as different training techniques, nutrition, exercise styles, health conditions, physiology, lifestyle and rehabilitation.
In Brazil, personal trainers must have a bachelor's degree in "Physical Education" (a degree that combines knowledge in the fields of Exercise Science and Healthcare science) and be registered with the Conselho Federal de Educação Física (Federal Council of Physical Education), and risk criminal charges if they operate without these two requirements.
In Canada the main certifying bodies are Canadian Fitness Education Services (CFES), Canadian Fitness Professionals (CanFit Pro), Certified Personal Trainers Network, the Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology (CSEP), and the National Fitness Leadership Association (NFLA). CSEP requires a diploma or degree in the exercise field, most other organizations require experience and/or workshops to qualify for a credential. Many personal trainers receive a CFES, CanFit Pro, NFLA or an NCCA accredited certification, but there are no certifications required by law. Fitness instruction in Canada is an unregulated industry.
In Iran, the main certifying bodies are IranREPs and Bodybuilding Federation which these two organizations signed a memorandum of understanding in the beginning of 2019. IranREPs requires a diploma or degree in the exercise field from EuropeActive accredited providers or Sport universities. IranREPs joined the ICREPs in 2020.
In Europe, personal trainers may work independently, but will always need accreditation by one of the main certifying bodies such as:
NASM: National Academy of Sports Medicine. NASM Certified Personal Trainers are eligible to join the European Register of Exercise Professionals (EREPS). The NASM has attributed to the success of personal trainers in Europe and accredited companies like UNITEDFIT in the Netherlands became recognized as a qualified fitness organization in Europe.
ACE: American Council on Exercise. ACE is the first U.S. fitness certification provider to earn approval by the EuropeActive Standards Council and this makes ACE certified Personal Trainers and Group Fitness Instructors eligible to join the European Register of Exercise Professionals (EREPS).
EREPS: The European Register of Exercise Professionals (EREPS) is an independent process for the registering of instructors, trainers and teachers working in the European health, fitness and physical activity sector. It is a pan-European system, based on independent national registers, which culminate in a central European database.
In the UK, there are several ways to achieve a personal training qualification. Most personal training qualifications are accredited through awarding bodies like CYQ (Central YMCA Qualifications), Active IQ (Active International Qualifications) and City and Guilds. These qualifications are generally delivered by Further Education (FE) establishments like colleges, or by private training providers. Upon successful completion of an accredited awarding body qualification, candidates become eligible for Level 3 REPs(Register of Exercise Professionals) status. University graduates with an appropriate honours degree can also apply to become an approved by REPs through Accreditation of Prior Learning (APL) and Accreditation of Prior Achievement (APA).
REPs is the professional body 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 and 5 being advanced specialized training professionals. 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) Skills Active.
There is no legal restriction on the title of Personal Trainer nor any formal body associated with regulating Personal Training.
A number of certifications are available in the U.S., although a number are not accredited. Most require a high school diploma, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and automated external defibrillator (AED) certification, and some type of examination.
The United States Registry of Exercise Professionals (USREPS) is the official registry of exercise professionals in the United States and provides clients, employers, healthcare practitioners, policymakers, and insurance providers a single source for finding well-qualified exercise professionals in specific locations or to verify credentials.
A 2002 investigation evaluated a random sample of 115 personal trainers using the Fitness Instructors Knowledge Assessment (FIKA) (which measures knowledge in nutrition, health screening, testing protocols, exercise prescription, and special populations). The study described that:
- 70% of those surveyed did not have a degree in any field related to exercise science.
- Those who did not have a bachelor's degree in an exercise science-related field scored 31% less on average than those with a bachelor's degree or higher in the field.
- Those holding one of two specific certifications (the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) or the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) certification) scored 83% of the questions correctly on average. Those holding any certification other than ACSM or NSCA answered only 38% of the questions correctly.
- Years of experience was not found to be predictive of personal trainer knowledge.
In partnership with the fitness industry, the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA), which represents over 9,000 health and fitness facilities, started an initiative in 2002 to improve standards for both its own clubs and the industry as a whole. In January 2006, IHRSA implemented a recommendation that its facilities only accept personal trainers with certifications recognized by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) if recognized either by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and/or the U.S. Department of Education (USDE). As a result, the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC) was recognized by IHRSA as a recognized accreditor of fitness professional certification organizations. Since then, the DETC has accredited several personal trainer certification organizations, including the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA) and the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) among others. As of now, NASM, ISSA, AFAA, ACSM, ACE, and NSCA certifications are among the 16 accredited certifications recognized by IHRSA, three of which are accredited by the Distance Education Training Council (DETC).
Various organizations within the profession have lobbied for the adoption of more stringent criteria for certification developed by the NSF International. There remains no national legal restriction on the industry to date except for the District of Columbia (D.C.) which as of February 2014, passed legislation requiring personal fitness trainers to register in that jurisdiction. The law went into effect in the first half of 2014.
- Physical exercise
- Physical fitness
- Physical training instructor
- Professional fitness coach
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