My Personal Training Certification: the Good, The Bad, and The Weird
So as some of you know, I’ve been playing orchestra full-time this summer at Chautauqua, and to keep my brain extra busy, I also decided to do a personal training certification. I have always felt a bit odd just being a pilates and yoga teacher that knows things, and I felt like a personal training would somehow substantiate what I know a little better. (Does it? Not really). I also felt like it would justify me teaching more strength based concepts (also not really). But…NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine) had a sale on their courses before July 4th, so I decided to get the discount and go for it. Now if you google NASM CPT test, you’ll find a bunch of articles and videos about people studying really hard, what you should study and how they wanted to pass on the first time. (Yes, I passed.) This is not that blog. There are some really odd things that I noticed while taking the course, and this is my rant.
-The course is not insanely easy, which is reassuring, although there are plenty of typos and spelling errors in the study guides, practice tests, and chapter quizzes. I found this both fascinating and horrifying.
-You have to learn some science that you may not have learned in other courses. Revisiting cellular respiration and the cardiorespiratory system was actually really helpful. I don’t think I’d thought about it since biology in 2003, but an awareness of those systems and energy is actually helpful in terms of teaching yoga and pilates as well.
-I definitely learned some useful things and had to skim the chapters at least.
-I actually like their model for training, which is based on a pyramid structure of stability, strength, and finally power. It also has changed the way I think of yoga and pilates, as they are mostly oriented are stability and maybe a little strength.
-I learned about ways of organizing sets and reps, which arguably I could’ve done on most training websites, but I found it useful, especially since pilates usually does single sets of movements.
-I now see some of my own training blind spots, such as speed, quickness, and agility, and I’ve been thinking more about those components. Unless you actively play a sport or train for a specific sport, chances are, you haven’t thought about it either!
-There is a super strong weight loss focus, based on the assumptions that
If you eat less, you’ll lose weight.
If you work out, you’ll lose weight.
Anyone coming in deemed “overweight” must want to lose weight.
-The weight loss focus brought up a lot of thoughts for me, which I will address in a separate blog, but here’s some key points.
Weight alone is not a great indicator of global health.
Some of the strongest people in the world, especially powerlifters and strongmen/women are deemed overweight or obese by most standards.
Measuring someone’s bodyweight and body fat in their first personal training session might be fine, but it also might be traumatizing. (Ask me how I know).
The weight loss and diet industry current is valued at $72 billion dollars. By bringing diet culture into fitness, gyms can make more money and trainers can seem more valuable than they are.
Trainers know little to nothing about nutrition, so please don’t take advice from them unless they have other qualifications. There were two small chapters on nutrition and supplements, and that was it.
-There is a strong focus on using gym equipment rather than teaching movement patterns. In fact, there is very little movement instruction in this course, so if you’re looking for some perspectives on squats, hip hinges, or other movements, this is not the course for you.
-There is little to no body, age, race, or size diversity in the model images. The bulk of the videos are narrated by men- I believe there were one or two female video narrators. None of the images featured people above age 30 or so, and most of the models and speakers are caucasian.
-There was very little sensitivity in terms of handling issues like size, ability, disability, race, gender, orientation, age, etc. There was an assumption that most people work out to lose weight.
-IT’s ALL ONLINE. Yup. Nothing was in person. I did hundreds of in person hours for yoga, Yoga Tune Up, and Pilates training, but zero for personal training, where people are at the highest risk for injury and are working with the highest external load.
-There were a ton of questions about upper and lower crossed syndrome, both in the reading and the exams. I found this both interesting and bizarre because movement patterns are a composite of a lifetime of moving, injuries, and more. You can’t just roll out or static stretch a long term movement pattern.
-There was a lack of critical thinking and a lot of weird memorization. Case in point, “excess of beta carotene in supplements is correlated with what?” “How much oxygen per kg is consumed in a minute?” “How many calories does a carbohydrate yield?” A lot of the questions just required you to use process of elimination to dump the stupid answers.
-Some of the demonstration images for form were not great. I’m all for a spectrum of expressions of a movement, but some of them were poor form.
-There some outdated science of stretching in the “if something is short, you should static stretch it.” That will create some change short term but doesn’t actually solve the underlying issues. There were lots of questions like, “someone’s head is pulled forward, which muscles are overactive and need stretching?”
-There was very little about actually teaching movement, explaining things, cuing, etc.
-If you want to teach people how to move well, do another training. Do a few other trainings in fact. I am incredibly grateful that I sped through the course in 4 weeks and took the test at the end of week 5, and that I already knew a ton of things about the body after teaching yoga and things for 9 years.
-If you want to hire a personal trainer, make sure that they have done MORE than a nationally recognized online training like ISSA, ACE, NASM, or ACSM, whether that’s in yoga, kettle bells, strength, pilates, or group fitness. If you want to become a personal trainer and work at a gym, you can start with an online certification, but it’s something that you do to pass the test, and then you need to develop some serious skills outside of that. I did learn some things, and I have changed the way that I work out personally, and with clients. I’ve also changed my perspective on the role of yoga and pilates within the greater realm of fitness, and seen context and cross over. If you also want to become a trainer, I’d highly recommend studying anatomy and movement science first, rather than trying to learn it from a textbook by yourself.
So if you’re wondering whether or not to do a certification like this, it depends on your circumstances. It doesn’t necessarily “get” me anything, except now I feel like I’m allowed to teach whatever I want a little more freely. It may mean that some people or organizations will perceive me as more qualified because I have some other letters at the end of my name, but that’s debatable. You can absolutely be a great coach with or without a personal training certificate. More importantly, I’m inspired by the coaches that are working to change the industry from the inside out, who are promoting gender, body, racial and age diversity, and who are expanding our narrow definition of fitness and health.