How to choose what certifications are right for you
This post is for any fitness professional in the health and fitness industry that may be struggling with what certifications they should get to evolve their skills and/or advance in their career. It’s a topic that I’ve discussed with many students I’ve mentored in the past but for some reason it’s taken me quite a long time before I finally wrote a post on it. There are so many certifications and workshops that health and fitness professionals have access to that it can be overwhelming with what route to go, so I’m going to provide you with a few questions for you to answer as well as my opinion in hopes to help guide you so you can make an educated decision on what route is best for you.
What population do you want to work with?
If you’re wanting to work with the general population then you’re going to need some form of basic personal training certification because no one will hire you if you don’t have one. There are tons of organizations out there that provide personal training certifications and each have their own requirements and re-accredidation requirements. Some examples are BCRPA, ACE, CANFIT PRO, NCSA-CPT, etc. All of these organizations can be good for you but in my opinion, you should select and be a part of the one organization that has the following:
- The most recognizable and reputable organization in the largest geographical area,
- The organization that provides the simplest and most-efficient route to getting that basic personal trainer certification,
- The organization that provides their members with access to the most up-to-date continuing educational resources (e.g. monthly online journals, access to regional and international workshops, online peer group chats).
Obtaining your basic personal training certification is the FIRST STEP in your journey as a fitness professional so in my opinion, you should not waste your time and money on an organization that requires you to attend a bunch of expensive courses, evaluations, and tests in order to receive this basic certification.
If you want to work with athletes that play on a sports team or individuals who play a particular sport then most sports teams (college, university, amateur, or professional) or individual sport athletes will require you to be a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) through the NSCA. Obtaining the CSCS certification requires you to have higher-level attributes like a college or university degree. This degree does not have to be exercise-science related and the NSCA provides excellent study material and practice tests so you can be successful in passing the CSCS exam. This certification will require you to show continuing education units (CEU’s) every two years to maintain the certification but this cert can definitely open some doors for you and help you advance your career in working with sports athletes.
Whether you decide to be a personal trainer for the general population or a strength coach for athletes, in order to stay current and relevant in this industry, you will NEED to upgrade and evolve your skills and knowledge so don’t get tricked into thinking that because you have the certification you know what you’re doing. Even if you’re a Kinesiologist, you also NEED to upgrade and evolve your skills and knowledge as well. Having a degree or personal training certification is just the beginning. The most rich learning experiences will be gained with quality continuing education, work experience with many different types of clientele, connecting and collaborating with like-minded people, and valuable mentorships. Each of these learning experiences will challenge the way you think, cause you to become a critical thinker, and will possibly debunk much of what you will have learned in your basic personal training certification course or kinesiology degree.
What is your end goal?
This is a very important question that you should be able to answer as your answer will provide you with a good idea of what certification(s) you may need to get along the way as you work towards that goal.
“I want to open my own CrossFit affiliate.”
Say you’ve been training CrossFit for a while and you love it so much that you want to one day open your own CrossFit affiliate, build a community, and teach CrossFit to the masses. If that’s your end goal, then CrossFit requires that you must obtain your CrossFit Level 1 Certification (CF-L1). CrossFit’s Level 1 certification is a weekend long course which will teach you the basic fundamentals and principles of CrossFit training and provide you as a coach, some basic cueing and understanding of basic movements typically used in CrossFit. After obtaining your CF-L1, you would then go through the process of applying to get an affiliate so you can go open your own CrossFit box. The affiliate process is surprisingly quite easy. It entails an application essay and an annual affiliation fee. That’s it!
Keep in mind your CF-L1 requires re-certification after 5-years. One interesting thing to note is that CrossFit does not require you to show continuing education credits during that 5-years in order to be eligible to re-cert the CF-L1. There are now other certifications that CrossFit has, namely CF-L2, CF-L3, and CF-L4 (coming soon) but the only one you must have in order to maintain eligibility to affiliate each year, is CF-L1. In my opinion, you should maintain the minimum requirement of CF-L1 but seek other developmental courses provided by other organizations so that you will expand and broaden your knowledge of training and develop into a more well-rounded coach.
“I want to coach CrossFit at an affiliate!”
If your end goal is to simply work at a CrossFit affiliate and coach classes, then you may have to have your CF-L1. I say may have because it all depends on the hiring requirement of the affiliate you’re applying to. Some affiliates make it mandatory for their trainers and coaches to have a CF-L1 to work at their place and others (like Engineered Bodies Strength & Conditioning) that do not.
Let’s say you just like to train CrossFit for your own personal fitness aspirations but it’s not mandatory to get your CF-L1 because where you work doesn’t require the certification or your end goal is to not open your own affiliate. If that’s the case, then in my opinion, you may want to save paying the $1000US fee and skip taking the CF-L1 all together. There are many other workshops and mentorship opportunities being offered out there from other organizations that may be better suited to help you become a better and more effective coach in a CrossFit or non-CrossFit environment.
“I want to coach the Olympic lifts to people!”
If you’re a personal trainer or strength coach that wants to use the Olympic lifts to train your clients then you must take some certification that will enable you to call yourself a weightlifting coach. In Canada, you must follow the requirements by the National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP). Completing the NCCP requirements is a lengthy process that involves taking technical workshops, classroom theory courses, coaching weightlifting athletes for at least one year while keeping training logs and notes, and finally being evaluated by a senior instructor at a weightlifting competition. After all of this, you have the designation of being a NCCP Certified Olympic Weightlifting Introduction/Club Coach. It shouldn’t stop there. In my opinion, it’s in your best interest to find a coach and mentor that will help you with your own technique as well as guide you by providing you opportunities to coach along side their athletes to develop your eye for the technique and how to correct and coach them through any issues. Weightlifting requires a dedication and commitment to teaching quality movement and patience as a coach so learning how to develop all of those attributes effectively requires on-going mentorship.
If you’re a CrossFit coach that coaches at an affiliate, chances are, you will have to teach your members how to execute one of the classic lifts (snatch or clean and jerk) in a class. There are weekend CrossFit weightlifting certification courses offered that will provide you with some basic knowledge, cueing, common technique errors, and corrective strategies for these lifts but it’s in your best interest as a coach to not stop there. Find a weightlifting coach and mentor like I recommended above to help you become a better coach. These lifts are the most technically-demanding lifts so if your CrossFit programming calls for these lifts for your general population clients in a CrossFit affiliate, then in my opinion, you must be able to coach them at a very high level. If you’re not taking continuing educational workshops or mentoring in these lifts and you’re teaching these lifts to people, then you’re doing your clients a disservice.
“I want to teach people how to use kettlebells!”
Kettlebells are a great tool that you can use but it’s important to learn how to execute the and teach the proper technique and get a certification from a reputable organization. The main ones are Strong First, RKC, and Agatsu. If you’re planning on using the kettlebell tool as your primary way to train your clients you may want to go the route of Strong First or RKC. If you plan on using many other forms of movement and tools in addition to the kettlebell then in my opinion you should choose Agatsu as their training philosophy may align with your training philosophy much better.
“I want to teach people how to do body weight stuff!”
If you plan on prescribing push-ups and pull-ups to your clients, you better make sure you’re doing them and teaching them properly. Sadly, these “basic” movements have never been taught correctly to us in our country’s elementary or high school physical education system. What’s even more shocking is that they’re not taught correctly to those in college or university degree programs like kinesiology or exercise science.
The use of gymnastics and calisthenic movements and “movement training” involving locomotion patterns or capoeira type movements have been increasing in popularity in recent years so if you’re a personal trainer, strength coach, or CrossFit coach, you should really learn how to teach those movements properly if you want to use them to train your clients. There are so many progressions for each movement so it’s important to fully understand each progression and ultimately be able to correctly prescribe the appropriate progression for your client.
In my opinion, you should plan to take a workshop from an organization that is reputable world-wide. If that organization offers online coaching or mentorship programs for your continuing education then it would be in your best interest in investing in one of those options as it will prove as a valuable resource that you can come back to and review. Some very reputable organizations are Gold Medal Bodies (GMB Fitness), GymnasticsBodies, and Ido Portal. I highly recommend you make sure you attend workshops from any of these amazing organizations, take their online programming and put in the necessary work to improve yourself with their teachings. Your clients will definitely thank you.
What is your training principle?
Regardless if you’re planning on personal training, or strength training a team, coaching CrossFit, weightlifting, kettlebells, or body weight training, at the end of the day, you should be doing this to ultimately help another person be a better version of themselves. I believe you must have a training principle that drives the way you do that. In my opinion, your answer to this question will help you to filter out which certifications or workshops that do not resonate with your training principles so that you can omit them. One training principle that drives Engineered Bodies Strength & Conditioning is “movement quality before movement quantity” inspired by the quote from Gray Cook (the founder of Functional Movement Systems and the Functional Movement Screen (FMS)). If you’re less experienced and still not quite sure what your training principle is yet, then this is where mentors are very valuable in you growth and development as a personal trainer or strength coach. The knowledge and insight you will gain from the mentor’s experience is invaluable. You comfort zone will expanded, you will grow immensely, and it will become more clear what your training principles are.
The FMS mentorships I received from Behnad Honarbakhsh from Fit to Train started me on the path of understanding the valuable process of screening, assessment, and systematically prescribing movement exercises to improve how people moved at the start of their moment journey. These mentorships also connected me with other amazing people who shared similar training principles and who later became friends and colleagues. We’d get together to bounce ideas off each other, discuss case studies and have many more experiences and learning opportunities along the way. The more clearly you understand what your training principles are, the more you will be able to find others who share similar training principles in your community both local and abroad and you will be able to learn and grow. Hunter Cook, Dewey Nielson, and Bryan Marugg came from different parts of the world but they came together because of their shared belief in the principles of Functional Anatomy Seminars – Functional Range Conditioning (FRC)) created by Dr. Andreo Spina. They now together share these principles to others all over the world.
Are You Seriously Committed To Improve?
One of my company’s core values is “a commitment to continued education and growth” and I take that very seriously. I make it my job to know who are the brightest minds in our industry, who are the trail-blazers, who are best at combining science with art, and who is delivering high-quality information by way of workshops, mentorships, or certifications. I know there are trainers out there who haven’t improved or grown and still possess the same weaknesses they had from years ago and haven’t done the work to improve it or they haven’t upgraded their certifications. To me those people lack integrity. Unfortunately the byproduct of this stagnation and lack of commitment in their own learning is that their client’s learning and improvement stagnates too (unknowingly for the client, of course). I also know there are other trainers out there who don’t actually understand why they’re taking a particular certification and don’t actually use the knowledge obtain in the certification on their clients. These trainers only seem to take these courses simply to attain CEU’s to satisfy their organization’s re-certification requirements. I don’t believe that’s the right approach either.
In my opinion, it’s our jobs as fitness professionals to:
- stay current,
- to connect with, learn, and collaborate from mentors and quality, like-minded colleagues and friends,
- take certification and workshops that align with our goals and training principles to expand our knowledge,
- commit to diligent practice and application of the knowledge to fully understand the material and,
- share this knowledge with our clients so that we may empower and enhance their lives for the long term.
I hope you as a fitness professional make the choice to take that seriously and commit to that as it’s a honour and a privilege to do that for ourselves and to help and inspire another person to become a better version of themselves.