Fitness Tips · Instructor

Fitness Professionals and Certifications/Licenses

Most big-box gym chains require their personal trainers and group exercise instructors to hold a certificate or license in something that relates to what they’ll be teaching or training. Some of the gyms will even pay their employees to get further training in their areas of expertise.

This setup translates to you knowing that the people you are training with or taking classes from at these types of gyms have the minimum required education to instruct you. I find comfort in knowing that the gyms that this, take measures to ensure their members’ well-being.

Unfortunately, most gyms don’t require their instructors to take further trainings to stay up-to-date with industry standards and safety.

Of course, the initial certifications/licenses these professionals obtain, teach them the standards and safety relating to that specific format.

Now, I’m not saying that without these extra trainings the instructors or trainers are incompetent at what they do. What I am saying is that they have gotten the job and continue to teach/train for a reason.

As fitness professionals, we should always be striving to the best at what we do to benefit our clients and students. I understand that trainings and certifications are costly and time consuming…so, you don’t have to do them all at once. BUT getting a couple of the basics under your belt can provide you with a more well-rounded base of information to ensure your clients’ safety.

Number one before anything else – CPR/AED and First Aid

This goes for everyone…including non-fitness professionals. There are many advantages to being CPR certified. In the case of any emergency, you can help or even save a life.

This is ESSENTIAL for us fitness professionals.

If someone passes out or gets injured in your class or while training, you will be the first one on the scene – and ideally you should be able to help. The less time spent rushing around trying to find help, the more time you have to respond immediately.

You can go online and get basic training, but I recommend taking an in-person course. For certain certifications such as a primary group exercise or personal training, being certified in CPR is mandatory.

To find a CPR certification training you can Google “CPR course” and plenty of options will pop up in your area. I’ve gone through multiple agencies for this and they have all been equal in quality.

Group Exercise Instructors


A key certification to acquire is a general/primary group exercise certification through any accredited certifying body. This is in addition to whatever license/certificate you hold in the format you teach. If you teach a class that does not require a training, then this is crucial to leading effective and safe classes. Take boot camp classes, for example. Unless it is a specific type of boot camp, most facilities don’t require you to hold a special boot camp certificate to teach it.

Format-specific trainings encompass the necessary information important to what you are specifically teaching. They can’t be expected to teach you more background knowledge. It’s not realistic to cover that much material in a one or two-day training.

That’s why it’s up to us instructors to take responsibility for learning this information such as: basic anatomy. This knowledge enables us to maximize the effectiveness of our classes to provide our students results.

Here is a list of some of the top organizations to go through to get this type of certification:

AFAA (Athletics and Fitness Association of America)

ACE (American Council on Exercise)

ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine)

ISSA (International Sports Sciences Association)

NETA (National Exercise Trainers Association)

Personal Trainers

If you are training people in any capacity, you should be certified to do so, or hold a degree relating to this field. This is to ensure that safety of your clients.

Unfortunately, there are people out who train clients and hold no certification or a CPR certification. I understand that you can be self-taught in fitness and have an understanding of how to work out. BUT to train someone requires more knowledge of the human body and movement. Again, this is something one can learn on their own – it is different to have to be tested in the subject to acknowledge that you have a full understanding of the subject though.

The idea is similar to going to get your hair cut…you go in expecting that the hair stylist is a licensed professional who has passed a test proving she is competent to take your head under her scissors. You may have friends who have been self-taught to cut hair, but the people who are hired in salons have licenses for a reason.

There are LOTS of personal trainer certificate programs you can explore. One key feature to look for when deciding on one is that the program should be accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA).

Here is a list of the more reputable ones:

NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine)





NESTA (National Exercise and Sports Trainers Association)

To maintain any certifications, you will have to receive continuing education credits to renew your certification within the renewal period (they usually last two years). By requiring this, you are then all but forced to learn more and be up-to-date on industry standards. Which is great! We can never be perfect! We want to strive to be better all the time.

If you are a student or client participating in class or training sessions, I highly recommend you look into if your instructor is certified or not.

If you are attending a gym, this is not such a big concern. Outside of the gym setting though, there is not typically someone checking on these instructors and trainers. ESPECIALLY for personal training. Having a personal trainer who is certified means you KNOW you are getting training done with safety and body mechanics in mind, assuming they are using what they learned. Otherwise, it may be no different than paying your friend who spends lots of time at the gym to help you. Which is fine, if it’s okay with you. I hate to see people spend money on something that is not of the quality they are expecting, though.


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