In this industry, dropping a grand or two on a weekend certification seems as common as fitspiration memes of Facebook. Although some of the information in certain certs might be worth adding to anyone’s training knowledge quiver, a chunk of our population seem to only find information legit if it is packaged as a certification, and this education trend has infiltrated the fitness industrial complex, due to it’s unregulated capitalist tundra, to a degree where people are forgetting to learn. They’re just buying other people’s thoughts. Let’s explore why this might be.
A brief history of the certificate racket
Although certifications are so ubiquitous that choosing just one seems like eating just the bread from a buffet table, there once was a time when they held slightly more meaning, if only due to a scarcer marketplace of options. Initially this industry had 3 major players, the American Council on Exercise (ACE), the Aerobics and Fitness Assoc. of America (AFAA) and the American College of Sports Medicine (yep, you guessed it, ACSM). Now keep in mind that roughly 30 years ago, none of these existed, or at least no one cared yet. But somehow the big 3 eventually convinced fitness corporations that this new industry of personal trainers needed some sort of benchmark as to what their heads were full of… some sort of standardized education that made them blandly employable.
Eventually, as the fitness industry grew, the big 3 (which added a small handful to their ranks, including NASM and NSCA) succeeded so well at convincing the fitness industrial complex of their worth that you couldn’t get hired as a trainer without one of these kindergarten badges of honor, which generally took about 2 days to earn and had some sort of test at the end . A template that is still so successful you can legally own a franchise or affiliate gym from some companies with just this minimal requirement and a lot of money.
Keep in mind that, despite the fact that they were usually essential for employment, not a single one of these certs was required by law, as there is no governing body for personal training. In other words, massage therapists, physical therapists, hair stylists and mechanics are all in a legal league beyond the training world, since they are licensed and government regulated.
But not the fitness industry. And this is a mixed blessing. Although the entertainment that quite commonly passes for training (or ‘coaching’) has not yet caused enough damage to incite the highly litigious into precedent-setting legal action, the government hasn’t gotten it’s dirty little claws into the game, deciding who does what with whom, and what standards will be enforced.
In other words, as an industry, we’re free. Free to be as insipid, smart, hornswoggled or enlightened as we feel. And in this rare libertarian industry, we see a great deal of what it means to be human.
For one, it becomes blatant our need to have our education validated by something other than the quality of its application. New information to us is to be collected. Whether we use it or not, whether it is even valuable or not, seems secondary. The product of information becomes more important than actual info itself. You can grow your information collection! Your worth as a trainer has increased because you’re certified! Heck, for some it’s almost like info hoarding. Even in my early career, before certs were all the rage from anyone with a new idea (or a regurgitated old one), I collected over a dozen of them, like trading cards to impress other trainers.
Yes, they’ve all lapsed. By many, many years. Heck, my ancient personal history involves teaching for certification companies and providing continuing education units for multiple certs for my own workshops. That’s right, full confession time. At one point I certified and helped re-certify folks for the big players in the game.
But at some point the information became the key and what I did with it became the journey. It became time to literally sit at the feet of many masters, and then return the favor to many students, with nary a certification to worry about. It’s worked for centuries, this intelligence exchange, and keeps the education itself as the focus, not the validation of the education.
So why wouldn’t we just take the workshop sans a cert? Our humanness sometimes suffers from a confidence void. We believe our journey isn’t enough, so we’ll eagerly buy someone else’s experience. The otherwise useless piece of paper tells us that we’re now riding the wave of another thinker’s process, that their successful experience becomes ours, because we’ve now bought into it. We, ergo, are valid.
Yes, certifications help reduce our need to think for ourselves. And that just might be making us dumber as an industry.
Here’s some quick points to consider about this certification world…
If you’re a trainer, how many times has a non-trainer (ya know, like a client?) asked about your certifications? In my two decades of this game, maybe 3. They have no idea what certifications mean! The RKC or CSCS after your name is only there to impress other trainers. The rest of the planet doesn’t give a damn. Period. And if they did, they obviously don’t know the truth about the industry…
Certifications mean bunk. First, anyone can create a ‘certification,’ leading to the vast and confusing world of trainer certs available to anyone with ducats and a dream. Yup, my 108 year old deaf neighbor in a walker who smells faintly of old air fresheners and cheese can create her own weightlifting certification tomorrow if she wanted to live that fantasy. The chronically slouched hipster across the street who lives on Arcade Vampire Fire Weekend and PBR could create the next posture assessment protocol cert if he could pull himself away from Instagram for more than 10 minutes.
Is it good for business? Perhaps telling a client or potential client that being certified in Left-hand specific Gyroscopic sports conditioning Biomechanical Tectonics (LGBT for short) will wow them right into your clutches, but chances are they won’t have any idea what that means. Or they simply won’t care. At fitness gatherings eons ago we used to boast to each other about our certs, not unlike whipping out our 12th level magic user’s character stats at D&D conventions and bragging about his +6 save against polymorph spells.
But, alas, Joe and Jane Public couldn’t give a greater rat’s ass. Yet, somewhere along the way we decided that just learning and applying the info wasn’t enough. We had to PROVE that we gathered the information (which doesn’t prove that we know how to use it), at least to each other. Gimme that piece of paper!
So the certification market/racket has a wide range of options. What started as generalizations (the ‘personal training’ cert or the ‘aerobics instructor’ cert) has diversified into a vast cornucopia of specializations (there are at least 8 different major schools of thought for kettlebell certifications alone, and recently a macebell cert popped its head up, so the 9 people on the planet who know what it is can fork over $400 to impress no one else). They don’t all suck, in fact the information behind a handful of them might be money well spent. BUT, no one outside of the actual industry understands how they work or what they mean.
Why should you care?
If this is a libertarian market place, than buyer beware. Unfortunately, that would only include the trainers subscribing to this certification nonsense. It doesn’t include the clients, who are still part of a system that turns to us for their muscle smarts and movement education. If us trainers are blinded by our own hyperbolic propaganda, what sort of product are they, our clients, going to get? A certification gets us to believe way too quickly that we’ve learned what we need to know. This is why freshly certified neophytes are opening their own gyms or starting their own boot camps with a frightening growth rate.
Son, you didn’t learn puppy dick in your two-day course, and chances are you were barely given the tools to teach what information you did acquire. Grok this: perpetuating movement and force development in another person (or a big group of people… yikes) takes a lot more than enthusiasm and some new initials after your name. I might’ve been wrong in calling a certification the kindergarten of understanding. It might actually be pre-school.
That’s why I don’t offer a Bodytribe certification. I’ll give you tools, ideas and a template to expand your learning horizons. We’ll work together on filling your head and making your body groove in new ways. But what, in two days, are you going to show me that proves that you are capable of creating something amazing out of that? And that’s under the assumption that you will actually make these ideas simply part of your own stew, and not just spew my thoughts and the philosophy of Bodytribe through your lips blindly. Meanwhile, if you want to truly be a Bodytribe trainer, you can apprentice with us. Spend months sucking from our educational teats only to expand your brawn and fatten up your brain by creating your own journey from our template. It’s your art created from a mixture of our groundwork and your experiences.
But okay… you can get certified at any of my workshops. You create whatever name you want to give it. I’ll sign it. At no extra cost. Make sure the initials are cool though. Ya wanna put them all over Facebook.