Does Experience Equal Wisdom?

When I’m at conferences, workshops, conversing or observing other trainers I hear them say “I’ve been training people for 20 years or I’ve got 20 years of experience.” Most often I’m impressed, but sometimes when I ask questions or observe them train, it seems obvious they don’t have a clue as to what they are doing. In fact, they probably have one year of experience and repeated that same year 10 or 20 times.

I have a company that certifies personal trainers and all my instructors have to pass an instructor exam. It surprises me when I see a person with MS or PH. D at the end of their name who can’t answer the questions for the exam. Is this a problem?

It seems the personal training industry is gearing towards accreditation from “higher education” or a college degree. However, once you obtain your degree, there is no requirement to maintain your knowledge as opposed to certifications which expire; therefore the person is required to continue their education to maintain their certification.

Since this industry is fairly new and information continues to change rapidly, colleges may be using text books or training manuals that aren’t up to date. In some cases I’ve seen information that is erroneous and in some case dangerous. Printing costs can run into the hundreds of thousands so many texts are not updated in a timely manner. In general most people who have college degrees are pretty competent, but I’ve also met some self-taught, not-degreed, non-certified trainers that are avid learners who are also very knowledgeable.

Don’t get me wrong. College and higher education is fantastic, however, like any other industry there can be “good doctors” and “bad doctors.”

My advice is to whomever you choose to hire or consult, make sure this person attends workshops, conferences or some additional education since they’ve obtained their degree or certification. Try and educate yourself as to what questions to ask. It’s no different than buying a new roof for your home. You’re ultimately responsible for who, or what you choose.

Take note of a trainer that has obtained all of their education from the same certification company. Most certification companies focus or emphasize a certain aspect of training. It’s important for a person to be exposed to other views from additional educational organizations. People are different and the human body is vast. No one will know it all and sometimes “20 years of experience” can actually be limiting.

The desire and passion to learn and the ability to change to keep up with the latest information and techniques are the most important aspects I look for when hiring a trainer or instructor. I would rather have a person with zero education and the desire to learn then a Ph.D. who thinks they know it all. Then again, at trainer with a burning desire and zero knowledge of joint structure and function could be helping you to contribute to the orthopedic surgeon BMW fund. J For me, empathy or the sincere desire to help someone is just as important as knowledge.

Every day is a new “experience.” Try and approach each day with an open mind. The one thing you can count on for sure, is change. My Mother used to tell me “your mind is like a parachute, if it doesn’t open it isn’t worth much.”

Now, that’s wisdom.

I Keep Reading These Articles…

I keep reading these articles about third party accreditation or raising the “standard of credibility” for personal trainers. Are trainers making too much money? Are they working too little hours? Too many benefits? Are they hurting people? I think they aren’t even asking the right questions.

1. Who is asking or demanding some kind of standard of credibility? As far as I know or have seen, there aren’t any members, clients, parents, teachers or politicians writing letters, complaining or demonstrating with signs outside of gyms demanding “higher standard of credibility” for personal trainers. As far as I know, the only people or organization “making waves” in a form of a request for a third party accreditation is IRHSA. I would bet that most members never heard of IRSHA. IRSHA is a fine organization but to my knowledge has never run a personal training department, written a personal training manual or exam, have reviewed certifications nor trained people for a living. Even if the member did ask for a certification, I don’t think they would know the difference between NASM, NFPT, ACSM, NSCA or NCCPT.

2. Why aren’t there articles for “standards of credibility” for group exercise instructors, Pilates instructors, martial artists, indoor cycling, yoga or for that matter, the people who watch the member’s children while they work out? I would gather that all the previous groups I just mentioned affect or come in contact with more people than personal trainers and, I would also gather that with the lack of assessments performed before any of their participants engage in these activities probably account for more acute and chronic injuries than personal trainers cause. How about accreditation, certifications or “standards of credibility” for sales people or management?

3. Why would personal training want to be a part of the allied health team? The system is terrible. In the clubs I managed we would fulfill 2500 sessions a week in just one location! If there were just a 1% error in the system, that would result in 25 customer service problems each week from one location! I am currently fighting with Blue Cross over reimbursement for services I received from a physical therapy clinic in January of 2006! The health care system is so messed up, the physical therapy clinic I attended sometimes has to wait a year for reimbursement. When they didn’t receive it from my insurance company they passed the bills on to me. Mind you, they passed them on to me a year later! I’ve documented six phone calls over a period of four months to Blue Cross and each call I’ve been promised I would receive information on my checks in 7-14 working days. Still nothing. You can imagine how many prompts I had to wade through just to talk to someone.

4. What is the standard? Certification professionals often interviewed define the purpose of certification as establishing a “baseline of competency,” “protect the consumer,” “apply the best science possible,” etc. All fine and dandy, except it’s difficult to find a standard. A person with a degree in English literature, horticulture or mathematics qualifies to sit for the NSCA CSCS exam, but an athlete, coach or personal trainer without a degree who has been competing and training for 10-20 years cannot. How’s that for a standard? Who would monitor the standards? Have you read some of the different certification materials? Although there are many commonalities and great information, some can’t agree on the definition of abduction, range of motion, sets and rep protocols, static stretching, periodización and, it goes on and on. Most of the science has been done on “gym exercises.” With the “functional training” exercises we see now, do these sets and reps still apply? Most large facilities and trainers are performing half hour sessions. How do you perform rest periods of 3-5 minutes between each set in a 30-minute session? I just read a study on static stretching and it’s affect on lowering force production. Is that bad or is it good? Does the average client who wants to feel better and lose 10 pounds care about losing .2 seconds in their 40-meter sprint?

5. How can we increase the compensation, benefits, career path and decrease the amount of hours a personal trainer will have to work to make a decent living? If the average personal trainer earns less than $25,000 a year, how can we expect them to pay for more education? Remember, standards aren’t free. It costs to establish, monitor and employ standards.

6. Qualify the person being interviewed? When interviewing anyone regarding certification these questions should be t asked “How many new people do you meet a week, a month or a year wanting to be a personal trainer?” “Can you describe the average person looking to become certified?” What are their demographics?” “How much money do they need or want to make?’ “Do you hire or interview trainers?” What are their goals or dreams?” “Are you certified?” “How many certifications have you personally experienced?” “How many of their manuals or materials have you personally studied?” “Of the certifications you’ve recommending are you aware of how often they update their materials?” If they can’t answer these questions then they aren’t qualified to comment. This is a new field. Personal Training has changed dramatically in the last 5 years. Did anyone hear of Curves five years ago? Stability balls, medicine balls and foam rollers were not the mainstay 8-10 years ago. Most chains didn’t even have a personal training department 10 years ago! There might have been floor trainers, but in 1998 the profession was different than it is now.

7. What is a successful personal trainer? Is it financial? I see many popular trainers with a full client load who aren’t scientifically sound at all. Are they changing people’s lives for the better or the worst? Is Richard Simmons certified? How about Billy Blanks?

8. Does certification or a college degree make a successful personal trainer? Todd Durkin, who you can tell is in the trenches, had the best quote “certification makes up less than 50% of what gets the candidate in for the second interview.” I wish he would have said certification or higher education. Although doctors, lawyers and English literature majors are smart people and have obtained much education, I’m doubtful that many of them have trained clients for a long period of time. Personal trainers might never be required to acquire as much education as a doctor but then again, there are “good doctors” and “bad doctors.”

The truth is, it’s America. It’s great that we have all these organizations to learn from. The NASM curriculum is much different than NSCA. The NCCPT is much different than ISSA of AFAA. This is capitalism at it’s finest Competition creates better products and variety. We should have options and it’s up to the student to educate themselves on an organization before they purchase their products, regardless of whether it’s a certification, trade school or a college. The clients should have options to choose the best trainer for them, regardless of the acronym at the end of their name or the lack of the acronym. An employer should have the right to decide on whom to hire for the same reasons. In my opinion anyone who has taken the time to educate themselves through a certification, trade school, college, the internet or the library has made a move in the right direction. Regardless of the piece or paper in their hand it’s the consumer or the employer’s responsibility to interview wisely, perform a back ground check and to perform their due diligence before allowing a personal trainer, salesperson or anyone to represent them. This responsibility and accountability for all of our actions exists when purchasing a gym membership, personal training or a roof on a house.
Personal training is a service business not unlike, auto-detailers, landscapers, massage therapists, hairdressers, waiters, bartenders, chefs, housekeepers, mechanics, doctors, attorneys, accountants and on an on. You get what you pay for and pay for what you like. Believe me, if a woman likes her hairdresser she doesn’t care if they have a license or not. When was the last time you asked your massage therapist or hairdresser for their license or where your bartender or mechanic went to school? Can a massage therapist or a bartender hurt you? Sure can, if you let them.

It is very difficult to standardize an art, and in my opinion, personal training is more of an art than a science. If a trainer purchases a certification and someone hires them, likes them and gets results, where is the foul? Personal trainers aren’t making supplements or hiding ingredients in their exercises. However, a client needs to ask questions. They are accountable for their decision in hiring a good trainer or a sub-standard trainer. Ultimately, a degree, certification or any piece or paper doesn’t guarantee success. Look at all the marriage licenses that end in divorce. Regardless of how much a trainer paid or studied for their certification or degree, it is the consumer’s responsibility to decide on whether to purchase their services or not. If they don’t educate themselves on how to do so, then shame on them or shame on the company that presented the trainer to their customers. That’s what insurance and attorneys are for.

The focus should be on the facilities and their compensation for personal trainers and, more importantly, the basic education our children receive in regular schooling. It would have been highly beneficial if I had learned about my joints, muscles and how our bodies move in high school so I could make better decisions when exercising, getting a massage or hiring a personal trainer. It might have saved me from the four knee surgeries I’ve incurred in my life.
Personal trainers are studying to become certified or degreed from a variety or colleges and certifications, waking up at ridiculously early hours, working late into the evening, getting people into shape, preventing a host of diseases, motivating and caretaking for their clients for very little money, no benefits in most cases without any guaranteed work schedule. I’ve never met a more empathetic group of people. Could we give them a break?

Maybe next article?