5 Recommendations for Aspiring Personal Trainers

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In a recent article, Eric Cressey, fitness enthusiast and owner of Cressey Performance, advocates that students take a thoughtful and planned approach when considering whether to enter the field of Personal Training.  The Personal Training program at Glendale Community College follows Cressey’s advice, preparing students to make that well-informed decision.

Here are Cressey’s top five recommendations:

1. Go observe a few current fitness professionals who are successful in their crafts. Ask questions and get a feel for whether this is a good fit for you before you jump into the deep-end, quitting your job and investing all sorts of cash in a career change.

EXS101, the first course in the GCC Personal Training Program, gives students an opportunity to explore career options in the field and meet people working in the industry.  During an internship requirement students 80-240 hours working alongside the experts.

2. Wait a year to get a certification. What?  Huh?  This is supposed to come first, right?  Wrong.  Getting a certification without any background experience makes you a liability, not a professional.  Every penny you spend in that first year should be on books, DVDs, seminars, and travel to go observe other coaches/trainers in action.  And, you should be taking advantage of all the free resources there are for you to get educated online.  Don’t ignore fitness industry business resources, either; they aren’t taught with certifications or degrees, but are tremendously important.

Prior to obtaining certification, GCC students can complete one of three certificate programs or earn an associate’s degree. These programs give you a solid exercise science background and hands-on experience working with clients before you take the national certification exam. After completing these programs you’ll be more employable, and a better resource for your clients.

3. Get an internship. This is an extension of #1 – and it still comes before getting a certification.  You need to log at least three months of 40-hour weeks somewhere learning your craft and paying your dues.  Get a feel for whether you could see yourself doing this long-term.

Obviously, this is a concern because it would require you to quit your job, so you’d need to save up for this period.  However, you would be amazed at how many interns are hired by facilities after their internship period is over (all our “hires” at Cressey Performance have been former interns).  And, most facilities will pay for your certification and CPR/AED training, and some will even give you a continuing education stipends on top of it.

We agree. That’s why the internship is an integral part of the educational plan at GCC.  The Personal Trainer Certificate internship requires  80 contact hours, and it does not have to be done in a 40-hour week. The Associate’s Degree internship is 240 contact hours, but can be divided up between semesters if necessary.

4. Get a certification. Yes, it is step 4.  Frankly, I don’t really care what certification you get because none of them really wow me, but then again, I have a hard time justifying an undergraduate exercise science degree for $100, let alone $200,000.  If I was 18 today, I’d save all that money, get an internship, and spend the cash on loads of books/DVDs – and taking selective courses (gross anatomy, kinesiology and biomechanics). Most jobs will require it even if it is just a small foot in the door.

The certificate or an associate’s degree from Glendale Community College will prepare you to be a successful trainer.  You’ll need an NCCA-accredited personal trainer certification to get any job in the field. If you want to increase your earning potential, consider higher education – a bachelor’s, master’s, or a PhD. Whatever your goal, GCC is the perfect launch pad for the rest of your educational plans.

5. Pay your dues. There is no way around it.  You aren’t magically going to have a full client roster on your first day of a job; you have to start somewhere.  I can promise you that you will be better off with the background you’ve created with steps 1-4.

In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell talks about the importance of accumulating 10,000 hours in order to become an expert in one’s field.  There are only 8,760 hours in a year – and even if you assume 60-hour work-weeks, it’s still going to take over three years to get to that 10,000-hour mark.

Be the best intern you can be – and absorb all the learning possible. Work at a fitness center front desk so you become familiar with the needs of customers and clients. Volunteer in your community. Give presentations.  Go to high schools.  Go to church groups. Go to health fairs. Practice, practice, practice.  Your years of experience will become another major selling point when you apply for that dream job!

I’d like to hear your questions or stories about your personal training educational experience. Reach me at louise.so@gccaz.edu.

What’s Your Medicine?

May is Exercise is Medicine Month. I’m so excited to have another reason to tout the benefits of being physically active.

I believe exercise is better than medicine because there are only positive side effects. You can reduce the risk for heart disease, cancer and stroke, and make a dent in obesity risk too!

The hardest part for most is making the first move from the sofa or office chair. Once you get moving, the benefits begin to appear. The body immediately starts producing endorphins, the happy hormones, that give you that feeling of exhilaration. The long-term effects include a healthier, more efficient heart, improved endurance, and a better overall quality of life.

You may not be ready for the suggested goal of 150 minutes per week. That’s okay! Do what feels good for now. Do something you enjoy. And find a friend to join you.

Check in with your doctor and see if your cholesterol, triglycerides and blood-sugar levels are within the ideal range. Tell your doctor about Exercise is Medicine.

Exercise is Medicine is a joint effort, that began in 2009, between the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the American Medical Association (AMA). The goal is to have physicians check on patients’ physical activity and exercise participation as an important part of their overall treatment plan.

Doctors would hopefully motivate their patients to seek out a fitness professional to help get them started on a safe and effective path to lifelong exercise.

How many minutes of exercise did you do today? I challenge you to examine your daily doses of exercise during the month of May. You may be surprised at your health outcomes!

Personal Trainers Trending in 2013

Well, it looks like it’s cool to be smart! The number-one fitness trend for 2013 on the ACSM annual survey is Educated, Certified and Experienced Fitness Professionals.

If you are not already signed up for one of the fitness certification programs at Glendale Community College, now is a great time!

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a faster than average job growth rate for fitness professionals (24% thru 2020).

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Get Certified!

All of the best trainers are certified. Some have multiple certifications that include specialized training. If you are new to this field, you should plan to get certified. Spend some time reviewing the national fitness organizations before you commit.

If you want to get hired by the best employers, prepare to show a minimum of a community college certification along with your national certification.

At Glendale Community College, you can get multiple certificates of completion in personal training, nutrition and group fitness, as well as an Associate of Applied Science in Strength, Nutrition, and Personal Training.

These programs are a great way to prepare to take a national certification exam. The field of fitness and wellness does not have one specific certifying agency.

We encourage students to get certified through organizations that are accredited with the National Commission on Certifying Agencies (NCCA). These include what we call “the big four”: American Council on Exercise (ACE), American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) and National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM).

Staying Active for Life

We offer an online class called Active for Life. The curriculum is adapted from Human Kinetic’s Active Living Every Day (ALED) course. I know you are probably wondering how an online course can help someone be more active. Well, here’s how.

The course takes each participant on a journey of self reflection. It doesn’t matter if you are a couch potato or an Ironman triathlete. This course will give you tools to make you better!

You will learn to:

1. Replace sedentary activities such as watching TV with active ones such as taking short walks.

2. Become aware of the benefits of being physically active, especially the ones that most matter personally.

3. Set short- and long-term goals for becoming and staying active.

4. Reward yourself for reaching short- and long-term goals.

5. Get support from family and friends.

6. Turn negative thoughts into positive ones.

7. Monitor how much activity is done every day by counting steps or minutes.

8. Become flexible in thinking about what counts as physical activities.

9. Discover new ways to manage stress and time better.

10. Find new opportunities for activity close to work and home.

11. Plan ahead for situations that might cause relapse.

Every semester, students report on how the course surprised them. Every student can find at least three items on the above list that helped them in some way.

I personally love the “two-minute walk” idea. Most people would say “why bother?” Well, two minutes are better than no minutes! And people find that once they are out of their chair and moving, they end up walking further anyway.

Students find themselves dancing to music while cleaning the house, parking in the farthest parking spot, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, and donning their walking shoes on 15-minute work breaks.

They discover things like active vacations in exotic places and walking trails in their local community. They learn that just because they miss a few days of activity here or there does not mean they have failed.

Students learn about the five stages of readiness to change from the Transtheoretical Model for Behavior Change: pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action and maintenance.

If someone is in the pre-contemplation stage, they have no intention of exercising and do not believe the benefits outweigh the negatives.

Most people who sign up for the class are in the contemplation phase, however. They want to be fitter and healthier, but every time they try, something prevents them from progressing through the preparation, action and ultimately, maintenance stages.

Students review websites that promote health, fitness and behavior change, and they share ideas with classmates in an online discussion forum. People really open up and share personal feelings and experiences. There is a great sense of community and camaraderie.

We ask the students to complete a personal time study. They regularly report how active they are over 24 hours. People are always shocked when they see it on paper. The bare naked truth staring them right in the face!

This is not a required course in the Personal Trainer Certification program, but it would certainly add to a trainer’s bag of tricks. The course addresses some of the psychology of motivation and behavior change.

A trainer who takes this course to better himself or herself will be better equipped to show empathy, warmth, and genuineness toward a client. You can sign up for EXS123 Online at GCC. You’ll be glad you did!

The Skinny on Weight Loss

Desiring to lose weight is one of the most popular reasons to hire a personal trainer. It is critical that every trainer understands the facts about metabolism, nutrition, caloric expenditure, and the psychology of weight management.

We teach these concepts to personal trainer students in FON105 Nutrition for Fitness Professionals, and EXS125 Introduction to Exercise Physiology. The following is a little taste of what you could expect to learn.

Clients are exposed to so many myths on a daily basis that they don’t know who to believe. Advertisements that promise unrealistic results, money-hungry sales experts, uneducated and uncertified trainers who mis-advise clients, and family members passing on misinformation through generations.

The cycle will continue unless more fitness professions get educated and certified. It’s time to start dispelling myths and promoting safe and effective methods of weight loss. And it needs to be done in a way that each individual client will understand.

Why do people keep going on diets? Is there one diet that can guarantee results? Why do some people have such a hard time with weight loss? Let’s address some of these issues:

I have recently returned to work after maternity leave, and am all too aware of the desire to shed unwanted fat in a hurry. This is the third time I have been through this, and each time I learn a little more about patience and persistence. And with each beautiful child comes less and less time to focus on fitness.

You can’t lose fat in a hurry. Fat metabolizes slowly. We store fat so we will have a constant fuel source available. Without it, we would not survive. If you want to tap into your “fat fuel storage,” you have to create a daily caloric deficit, on a regular basis.

There are lots of diets that guarantee weight loss. There’s nothing really magic about them. They all restrict calories. Some more drastically than others. They usually have some fancy twist to them that entices people, but eventually the novelty wears off and the starvation and binge eating sets in. And then we blame the diet.

All clients should be given a rough idea of how many calories they should be consuming. They should also have a general idea of the calorie content of the foods they enjoy. Evaluating their 3-7 day food log is a good place to start.

You can find scientific equations all over the Internet on how many calories your client should be consuming. You will discover that most women need around 2000 calories and most men need around 2500. Seriously active people need more.

Some people think they are seriously active, but only for an hour a day. Then they sit at a computer for 8-10 hours, ride in a car for an hour, eat for an hour, sit in front of the TV for two hours, socially network for 2 hours, and then sleep for eight hours.

Rapid weight loss through drastic dieting is not safe for clients. If it happens too quickly, the weight loss will be mainly in the form of water and muscle. The way to avoid losing muscle is to create small daily caloric deficits and avoid dropping below the resting metabolic rate (RMR). This is good news for people, like myself, who actually enjoy food.

The RMR is the number of calories required for your body to function normally at rest in a 24 hour period. It does not include calories burned during basic movement, eating, or exercise. A quick method for figuring out your RMR is to multiply your ideal weight by 10.

“So what’s my ideal weight?” you might wonder. A quick way to estimate it for women is: 100lbs plus 5lbs for every inch over 5 feet. I am 5 feet 9 inches, so my ideal weight is roughly 145 lbs, give or take 10% on either side. This formula will not be accurate for body builders.

For men, that formula changes slightly to 106 lbs plus 6 lbs for every inch over 5 feet. It gets complicated, because people forget that there are 12 inches in a foot, so if you are 6′ 2″, it’s 106 plus (6 x 14). That adds up to 170 lbs for an average, non-body-building male, give or take 10% on either side.

My RMR is approximately 1450 if I multiply my ideal weight by 10. I can’t imagine surviving on less than that anyway, so no worries here. If I go below that number, I may start to use muscle for energy. This would be a problem.

Our muscles churn up calories all day long! If we lose muscle, we actually reduce our RMR, which means we burn even less calories at rest. This is how dieters end up gaining more weight when they go off of a strict diet.

If you want to figure out how many calories you need in order to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, you will need to start with the RMR. Then you have to add in calories for daily movement (not counting exercise).

So if you sit at a computer all day, you would add on another 10-20% to your RMR. If you walk around a lot, then maybe add up to 50%, and if you have a strenuous job that involves lots of lifting and walking, then maybe add 60-70%.

And then you have to add exercise calories to that total. But, you should look at how many days a week you actually exercise. If you swim 3 times a week and burn 500 calories during those sessions, you can’t add all 500 to your caloric needs every day, or you might end up gaining weight. The best thing to do is to multiply 500 calories by 3 (workouts per week), and then divide it by the 7 (days in the week). This will give you a more realistic total to add to your calculation.

So that’s how you estimate your caloric needs. RMR, plus daily movement, plus exercise. I bet you came close to 2000 if you are female, and 2500 if you are male! That would have saved you from all those calculations!

If you want to create a deficit, knock off anywhere up to 20% of that number. The less you knock off and the longer you take, the easier it will be and the more likely it will be permanent weight loss.

Permanent weight loss, in the form of fat, is not easy, but it is possible with patience and persistence. An educated and certified personal trainer can guide a client toward their goals with the help of these basic facts. Let’s dispel the myths and share the knowledge to help prevent obesity from destroying lives.

Saving Lives…One Client at a Time

A personal trainer may not have the qualifications to diagnose an illness, prescribe medication or create a diet, but they can save your life in so many ways. Let’s look at the facts.

All certified personal trainers can administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and operate an Automated External Defibrillator (AED). But hopefully it won’t come to that.

Personal trainers are hired for their expertise in muscle building, weight management, health promotion, fitness improvement, and post-rehab abilities.

Before designing a new exercise program, a trainer will assess the client’s baseline fitness. This begins with a review of the client’s health history in order to determine the level of risk. It is during this risk stratification process where a trainer may discover something that should be reported to a medical doctor. Oftentimes, this can be a life-saving event for a client.

The trainer then records height, weight, body composition, heart rate, and blood pressure – the resting measures. If the blood pressure is recorded at 140/90 or higher, and the client was not aware of having elevated blood pressure, a visit to the primary care physician is encouraged. At that point, the doctor might diagnose hypertension and recommend a course of medication. Again, had this screening not been done, the client may have allowed it to go on long enough to cause serious life-threatening concerns.

Personal trainers can help prevent illness. Regular exercise prevents hypokinetic diseases. These are the diseases of inactivity and include obesity, type-2 diabetes and heart disease. A trainer who designs a safe and effective exercise program can help prevent early and unnecessary decline in health.

An initiative called Exercise is Medicine was launched in 2007 by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the American Medical Association (AMA). The goal is to encourage physicians to review patients’ exercise habits during regular office visits, and to refer patients to qualified fitness professionals. In England and New Zealand a doctor can prescribe exercise, allowing patients to attend fitness facilities at a discounted rate.

SilverSneakers is another initiative that benefits the patient, the fitness centers and the insurance companies. It’s a win win situation when all parties are promoting exercise.

Personal trainers are instrumental in the maintenance of health after rehab. People who have suffered from a heart attack or who have had an accident-related injury need rehab. But what happens after rehab? Back to the sofa? Not a good idea. This is where having a certified personal trainer can help maintain the physical progress that was initiated by the physical therapist or the cardiac rehab specialist.

Cancer patients need exercise specialists to help rebuild muscle that was lost during treatment. Stroke patients need regular physical activity following rehab so they can retrain the motor units and practice controlled muscular movements. Heart patients need to continue what they started in phase 1 and phase 2 cardiac rehab. Rehab can’t go on forever. Financially it is not feasible. And eventually people have to get discharged.

Personal trainers are affordable. They are no longer a luxury of only the rich and famous. They work hard and love what they do. They usually are not in it for the money. They are personal trainers because they get joy from helping others reach their goals. And they can prolong lives!

Louise So is a member of the faculty at Glendale Community College in the Fitness & Wellness Department. Our programs include: Personal Trainer Certification and Associate in Applied Science in Strength, Nutrition and Personal Training.

Perfect Employer

What are your top five requirements when looking for a personal trainer position at a fitness facility?

We polled our students and we also asked them to interview one facility to see if it met their needs. Here is what we learned:

Employers are paying an average of $14 per hour. Some starting pay is as low as $10, but our students felt that a good experience was worth the low pay initially.

Most facilities expect trainers to have a national certification through ACE, ACSM, NSCA or NASM.

Personal trainers are expected to be knowledgeable, so a community college certificate is highly respected. However, personality and good communication skills are key.

Trainers can be employed by a facility or work as an independent contractor. In either case, liability insurance is highly recommended.