Poll: Should Personal Trainers Be Licensed?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Earlier this week I had the opportunity to finally catch up on some of my reading. If you were to see my office, my shelves are lined with books covering all aspects of health and fitness, with running being my primary focus. But I also subscribe to many fitness publications including the American College of Sports Medicine Health and Fitness Journal.

In the March/April 2010 issue there was a very interesting article raising the question as to whether or not health/fitness and clinical exercise professionals should be licensed. And par for the course, this got me thinking.

I am not aware of any allied medical professional not required to be licensed by the state in which they practice. This goes for Registered Nurses, Licensed Vocational Nurses, Physical Therapists and Registered Dietitians just to name a few. Licensing is a safeguard for the community and for the profession. It requires the taking and passing of a comprehensive exam at the end of his/her studies. Once he/she receives his/ her license to practice, there is usually a yearly or bi-yearly re-licensing fee, along with proof of Continuing Education Units (CEUs) earned between the time of renewals. Not receiving the proper CEUs may lead to a revocation of one's license.

With so many of us turning to personal trainers to help us meet our fitness goals, how do we know if the qualifications our trainer received is appropriate for our needs? When we place our trust in those who will direct us on the proper path to reclaiming our health and fitness, it is important that we have full disclosure of their qualifications.

While many personal trainers are certified, certification is not the same as licensing. Certification just means the individual met the requirements of that particular program of study. That being said, some programs are more comprehensive than others and well exceed the educational standards for personal trainers, while other programs fall quite short in that area.

So why would licensing personal trainers, exercise physiologists and health fitness professionals be of benefit to us?

Licensing would require every individual to take a comprehensive exam at the end of his/her studies to guarantee a standardized qualification of knowledge is obtained regardless of where the individual received his/her education.

Currently the only state to license exercise physiologists is Louisiana. While other states have pursued passing legislation to do the same, so far that has yet to be seen and probably won't for some time. According to those is the industry, it does not appear that licensing will be a requirement any time soon, even though many believe there should be some type of competency exam, both written and practical, given at the end of their course of studies.

Not surprising, in a National Board of Fitness Examiners survey from 2006, of 2730 individuals who responded to the survey "76% agreed or strongly agreed that licensing of personal trainers will increase the perception of professionalism of personal trainers. While 75.4% feel that licensing of personal trainers will facilitate referrals from traditional health care providers, and 61% feel that insurance companies will be more likely to reimburse for services if personal trainers are licensed. 62.7% agree or strongly agree that they would like to be denoted as a licensed personal trainer".

Because licensing is not a current requirement for personal trainers, the next best suggestion is to check the personal trainer's credentials by asking the following questions or you can click on the following link to an article Coach Jen wrote on How to Choose a Personal Trainer.
  1. What is their educational background? Do they have a degree in exercise physiology or one of the allied health fields?
  2. Are they certified by a respected organization such as the American College of Sports Medicine, the American Council on Exercise or the National Academy of Sports Medicine? If not, where did they receive their certification?
  3. How long have they been a personal trainer? Where have they worked? What type of clients have they worked with?
  4. Do they keep current on the latest research? In other words, do they actively pursue continuing education opportunities?

For now, without any standards in the industry, it is even more imperative that you do your homework. Make sure the individual you are training with works in conjunction with you and the goals you want to meet.

And should your personal trainer begin to offer advice outside his/her area of expertise, such as specific nutrition or medical advice, this may be the time to rethink your situation. Offering standardized nutritional information such as eating a balanced diet of lean protein, healthy fats, fruits, veggies and whole grains, is well within their guidelines. But for a personal trainer to emphasize the taking of supplements or to recommend specific dietary advice which they are not authorized to do is outside their scope of knowledge, therefore, this may be a red flag to look elsewhere for your personal training advice.

Do you believe personal trainers should be licensed, if not why? Do you believe that by not having a standard in the industry makes it more difficult in choosing a trainer? What qualifications would be important to you when choosing a personal trainer?

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Personal Trainers should be licensed, and as many others have stated, should also have background in a health science related educational path (eg, kinesiology, exercise science, etc). This is the main reason why I trust my sister to act as my coach, because she is a licensed Physical Therapist. Even though she lives a long way away, I can call her for advice on what to do in any situation, and I know she will give me exercises/stretches that I can do in a safe way. Personal training seems very closely linked with physical therapy, though it isn't as in-depth a process (my sister finished her doctorate, so she can practice). If someone looking to be a personal trainer is serious about making that their career, they would put in the educational time and be more than willing to pay a licensure fee and take the appropriate examinations if it meant that they'd have a larger clientele who was confident in their ability to provide safe, workable exercise and/or diet recommendations. Report
i ABSOLUTELY belive they should have to be licensed .. Report
Yes, I believe that they should have licenses. You have to have a drivers license to drive. If you want to be a doctor, nurse, beautician, or dentist, you have to have a license. If you want to be an attorney, you have to pass the bar exam. Being a personal trainer shouldn't be any different. The human body can be a delicate matter and they could cause injury if they aren't knowledgeable in their field. Report
I think there should be some way to verify credentials and licencing (not certifying) is probably the easiest way. There should be an exam to make sure they understand what they have learned in the class(es), just like doctors, nurses, physical therapists, etc.
I know that if you don't know what you're doing, you could cause lots of injuries. Two of my friends have had torn muscles and stress fractures and I have plantar fasciitis because of poor training methods. Our bodies never "screamed" at us until it was too late. Damage can be caused by simply stretching at inappropriate times (when your muscles aren't warm...). I don't wish these preventable injuries on anybody and people who don't know should be protected from well meaning people who don't know either. Report
Well, maybe. Most of them are already "certified" through some organization, so then it goes back to whatever organization and is this a legit thing or some fly-by-nite thing where you study a test and call yourself a personal trainer? I think background and experience is more important. A standardized test is still something you can study for, with no experience to go with it. My hubby works in computers, and there's a running joke about the MCSE certification - "must consult someone experienced!" I think requiring some type of college or technical training is more important - I'd rather work with someone who earned a degree in Kinesiology and no license/certification than the other way around. Report
I have a friend who swears by personal trainers. Me, not so much. But wouldn't trust someone who I had not had some sort of personal interaction with. Also would want to talk to some of their other clients and see what sort of results they've gotten for others. Report
Worked in a gym for several years. The clients would asked me certain questions and I could not answer them. Not a Licensed trainer. I truly believe you trainers need to be licensed in the field. Your working with lives here. Need to make sure you are giving out the right excerises & smart food choices for that person. Everyone is different what works for one may not work for the next person. A lot of these people come into a gym and have health problems to begin with or come in with Dr.'s note. A qualified license trainers need to to be able to understand what is going on with that person. All in favor of License Per Trainers. Report
I would support licensing for personal trainers, so that people would know they're seeing someone who not only has gotten a certification/degree in their field, but also maintains professional standards like continuing education. It would create kind of a new "class" so to speak of professionals, though, who are able to financially and educationally meet the formal academic requirements. So I think I'd also be OK with not everyone being required to have a license in order to work. It would end up like the nutritionist vs. registered dietitian profession, and that way clients (who bother to know the difference) can make educated decisions and have more confidence in their trainer. It might inspire people reluctant to hire a trainer to do so before. Report
I believe that there is a lot of need for some kind of registration or licensing for personal trainers.

As an aside, I'd like to state a correction that needs to be made to a statement in the post. It says that registered dietitians must be licensed in their state to practice, but this is not the case in some states. However, RDs are still required to sit for a national exam and take CEUs to maintain their registration. Report
Why, pray tell, must we ask the government to get involved in every aspect of our lives and professions? Where is the personal responsibility? We (supposedly) live in a free market -- those that do well will be rewarded with more business, those that don't will eventually be put out of business. Those that hurt others should be punished according to their crimes. Report
Most definitely Report
Making a personal trainer licensed does not necessarily mean they will be a better trainer. It will only mean they passed a test and paid a fee. It is my opinion that how the trainer makes use of the knowledge learned is what is going to determine whether he/she is a good trainer, not a piece of paper. Report
Yes I do. They should have knowledge of the muscles and how to work them correctly. People who work out without knowledge sometimes do much damage. I helps to have someone who can instruct you so can achieve the best results with out injury. Report
I was a personal trainer for a short while after college. Even with a college degree in exercise science and my American College of Sports Medicine certification I would never have considered myself a Physical Therapist. There is much more schooling that goes into that field. That said I do agree that all Personal Trainers need to be certified with a nationally known organization like ACSM. A personal trainer can injure you if they do not have the knowledge of contraindications. Report
I know several personal trainers, and they are all certified in some form or another. The thing to look out for is what certification they have. Some certifications can be taken online, so there is no one to say that they are the ones that actually took the test to get the certification. Others have to be taken in a controlled environment. Specifically the NSCA certification is taken in a controlled environment, and seems to me to be the most credible certification. The reason being is that they require their members to do Continuing Education Units (CEUs), in order to keep their certification, and re-certifying. Just as the article mentions that licenced individuals must take. So, even if you aren't getting said license from the personal trainer, they may still have to go through the same processes, and should be considered just as good. Report
I think they should be licensed yes. Report
I have never worked with a personal trainer. However, comparing Physical Therapists with peple who work with you in an average "health club", the PT comes out on top, big time. Therefore, I believe there needs to be some 'bar' that personal trainers must attain so that we are not victimized , so to speak, by someone who is not properly trained. Report
Interesting topic. Ideally, we should all be confident that the people who provide us health and health-related services are competent and qualified. However, I believe that standard setting in this area is up to States rather than the Federal Government. States license doctors and nurses, and set limits on the scope of practice for nurses and physician assistants. There is a great deal of variability among the States in what they allow certain health professionals to do, and how they regulate them.

Sometimes professional groups voluntarily establish membership societies with professional standards and certification tests. Examples include Project Management Professionals (PMP) and Lactation Consultants. I am not sure to what extent these work. Maybe they do.

The Federal Government operates a couple of data banks (funded by user fees) to protect the public by keeping track of disciplinary actions taken against physicians, nurses, and certain allied health professionals, but it's not a panacea. Compliance with reporting requirements for certain disciplinary actions is pretty spotty. Some States (like Texas) make information on disciplinary actions against physicians freely available on the Internet. Others consider it a violation of privacy. Think about this: disciplined physicians can protect themselves in some cases by just moving across State lines. A few years ago, I was looking for a pediatric sub-specialist in Maryland for one of my kids. My insurance company gave me three names. In just a few minutes, I searched them all on the web. One had had his license revoked the previous year in Texas, one wasn't accepting any new BCBS patients, and the third had earned his medical degree in the 1950's. So much for choices.

In our current system, it's ultimately up to consumers to decide whether the services they are purchasing meet their standards. Report
The blog has a few sketchy details: For example: many (the majority of states) do not license RDs (registered dietitians).

Licensure is a legislative action. The state legislature creates a bill that provides for licensing of a professions. The legislation may/may not “protect” a scope of practice. If the scope of practice is not protected then you may have a situation where professionals may practiced as licensed or unlicensed professionals.

Some state licensing bills and boards require little to no continuing education. In contrast, almost all certifying agencies require CEUs. This is because a certifying agency is certifying the competency of the certificate holder while the certificate is active. In my opinion, the blog doesn’t give suitable credence to certification. Many licensed processionals maintain professional certifications.

Registries are also an important credential for healthcare professionals. Registries usually require comprehensive exams (sometimes with experience requirements) which create a group of competent professionals. Most registries are run by professional organizations and are often seen a step toward licensure. Separate of licensure, registries are typically a good sign of competence. Many state legislatures use registries as their requirement for application for licensure. This is the case with RNs. For example if i ever have an ultrasound, i make sure the person performing the exam is a registered ultrasonographer.

A problem with using certification as the sole credential for exercise professionals is that the public is unaware of credible certifications. In addition there are more untrustworthy certifications for exercise professionals than credible certifications. I personally would recommend that people seek a personal trainer with a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in an allied health field if they are ignorant of the most credible certifications available. This of course isn’t fail proof.

I believe the Louisiana legislature used the American College of Sports Medicine’s Exercise Specialist Certification for their licensure requirement. I hold this certification and would have to say that it is not the appropriate level certification for a personal trainer.

After struggling with this topic for decades, I have now come to believe that personal trainers should be licensed.
Not really,I think they should have to take a class, (if that isnt required already,idk) but it would only cost US (the ppl working out) more money in the long run. More power to the people that can afford it,I couldn't & It would be one more thing hindering some ppl from losing the weight. I think they should be inspected,jusy like mystery shoppers do,to make sure they know what their talking about & what not,but by requiring licenses it may also limit the number of personal trainers out there,& having options is good Report
Ching ching ching.... I can hear the cost for a personal trainer skyrocketing as I type. I do think there should be licensing, but it might make more sense to have levels of trainers, kind of like the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist. If there is definition to the terms, there can be better guidelines for responsibility and options for service. Report
Certainly! That would create another tax revenue too. Report
Though it may not mean they are great trainers for being licensed, it will mean that they for sure have at least some knowledge of what they are doing in general. There are so many jobs out there that you have to be licensed before you do it. Take your beautician as an example (I went to beauty school, that's why it popped in my head) In every state, you must go to school and pass test after test to get licensed before you can cut a single hair on someone's head legally. Hair is dead (Other than what's still in your head, but how would they reach that) and it grows back. There is no permanent damage that can really be done. Now think about all of the different injuries and permanent damage that can be done to you body during a workout. Should we really leave our health and safety up to such a chance while we aren't willing to leave less important things to that chance? I sure don't think so. But remember that just as some beauticians aren't that good at what they do (we've all been there right?) A license doesn't magically make everyone perfect at their occupation. You need to shop around for a good one, but at least if they had to be licensed, it would weed out some of the bad ones for you. Report
My gut feeling is they should be licensed, but then I also feel parents who homeschool their children should also have a degree in education. As a school teacher I spent countless hours learning to teach properly and then had to continue education every year until obtaining a Master's degree.
But a license doesn't really make a trainer good, just as a Master's degree doesn't guarantee one is an excellent teacher. Report
Sure! Why not?! We're all too stupid to take responsibility for choosing an appropriate trainer to meet our specific needs on our own and need the government to do it for us. And - hey - the government can always use more licensing fees right? Report
I agree if someone is holding self up as a professional personal trainer, then one should have the creditionals to prove this. If one is certified, that's fine - then know your boundaries and don't go above those boundaries. The difficulty I find with folks who call themselves personal trainers is that anyone can use this title and it's legal. Therefore, my coworker who holds a dipolma in accounting and does our payroll, can and has called himself a personal trainer. He has also gone out and trained folks. I personally wouldn't have him train me. I don't see where he lives his own advice. Or the folks at Curves who claim to be personal trainers, when in fact they are trained by the company to sell the products and monitor the gym - that is all. They have no further training, yet they teach classes on nutrition, they tell folks how to exercise and have no creditionals. Except as I said, the company trained them and said "you are now certified." Locally the nurses and a fully certified, has a degree in this field personal trainer (sorry offhand I can't think of her degree) have gone on record to inform the public the differences in knowledge. Still people flock, pay the big money and are taught by folks who really don't know what they are talking about. Such as I've been told that I can do lower body exercises on their machines, that my doctor and chiropractor just aren't versed in this area, its not their speciality. That kind of stupid uneducated comment is done by someone selling a product, not by someone who really knows their stuff. License the field and make it accountable, its about time. Report
At the gym that I go to (planet fitness) all of the trainers are licensed and have to take classes and such to be allowed to be employed at the gym. I love my trainer and I know that she really knows what she is doing. Report
I'm torn on licensure in this article. In the 80s, I was a "CERTIFIED" group exercise instructor and very proud of this. I took a physical and written test. When I worked at a gym, I worked hard at teaching my classes in a safe and effective manner, keeping up on the latest changes in the industry. There were others that didn't do this and it bothered me. I personally now am on the road to becoming a personal trainer. I have actually been certified once through the Cooper Institute, but some gyms didn't think that was a "good" enough certification. If you know anything about Cooper, you would disagree with that. My undergraduate degree is in kinesiology. I want to be very well trained on what I am teaching. and as an again future personal trainer, I don't want the industry to be tainted by the oh you just have to take this test and you're a personal trainer. I guess it's really the responsibility of the individual to check out their personal trainers credentials and make sure that THEY feel comfortable with that person. I think licensing would increase the costs, which I guess would possibly exclude the wannabes and get the more serious personnel in, but then again, there are other ways to get credentialized and show that you are serious about your career. ACSM certification and more... still torn.. Report
Yes, it is ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY for trainers to be licensed. I have belonged to big franchise gyms where the trainers were people who had body-built (and knew what it took, but not necessarily why, or what was good or safe for someone else), and a small women-only gym in which the trainers were all young women who had no comprehension that a middle-aged body doesn't work like (or have the same strength or endurance) as a 20-something one. I've seen members misuising the weight machines while the trainers chatted away on their cellphones . . . and had trainers who got very indignant when I refused to push my body past what I know to be its limits and limitations . . . and so on. Yes, trainers who are licensed cost more . . . so do teachers and doctors and lawyers and driving instructors and masseuses and dentists who have obtained licenses. But would you go to one who hadn't, just to save money? Report
As a Registered Nurse, I strongly believe they should be licensed. Bravo to those who do their homework and really research their personal trainer, but many people hire a personal trainer (working at their gym) to teach them how to exercise because they need help. The average person wouldn't know to check out their trainer, assuming the gym who hired them did. And a little bit of bad advice can cause a lot of damage. Personal trainers perform almost the function as physical therapists on a different clientele. Physical therapists teach exercise to regain function that has been lost due to disease/injury. Personal trainers teach exercise to promote health and prevent injury. They should be required to pass a minimum competency exam and continuing education. Until then, when picking a personal trainer, pick the one who interviews you, not vice versa. The conversation should have the personal trainer asking you questions about goals, expectations, your history with exercise, what you liked/didn't any limitations or past injuries etc. It should not simply be you asking how often and how much. Report
Do you believe personal trainers should be licensed, if not why? Yes, I think licenses would be an improvement for the industry.

Do you believe that by not having a standard in the industry makes it more difficult in choosing a trainer? I am not comfortable paying a trainer to teach me what I can learn in a book. Call me a snob, but I would rather work with a licensed professional who is required to meet continuing education requirements, and who can teach me the latest and greatest (and safest) techniques. Report
Yes they should! I go to 24 Hour Fitness and I routinely hear trainers giving erroneous health advice (pushing products rather than healthy habits), failing to offer a balanced perspective about goal setting (making the client feel badly about themselves and setting unrealistic goals for them that set up a failure cycle), leaning heavily on inaccurate measures (weight, calipers), failing to describe proper safe form for strength training exercises. I believe that if these trainers were required to be licensed, they would develop a broader professional perspective and would be less likely to participate in manipulative sales techniques instead of focusing on the health and safety of the client. Report
Absolutly!!!! I Think they should. Report
I think they should. It's crazy they are not (all). Physical Therapist have to be licensed, doctors and even hair dressers. So why not Personal Trainers? They work with people and need to be hands on. I heard that the Gym here in town employs college kids that are not licensed. They are just goofing around and don't pay attention. That is why I am not joining a gym. I would like to work with someone who actually knows and is tested in what he/she is doing. Report
Certification by an accredited institution or industry group should be mandatory.

Licensure should be voluntary.

By making it voluntary, you would see who is truly dedicated to their profession. If licensure is voluntary, I believe licensed trainers would attract more customers, and probably, higher fees.

If that happens, well, any edge in business is profitable.

Capitalism by any other name is what our country has been founded on. Report
I don't understand (well, ok, I do in a way) why so many people want to pass the responsiblity for their own bodies off on another person, NO ---trainers should not have to be licensed. Be responsible for your own well being and research an experienced, knowledgeable, and competent trainer yourself and know your own body!!! Report
No. I don't believe that the state or federal government should be in the business of regulating individual fitness instructors - the license fees would have to be very high to develop the expertise to do this! Having seen first hand how standardized tests are developed in California, I don't believe they'd help make us much safer or healthier. Standards only define the lowest level of acceptable knowledge or expertise when they are written, and we should be looking for more than that when hiring a personal trainer. As with hiring a physician or a lawyer or any other professional, it's important to understand a little about the profession before making a decision.

Now personally if I am hiring someone rather than just dropping in on a class during travels, I'm going to select someone who is a member in good standing of their professional organization, has a good track record, has up to date credentials, and a reasonable certification :) And I know I will pay more for this level of expertise. Report
It's absurd they aren't. They are not clinicians, but their role sometimes borders on the clinical. Report
I would have to read more on this in order to make a judgement call. Will licensing increase the skill level and amount of knowledge of the personal trainer or is a certification enough training? Since I'm not in that field I really don't know. I can tell you that nothing beats personal experience and on the job training though and I'm not sure if a comprehensive written exam is really as appropriate when it comes to a physical job like this.

If licensing personal trainers will prevent more injuries than I'm all for it. I have an acquaintance who was bed-ridden for nearly two weeks with a back injury after one session with a personal trainer. Not good. Report
No, the main reason for licensure is to limit supply and increase price. It's up to the consumer to look for certification from a reputable association, and ask questions about the trainer's experience and education. Report
Absolutely, I would never use a personal trainer who wasn't. Report
When I belonged to LA Fitness, I learned that all of their instructors and trainers had to be certified, by whom, I do not know, but it did make me feel better. Licensing would probably make it easier to find a personal trainer without going through a gym. It might also make it easier to keep personal trainers from selling supplements along with their training fees. When I hear of a friend using a trainer, I think, "Way to go!" When I then hear that their trainer has convinced them to buy specific supplements, I think, "OH NO!" Report
Certification should be ample and as always do your homework. Ask for references! It's your money and your body and YOU are the employer! Report
I absolutely believe that they should be licensed and that they should be required to take courses to update their licenses. I have worked with several trainers, but only one had a degree. Some of them take seminars with a test at the end to become certified. When I am working with a trainer, I want to know that they are helping me to become stronger or faster in a safe manner. Training methods and techniques change all the time, just like diet advice. We pay lots of money for these people to help us. Let their education reflect that. Report
FRANCESANNE213 I agree with you. Report
I think some people are confused with "liscenced" vs "certified". To call yourself a personal trainer, you do have to be certified--you take a course (or several courses) which qualify you to offer advice to people for workouts and fitness. However, as a few people have stated, you are responsible in the end for your body; if you can't lift 100 lbs, don't. And if you try, and get hurt, it's your own fault.

I am not a personal trainer, but I am a certified group fitness instructor. Where I work, we are required to carry personal liability insurance. The waivers you sign at the gym only protect the gym from being sued, not the instructor. So, even though many injuries are caused by people not listening to their bodies and pushing themselves beyond a safe limit, instructors still get sued by people not willing to take responsibility for their own actions.

I personally feel that certification is enough. Liscensing isn't going to stop incompetant people from practicing in the field; trust me. Be smart, listen to your body, and do what you feel comfortable and safe doing. Report
Agree on license, I think they can be like medicals - they are helping others with fitness and health and those shouldn't be taken lightly. Report
Most definitely! Report
It's a no-brainer - they should be licenced. Report
Absolutely!!! Report
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