In a survey of personal training clients, higher education ranked first (over experience) as the most sought after trait in a personal trainer. Earning continued education units (CEU) is required to maintain your certification and can cost you anywhere from $300 to $3,000 per certification period. Whether you're looking to keep up on your CEUs or looking to expand your expertise, there are multiple ways through many providers to obtain your CEUs without draining your pocket book, if you know where to look.

The fitness industry has many organizations that provide continued education opportunities. I have selected what I like to call "The Big Five" certifying organizations, one business company and two fitness companies to focus on in this article. My goal is to provide certified fitness professionals some insight into cost-efficient options when it comes to earning those CEUs without spending too much money. Let's begin by visiting each of "The Big Five" certifying organizations and see what each of them have to offer:

National Strength and Conditioning Association

The NSCA hosts many conferences across the nation, my favorite being the annual personal training conference (1.6 CEUs) in March. Not all of us can afford to attend conferences, so NSCA offers webinars (0.1 CEUs) every month or so with a large range of fitness topics to choose from for $29.95. NSCA's Strength and Conditioning Journal offers an online quiz based on a specific article featured in every issue for $20 (0.5 CEUs). These products allow you to continue your education from the comfort of your own home and the flexibility to participate at your schedule's convenience.

National Academy of Sports Medicine

The NASM has a convenient home study program (0.1-1.9 CEUs) that can be downloaded ($79 or more) to your home computer and offers over 100 fitness topics to select from. NASM also offers online courses ($39-$99) including but not limited to: speed, agility and quickness training, cardiorespiratory training for sport performance and OPT for senior clients. You can purchase their entire integrated training series package for $279 as well for a $60 savings.

American Council on Exercise

ACE, America's authority on fitness, has a bundle promotion for their on-line education programs (1.0-2.0 CECs). Buy two programs and save up to $98. These online education programs cover all fitness fields, including mind-body fitness, sports performance and nutrition and weight management; they ranging in cost between $19.99 and $250. ACE also offers online quizzes based on articles and information printed in ACE Magazine. These quizzes (.1 CECs) cost $15 each, or they can be bundled and save you up to $80.

National Federation of Personal Trainers

NFPT, as well as the other "Big Five" certifying organizations, utilize a company called Human Kinetics. Human Kinetics is better known for their massive selection of fitness, kinesiology, exercise physiology, exercise science and personal training books; however, they have developed a study center with guided education programs that take the participant through all the material slide by slide and offer study questions at the end of each chapter (CECs vary). These courses range in price ($54.99 to $99) but are well worth the money. Once the course is completed, Human Kinetics allows participants to revisit their study materials at any time, offering a vast amount of reference material for future endeavors. NFPT also offers "free" self method tests based on NFPT articles. CECs vary depending on the article that is selected, and the price can't be beat.

American College of Sports Medicine

ACSM works with a company called DSW Fitness which offers over 100 approved online CEC programs to ACSM-certified professionals, as well as webinars, for an affordable price ($39 to $350). ACSM also offers workshops for their professionals to attend. These one-day workshops cost, on average, $140 (7 CECs) and include the following topics: behavior change strategies for optimal client outcomes, business management and weight management for fitness professionals.

Successful personal trainers need to know more than general anatomy and how to perform exercises. Having an understanding of business strategies as they apply to personal training is vital to the profession. To gain knowledge in this area, I recommend a seminar, with two of the nation's most successful fitness professionals, that focuses only on the business aspect of personal training. "From Counting Reps to Counting Revenue" hosted by Alwyn and Rachel Cosgrove of Results Fitness is a life-changing experience that provides strategies that can be implemented immediately. This seminar runs $399 and offers a $329 early bird special if you register eight weeks prior to the event. Trust me, it's worth the money!

Perform Better and Power Systems have acquired some of the top fitness professionals in the industry including Mike Boyle, Stuart McGill, Todd Durkin, Jay Dawes, Shannon Fable and David Sanders to present at their seminars. Perform Better's one-day learn-by-do seminars (0.7 CEUs) run $159 and offer an early bird special if you register eight weeks prior to the event for $109. Power Systems total training institute seminars (0.6 CEUs) are $149 with an early bird special of $119. These seminars are held at multiple locations across the country, they are professionally run and offer up to date training strategies and fitness information for a great price.

As a fitness professional I prefer to attend conferences, clinics or seminars to earn my CEUs, although it can get very expensive when you add the registration fee, hotel room, rental car and food costs. There are many other affordable ways to accumulate those CEUs at the convenience of your own schedule. Look at these opportunities as learning experiences and take in the information being provided. You can never be "too" smart, you have never "learned it all" and everyone can learn something from someone else. Education is the key to success, take advantage of these educational experiences and you will be a successful fitness professional.

My Can't-Miss Conference

The NSCA Personal Trainer's Conference is, by far, the best continued education conference I have attended. NSCA recruits the most educated and experienced fitness professionals in the business to present at this conference. The information provided is innovative, up to date and applicable immediately to business and training philosophies. This is the continued education conference that every personal trainer needs to attend. Don't miss it! For more information go to www.nsca-lift.org.

Robert Linkul is the NSCA's Northern California state director and is the owner of CPT Consultants (www.cptconsultants.net). Robert has his master's degree in personal training, is a certified strength and conditioning specialist with distinction and has been educating and mentoring certified personal trainers for more than a decade.

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