Two trainers are standing side-by-side. Both are fit, attractive, dressed as professionals and have experience in the field of fitness, performance and training. They both have regular clients, are succeeding in their field and are able to make a living doing what they love - helping individuals reach their personal goals in a variety of aspects in their life. From the outside looking in, there isn't much difference. As we move in closer and talk to our two trainers, we find out one has a certification from an accredited, nationally recognized association. The other has been working out and training for years, but hasn't taken an exam that said they were a qualified trainer.

Not much difference in what each brings to the "trainer's table," or is there? For years, individuals have battled back and forth from both sides of the table. One side hails the benefits of obtaining certification in the personal training arena, while the other side argues that simply having a piece of paper doesn't make a person a good and successful trainer.

According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), more than 400 certifying bodies are in existence; their certifications vary by price, ease of requirements, prerequisites and more. With such a broad range of guidelines, it is easy to see why many businesses and organizations feel that a number of certifying agencies do not meet high enough standards to make sure the certification helps identify competence in the fitness field.

By agencies meeting the accreditation process, this fear of holding a certification with no value can be eliminated. The National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA), created in 1987 by the National Organization for Competency Assurance (NOCA), was put in place to help ensure the health, welfare and safety of the public through the accreditation of a variety of certification programs and organizations that assess professional competence. Benefits of holding an accredited certification include:

Establishing a minimum level of knowledge, skills and abilities. Certifications cannot guarantee success in the personal training arena and cannot make someone a great trainer. What they do, however, is allow those in the industry and the general population to know that someone with a certification has a base knowledge of anatomy, physiology, program design and proper techniques that help them be successful in the personal training business.

Recognizing an individual's commitment to training by showing they want to meet professional standards. By taking the time, spending the money and maintaining a certification, employers, clients and other trainers understand that a trainer who holds a certification has taken a step forward to make a commitment to the training profession.

Assisting employers in identifying reputable candidates. This benefit complements the benefits listed above. A reputable certification helps employers know that potential trainers have a basic competency and commitment to work to be successful. Is it a guarantee for success? Maybe not, but it helps an employer know that which trainers aren't starting from the bottom.

Ensuring that participants of health fitness programs receive safe and effective guidance based on national standards. Most nationally recognized certification programs have established position statements and guidelines that help members of their organization follow standards that have been deemed safe and proper for the population and clients they may be working with.

Building marketability of the trainer through nationally recognized agencies that help to support and identify health, fitness and performance professionals. Larger organizations that carry national name recognition give their certified trainers instant credibility.

Providing a continuing education system so trainers maintain up-to-date knowledge and allow clients and business owners to know that their trainers are current with industry standards and training modalities. Sound organizations not only certify individuals but have a system in place that requires continuing education units (CEUs) that certified trainers must accumulate to maintain their certification status. By having a recertification process in place, it assures that trainers are taking the proper steps to maintain their knowledge and stay on top of the latest trends, training programs and safety issues addressing the industry.

Jason Jones, Director of LifeStyleRX in Livermore, California, says, "LifeStyleRx requires all personal trainers to be certified. The certifications that we recognize are NSCA, ACSM, NASM, ACE, C.H.E.K and AFAA. Many personal trainers possess more than one certification, which we encourage." He also added, "As a medical fitness facility, we pride ourselves on having degreed and certified personal trainers who are equipped to handle all fitness levels and special populations. The certifications listed above give our personal trainers the tools they need to handle many, if not all, of the special needs for these individuals. We see, today, the vast majority of the population take medication or have a health condition that plays a role in their exercise program design. Personal trainers who possess the knowledge to design exercise programs around these special health concerns thrive. Our management team feels these exams provide the best background for personal training."

So does having a piece of paper guarantee that one trainer will be a better trainer than another, have more clients, have more success and make a better living because they acquired a certification? No, and no one would argue that case. There are a number of great trainers making a fantastic living who aren't certified. Certification cannot measure desire, effort, work ethic and persistence.

The final question should be: What road is the best road to take for each individual? Can a certification make the journey easier, or does going on the path alone make more sense? That can only be answered by one person.

Mark Roozen, M.Ed, CSCS,*D, FNSCA, is the new Director of Certification with the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). Mark is also owner and president of Performance Edge Training Systems (PETS), his company that does consulting, presentations, performance training and sport camps across the country as well as internationally ( You can contact him via email at or