Fitness trainers are the bread and butter employees of gyms and fitness centers. Knowledgeable, effective trainers lend credibility to their workplace and make clients feel like their money is well spent. However, underqualified or ineffective trainers might have the opposite effect, leading clients to seek fitness expertise elsewhere.
How can you, as a gym owner, ensure that your trainers are offering the best and most current industry knowledge and maintaining high standards for health and safety? A good starting point is to evaluate their third party fitness certifications. These credentials prove that a trainer has passed a fitness organization’s tests and holds current continuing education hours.
Employing trainers with several active fitness certifications, or certifications in specialty areas, only adds to the quality your gym can provide to members. To get an idea of what you should look for when hiring trainers, keep the following ideas in mind.
Personal Training Certifications
Each of the major fitness organizations offers personal training certification courses and tests. While any accredited organization’s certification status is adequate for a trainer to begin working with individual clients, some certifications are more well respected and widely recognized than others.
The weight that each certification carries depends largely on how difficult it was to obtain. Tougher certifications that have more in-depth courses, more stringent testing, and higher continuing education requirements are generally more renowned than easier certifications.
The most well-recognized personal training certifications that show a personal trainer is highly qualified to work with clients are:
- National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)
- International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA)
- American Council on Exercise (ACE)
- American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)
- National Strength and Conditioning Association (NCSA)
If you have any questions regarding a trainer’s fitness credentials, check with the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) to find out if a particular organization’s certification meets their high standards. Even if an organization is not present on the above list, they may very well hold accreditation with the NCCA and be more than adequate for a personal training certification.
Specialty Training Certifications
Specialty certifications allow trainers to educate and work with clients in any number of areas that are not covered by a standard personal training certification.
These specialties include areas such as:
- Group training sessions and exercise classes
- Corrective exercises for reducing pain and injuries
- Nutrition and food sciences
- Behavioral change training that focuses on building healthy habits and breaking unhealthy ones
- Bootcamps for intense group exercise
Most of the fitness organizations that offer a standard personal training certification also offer specialty certifications. Many trainers start out by getting a personal training certification and then use their mandatory continuing education hours as an opportunity to branch out and specialize in areas of particular interest.
Some trainers have an interest in working with one or a few types of clients. While you don’t want to narrow your gym’s focus too much (for example, by hiring only trainers who specialize in working with athletes), it is often a great idea to have a rotation of demographic specialists on staff.
A client within a few narrow and specific demographics, such as a senior woman who wants to lose body fat, often will feel much more comfortable and make better progress paired with a trainer who focuses on her interests. In contrast, if that same woman were to work with a trainer who normally focuses on young male athletes improving their bodybuilding performance, she may feel intimidated, or worse, like the trainer doesn’t know how to tackle her individual goals.
Common demographics for trainers to choose might include:
- Primarily women or men
- Athletes, with a focus on performance enhancement
- Clients who want to lose weight
- Clients with previous injuries
- Clients who want to work toward better mobility and functional movement
Many clients come to gyms not as a way of improving general fitness or losing weight, but to train toward a specific athletic goal. If you are interested in tapping into this demographic of clients, consider keeping a few sport-specialized trainers on staff.
Though some trainers perform a "jack of all trades" function in the gym and bring a moderate level of value to a large number of gym members, trainers from this specialist category need to operate at a higher level within their chosen specialty to offer great value to their clients.
For example, an experienced half-marathon runner likely already possesses a good deal of running knowledge and technique. He or she would receive the most benefit from working with a trainer who focuses in high-level running education. A more general fitness trainer might not have the level of knowledge in the specific running field to provide enough quality training to the client to be worthwhile. And in a worst-case scenario, a client following the advice of an under-qualified trainer trying to give high-level advice may end up getting injured and actually losing progress instead of gaining it.
As you might imagine, sport-specific trainers cover a variety of activities as long as the list of potential sports.
Specialties that many clients might hope to find in your gym include:
- HIIT or Tabata training
- MMA, boxing, or other martial arts
- Spinning or cycling
- Weightlifting or powerlifting
- Competitive performance enhancement for sports such as golf, football, basketball, etc
Hiring a Qualified Trainer
For an example of what you may want to look for in a trainer’s education history, take a look at the list of course offerings from the NASM and ACE continuing education web pages.
These are just a few examples of the huge range of specialties a trainer may be able to bring to your facility. If you have any doubts, remember to double-check a trainer’s certification status and note any lapses or other red flags.
In most cases, a trainer who comes to your gym with multiple certifications, both in standard, one on one personal training and in a few specialty areas of interest, will have the knowledge and expertise to give your gym members a great experience. You can always offer anonymous trainer review forms for clients to fill out, especially after hiring a brand new trainer!