"An investment in knowledge pays the best interest." Benjamin Franklin
While this quote was made in the 18th century by an individual who, while brilliant, can hardly be held up as a fitness role model, it has a direct application to personal trainers in the 21st century. How? Simply put, investing in continuing education is the best money that a personal trainer can spend.
Becoming a certified personal trainer requires a significant amount of money for preparation materials and the time to study. The feeling of finally obtaining the ACE Personal Trainer Certification is a great sense of accomplishment. I can easily remember the feeling I had after passing the ACE exam and finally earning my certification. Unfortunately it came with a severe case of"know-it-all-itis" (actually, who doesn't have that in their mid-20s?) as I mistakenly thought that studying to earn the certification was the only learning I needed to become a personal trainer.
Thankfully my girlfriend (now wife) had significant industry experience and pointed out that earning a certification, while an accomplishment, was only the starting point of becoming a true fitness professional. From her and more experienced trainers at our gym I learned the role of continuing education is not only to maintain a certification but to increase my knowledge level in order to have the ability to help more people.
Continuing education is not just a requirement for fitness certifications; ALL accredited certifications and professional licensing bodies require a set number of continuing education credits to maintain the credential. Would you trust your health to a doctor who doesn't know the latest research on how the body responds to certain medications? Would you trust your business to an accountant or attorney who hasn't kept up to date on changing laws and regulations?
Professional credentials have continuing education requirements to ensure that professionals providing a service to the public are staying current on the latest in research and understanding. It is tempting to simply view continuing education as a necessary expense; I know I once did. However, if you listen to Mr. Franklin's advice, you'll know that education is not only an investment but it's the best investment you can make in yourself.
Rather than think of continuing education as something you have to do, position it as an opportunity to learn about a new area of fitness such as the recent trend in movement-based exercise or to work with a specific client demographic like older adults. Once I started going to fitness conferences and workshops (in 1999) I quickly realized that the certification wasn't enough and that if I really wanted to excel as a personal trainer, I needed to take advantage of every opportunity to participate in continuing education workshops.
After attending a few conferences and workshops, I quickly realized that continuing education helped me learn new trends and equipment, which allowed me to become an early adopter and stand out from my competition. Learning about new pieces of equipment or methods of training allowed me to create a unique brand identity that stood out from other trainers in my gym. In addition, constantly working on my education kept the new ideas flowing, helping me avoid the dreaded trainer burnout.
I worked for a "big-box" health club company in downtown Washington, D.C., where most of the members were attorneys. If you have ever worked with an attorney or know an attorney (or are one) then you know their time is valuable. Recognizing this, I focused my continuing education on how to deliver dynamic sports conditioning-based workouts to provide high intensity, challenging training sessions to burn a lot of calories in a short period of time.
The following are a few examples of what I learned from my continuing education and how I applied it:
- The first time I used a stability ball was at a conference in 1999. I went to take a couple of other workshop and distance education courses and specialized in using the ball with clients and in group classes.
- In 2002, I had the opportunity to take workshops from Vern Gambetta and Gary Gray, the two founders of functional training. Their approach to program design completely changed my approach to exercise selection; my clients liked the fact that we didn’t have wait for equipment and could train anywhere in the club with only a set of dumbbells. The most important thing is that they loved the results.
- My introduction to kettlebells came in 2003. I had read a couple of articles about the resurgence of a piece of equipment from the former Soviet Union and was immediately fascinated by the tool and jumped at the first opportunity to learn how to safely use them. Being an early adopter helped me land new clients as I was the only in my club using kettlebells at the time.
Continuing education is not just a requirement to maintain a certification but, more importantly, it’s an opportunity to invest in your career as a fitness professional. Whether it is a self-paced course, a live webinar, workshop or attending the ACE Symposium, all continuing education provides the opportunity to improve your skills and knowledge base. I can honestly say my current position at ACE came because of my pursuit of continuing education. Anytime I came back from a workshop or conference I would share the ideas with other trainers so naturally I started teaching workshops for my club and progressed my career from there.