American Council on Exercise by American Council on Exercise

Orangetheory Fitness (OTF) recently announced a franchise-wide policy to employ only select holders of NCCA-certified exercise certifications. It’s the sort of move that ACE asks leading health-club chains to make. ACE sat down for a quick chat with OTF’s Irene McCormick, MS, CSCS, Senior Director of Fitness Education. We wanted to learn more about what went into this decision. Here’s what she said.

ACE: Why is certification important to OTF?

Irene McCormick (IM):  At OTF we have always hired exercise professionals, or as we call them coaches, that have some certification. Certification is important to us because it demonstrates that the coach has minimal baseline knowledge to provide our members (i.e., OTF clients) with the highest quality programs and the safest, most rewarding exercise experience possible.

OTF is fortunate to offer many of our coaches close to full-time employment, making this a true career. Certification not only helps keep members safe and engaged, but helps our coaches grow into successful, fitness industry professionals.

ACE: What was the rationale for the policy change of having only NCCA-certified exercise professionals with current certification from NCCA-accredited programs?

IM: Our rationale for the recent, more specific policy that calls for coaches to hold an NCCA-accredited certification stems from our desire to have the highest-quality coaches in the fitness industry. NCCA-accredited certification programs are the gold standard for the fitness industry. When an individual holds this type of certification, it ensures that the incoming coach has robust prerequisite knowledge to use as a foundation for further learning and education. This is required in addition to our own forty-hour OTFit Certification program.

ACE: There are currently more than a dozen organizations with NCCA-accredited exercise professional certification programs in the United States, and OTF has deemed only five of these qualify for your new policy (ACE among them). Why did you choose these five certifications?

IM: As Senior Director of Fitness Education, it’s my responsibility to ensure that all OTF coaches are properly educated, certified and trained. The five organizations we chose are leaders in the certification space, set the highest benchmarks for fitness professionals. Because OTF is a global brand, we needed coaches to hold certifications that are recognized and accepted world-wide. Most importantly, we choose these five organizations because we know that their educational content and certification exams contain the latest science and foundational knowledge necessary to be a competent, educated coach.

ACE: What will happen to the coaches who have been with OTF for many years, but lack a current certification from an NCCA-accredited program?

IM: In fitness, you must stay on top of research and current best practices because it’s an always evolving field. We value our coaches who have been with us for many years, and we also recognize that certifications cost, so there is an investment required. Additionally, there is never a good time to schedule and then study for an exam. For these reasons, we are giving existing coaches a full year to come into compliance with this new policy. Additionally, we are offering OTF coaches an opportunity to apply for funding through our Certification Scholarship program.

 ACE: How will you make sure that all coaches stay in compliance with NCCA-accredited certifications?

IM: We have a tracking system including head coaches, regional trainers and Franchise Business Managers who perform audits and catalogue coach certifications. All OTF coaches must possess a current certification as well as hold a current OTFIt Certification number (OTFIt Certification is the OTF 40-hour coach training program required prior to coaching in a studio). 



Irene McCormick, M.S., C.S.C.S. is the 2018 IDEA Health & Fitness Instructor of the Year and The Senior Director of Fitness Education for Orangetheory Fitness in Boca Raton, FL. Former adjunct faculty at Drake University, Irene is a Master Course Instructor for TRX, WaterRower and Savvier Fitness. Irene has written two books for Human Kinetics Publishing, is a Subject Matter Expert for ACE, NASM, HK and OTF. Irene is a Ryka FitPro Brand Ambassador and an award-winning conference educator.