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Certifications, Certificates and CECs—What’s the Difference?

Certifications, Certificates and CECs—What’s the Difference? | Amber Long | Expert Articles | 4/14/2017

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As a fitness professional, continual education is essential to grow and expand your skill set and knowledge base. Education comes in many forms. It can be a challenge to determine if you need to attain a certification or a certificate, which organization to choose, and how to maintain those credentials. Here is what you need to know to get credentialed, stay credentialed and, most importantly, become and remain a well-rounded fitness professional.

Certification

This is generally the first step in becoming active in the fitness field. A certification is defined by the Institute for Credentialing Excellence (ICE) as a standardized process, often voluntary, by which individuals who have demonstrated the level of knowledge and/or skill required in the profession, occupation, role, skill, or specialty area are recognized and identified to the public and other stakeholders.. What this means is that to earn a certification, candidates must pass one or more assessments to demonstrate that they are qualified to practice as a certified professional. For many organizations, such as ACE, this assessment comes in the form of a competency-based exam that challenges candidates to analyze and determine the best course of action for a broad range of scenarios. Achieving a certification means that you have demonstrated the required knowledge necessary to begin practicing in that field. It does not mean that you have all the tools necessary to be successful in the field, but it demonstrates that you are able to apply knowledge towards a specific job role.  Also, when it comes to choosing a certification, remember that not all are created equal. Fitness certifications such as ACE, which are accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) or comparable third party certification accreditors, have more credibility because the entire certification program is reviewed to ensure that it meets standards established by an independent third-party. Accredited certifications are often required for employment at fitness/wellness facilities. Having an accredited exercise certification will also place you on the United States Registry of Exercise Professionals (USREPS), which is a registry of professionals with verified current certifications that is searchable by consumers, healthcare professionals and potential employers. Learn more at www.usreps.org.

Certificate

A certificate course provides instruction and training with a goal for participants to acquire specific knowledge, skills and/or competencies. Participants in a certificate course are typically required to demonstrate on the learning outcomes of that specific course. The content of a certificate course is generally narrower, providing more information on a specific training mode such as indoor cycling or Zumba. Certificate courses are generally live courses.  Often demonstration of and participation in the specific skill or knowledge may occur. Certificate courses are a great way to expand your skillset to include more diverse programming and teaching skills. Many clubs require additional specialty certificates to teach a specific format such as Spinning, Kettlebell or Barre classes.

Continuing Education Credits (CECs)

Once a certification is earned, candidates are considered certified professionals. Once certified, accredited organizations require professionals to earn CECs to maintain both their competency and certification, and to help the professional advance their career. Continuing education courses can be related to anything within the scope of practice for the professional, however CECs are typically awarded only to courses the certifying organization has recognized as meeting established criteria. CEC courses are a great way to expand your knowledge around a given topic. Each organization has a different CEC requirement and method for tracking your courses to maintain your certification. But, if you do not attain the required amount of CECs in a specific time period, your accredited certification will expire and you will have to sit for the exam again. Individual CEC courses can range in duration, and are often interactive and hands-on. CEC courses and workshops can be found at conferences such as the IDEA World Fitness Convention, or they can be hosted at your local facility. Certificate courses often come with CECs as well. You might sign up for a certificate course to learn about teaching a certain format, and also be awarded with continuing education credits for your experience.

Simply put, earning an accredited certification is the foundation for you to practice as a certified fitness professional. Once the foundation is laid, earning CECs make it possible to diversify your offerings, learn new methods and stay current with advances and changing trends in the industry. Be sure to take advantage of all these educational opportunities to build your career as a well-rounded fitness professional.

Learn more about ACE's NCCA-accredited offerings.