Tuesday, October 1, 2013


I get asked the question quite often, 

"What is the best personal training certification?"

It seems like there are more and more people interested in becoming a personal trainer these days. Some do it because they truly want to help people and some just want to make a few extra bucks on the side. In deciding which certification to go with, you should ask yourself what type of clients you want to be working with and what your ultimate goal is as far as working environment.

While working as a personal training director, I received one or two job applications a week during busy seasons. I always looked to see one of the top 4 certifications in their resume, those being:





If you had one of those credentials I took you more 

If you held CSCS, I pretty much knew I wanted to hire you.

Now your probably wondering what the difference is.
NSCA is geared more towards athletes and performance. NSCA-CPT was my first real cert and I felt provided a very solid foundation and gave me the science behind the workouts.

I also studied for but never took the test for ACSM. ACSM is a very well respected program that focuses more on the clinical side of wellness. 
It goes very deep into discovering and developing programs for 
deconditioned populations and those with illnesses. I decided I would rather spend my money on a program like NSCA where I would be working with more athletic clients.

ACE has always been one of the top 3 certifications out there and from what I've heard is a a stellar program. This is the one I'm least familiar with but some of the best trainers I know hold this title. In fact, the guy who taught me a good bit about 30 min weight loss training and got me started in this business was ACE certified.

This brings me to NASM which is one of the newer certifications out there. It is also a solid program that focuses more on the practical aspect of training, going more into detail about which exercises to do and how to properly execute with good form. For me, this was not something I needed help with and I felt was overpriced. This is the cert that LifeTime Fitness requires for new trainers. 

CSCS requires a 4 year degree and really seperates you from the pack. If you are serious about fitness as a career, I encourage you to start studying now. This makes you more than a trainer. It makes you a strength coach.
A few other good certifications I have had some experience with include:


There are a million of new certifications springing up every year and there is no regulation to say you can't make your own as well. Being nationally accredited gives some formality and regulation to the over saturation in the industry now.
Another thing about the nationally accredited certifications is that you must continually renew the certification through new classes or workshops. This keeps the trainer up to date on various topics that they elect to take part in, earning continued education credits or whatever term the various certs may use. This is one reason I'm even considering getting crossfit certified (Oh Heaven Forbid! lol) I think it will be useful to see how their programs are run just so I can effectively compete with my own methodologies. Plus they teach a few lifts I would like to get good at such as the snatch and the muscle up. ;)

ok....now with that being said, certification isnt everything. Experience is. Before hiring, I would still have to quiz you on methodology and see you in action before I made up my mind. 

The best trainers are a friend, a counselor, a role model, and a source of knowledge. You must be able to lend an ear, offer encouragement and support, and practice what you preach if you want to be in the upper echelon.
  • You could look great on paper but be out of shape and un-motivating. 
  • You could know all the anatomy of the body but have no idea how to structure a 2 a day workout scheme for an athlete without over training them. 
  • You could know ALL the exercises but not have a clue on how not to hurt a beginner. 

I've seen trainers be way too technical, trying to prove how smart they are, when really the client just wanted the simplest explanation possible.
I've also seen trainers who BS through every technical question but have such good first hand experience that they could simply just say "trust me, this works."
You are going to want to pull knowledge from as many sources as possible. Telling my story should give you a few good ideas....

I got my start in training my playing with some of the machines at my Father's physical therapy client in WV. I played lots of team sports, but one year my dad hired my brother and I a boxing coach who came to our basement and really showed me my first TRAINER. After that, I picked up knowledge by reading FLEX magazine and MUSCLE & FITNESS. Reading about routines and diet plans that the pros use will get you pretty far. At some point you are going to need somebody to show you the ropes though firsthand. I had a good friend in college named Patrick Hagedorn who showed me the way his brother, who was a competitive bodybuilder, worked out. This taught me the proper training splits and about supplementation and diet. MTSU had an awesome gym! It was one of the main reasons I chose the school. We used to workout every single day and when I went home to WV to visit, let's just say people noticed! lol 
Once I moved to Atlanta, I was working out religiously at LA Fitness and the PT manager at the time, Marcel told me I was there so much, I should just work there! He gave me a link to a website to get "certified" over night. AMFPT was the 3 hour certification that got my foot in the door at LA Fitness. The certification was a joke but it got me the job. Now a days that gym is 
notorious for having subpar trainers and due to the fact the barriers to entry were so low, you can see why. I will say LA Fitness is a great place to get practice and hone your skills before moving on to a better paying position somewhere else. One strong point of that gym is they feed you clients and you don't have to worry about selling. You can also shadow the older trainers and pick up on different styles. Marwane was the guy I was assigned to watch and to this day I employ some of his techniques for weight loss clients.

One of my clients at the time, Michelle McDonald, told me about a really unique job opening that I ended up taking in the North GA Mountains. I have always been adventurous and liked the fact that this would be something completely new to me. The title was wilderness instructor at a camp called Ridge Creek for kids diagnosed with behavioral defiant disorder! The camp was run my Army Rangers right next to their military base deep where they do their mountain terrain training. This is where I really learned how to get creative and work with larger groups of people. My job was to wake the 10-15 kids up at 6 am, take them through a 2-3 mile run and then work them out, all before breakfast. After eating, we would "Ruck up" and start hiking until we reached our destination where we would setup the tents and usually do some rock climbing and repelling. If they were bad, which they frequently were, we would do more working out! This taught me true bootcamp workouts using whatever tree stumps, rocks, or ropes we had. It also taught me a lot about different styles of motivation. yelling doesn't work for everyone. Some of these kids took some time to find what really would drive them to do the task.

I think it's good to work at different gyms and see the different styles of training so you can a learn a wide range of techniques to better yourself. Gold's gym taught me about the sport of competitive bodybuilding and allowed me to work with my first bikini and figure girls and learned how to prep them for their shows. I learned that all my years of training with Patrick gave me a huge leg up in training the guys doing the bodybuilding contests and I would get a few clients who just wanted me to try to kill them! (Safely)That was always fun!

I also spent some time working at BodyPros in Roswell. This was actually a physical therapy client but the gym was rented out to this huge powerlifter named Calahan! He really stepped my game up in showing me all about INTENSITY and correct form for the olympic lifts. This was the first time I ever squatted more than 500 pounds or dead lifted even more. I'll never forget that 500 pound squat with him SCREAMING in my ear and SLAPPING the side of my ribcage, leaving a red mark for a few days! It hurt and it was unexpected, but it pissed me off and I completed the lift! LOL.
Calahan taught me how a loud, percussive voice can really make a difference in motivating certain clients and his exercise instructions taught me how very subtle tweaks to form can make huge differences in the amount of weight lifted. I think any god trainer should get some experience with a true power lifter or even possibly Crossfit to learn proper technique on the big lifts.

Kennesaw State University had higher requirements and that's when I decided to get NSCA-CPT. We were required to spend our first session in a sit down consultation designing a program for the students. This really cemented the importance of asking the right questions about health, routine, and nutrition before we even thought about pushing weights around. 
Working at Colony Square, I was introduced to Grey Cook's Functional Movement Screen (FMS) and learned about the industry leader in proper pre-screening. This teaches how to pinpoint deficiencies in biomechanics and is extremely useful in determining level of ability to begin a program.
Once you have a solid training background, you are going to need to look into nutritional guidance if you really want to see the best results in your clients.

Apart from going back to school and becoming a Nutritionist or Dietician (which I felt was too far removed from practical application of athletes) I found Precision Nutrition and NASM sports nutritionist programs to be the best available. I recently completed Precision Nutrition Level 1 and although pricey, It gave me some really great tools to use that completely changes how I would construct a diet plan for someone. It also goes into great detail about contest prep and gives tools on how to keep clients on track and from falling into bad habits again.

After observing more than a few personal training consultants come in with their programs on how they run their gyms nationwide, I believe the next step for me is to do the same.
Look for 


Thomas Murphy, CSCS, Pn1