Real Talk

Jordan Feigenbaum
March 9, 2012
Reading Time: 4 minutes
Table of Contents

    It’s a hard life for the fitness professional these days, not that you’d know it if you looked around. CNN ranks being a trainer number 2 (for those over 50) here and Men’s Health says it’s one of the coolest jobs in America. Unfortunately, only the people who’ve actually been in the industry for a long time are qualified to comment on it. Those that have been around the block have a few bones to pick and this seems like a good place to do it!

    Bone #1) Certifications are getting a little bit ridiculous.

    A person can take a weekend course, sit for an exam, and (provided they passed the test) get a job at most commercial gyms across the United States. A step up from this (in my opinion), is that someone can read a book, sit for an exam, and (provided they passed the test), get a job at almost any commercial gym in the United States. What’s troubling about this, is that there is no quality control at any step of the certification rigamorole. Additionally, there aren’t any courses you can take (that are accredited and nationally recognized) that will teach you how to actually train a real-live human being. Am I the only one who thinks that’s crazy?

     Like most things in life, certification bodies want to collect money from would-be trainers so it behooves them to provide options that do not have a lot of pre-requisites. In fact, there are only three major certifications that require a Bachelor’s degree to sit for the exam (NSCA-CSCS, ACSM-HFS, and CISSN). Now I don’t think this would fix the problem, but it would be a step in the right direction. In addition I propose a shift to a “practical” portion for each certification exam- where the person taking the exam is asked to teach, cue,and correct basic exercises to a standardized “client”. This occurs in so many other professions, why not ours? I do understand there are entire post-high school educational programs devoted to churning out personal trainers- although I’m not a fan of “for-profit” educational bodies, the steep cost, and the quality of teaching remains to be seen.

    Bottom line: Certifications aren’t regulated, don’t really do anything besides provide a piece of paper (sounds like college), and are getting really expensive.

    Bone # 2- Everyone wears the same shirt.

    It’s hard to tell who’s a good trainer and who’s not because they all have the same polo on! It’s ironic, in a way, because those who can actually tell who’s worth their rates are the ones not getting the coaching or training because they don’t really need it- they’ve already got it kind of figured out. The people buying all the training are the people who need it most- the sedentary, the sick, the special populations, and the highly motivated individuals- but they don’t know who is any good. I’ll postulate some more- they don’t particularly care, either. Because they don’t know who is good and who isn’t AND because they don’t know what difference this would make when it comes to reaching their goals through their training- they don’t care at all. So they end up picking someone who is any one of the following: a good salesperson, an attractive person, a person they’re assigned to, etc.

    Now some might say that a better trainer will get better results (likely) and therefore gain a larger market share in this results driven industry. However, this does not seem to be the case. People will rarely leave other trainers (for another one) unless there is a geographical problem, the other trainer quits, or they finally understand the difference between a trainer who holds the clipboard and counts reps, and a coach who cues their trainees, programs the workouts intelligently, and can provide legitimate strength, conditioning, and nutrition advice. In the latter case- the market has rewarded the good coach/trainer. This needs to be more common.

    Bottom line: We need new shirts.

    Bone #3- There are too many keyboard warriors.

    If I went to a seminar on astrophysics that was talking about the latest and greatest research/findings/etc in the field by the experts who have actually been in the trenches doing the work I would only open my mouth to ask questions to increase my understanding of the topic, thank the presenters, or ask out the girl next to me who was dragged there by their nerdy boyfriend. I wouldn’t offer a counter argument or express my own opinion of astrophysics because I am NOT the expert and I have no valid basis for making any informed statement about the field.

    Conversely, whenever I talk about nutrition or training (or write about it, read about it, etc), there is tons of conjecture- seemingly everyone who’s ever eaten a meal or lifted a weight (or knew someone who once lifted a weight) is an expert. Even though their body composition and fitness levels suggest otherwise- these people feel like they know all the answers and are qualified to dispense advice. Ughhh…

    Back in the good ol’ days people earned their credibility via their performance, reputation from past/current clients, and how long they’ve been around in the trenches doin’ work! Nowadays it only takes a few thousand posts on an internet forum, a sweet new e-book, or a wordpress site (like this one) to catapult someone to “guru” status. It just pains me to see all these keyboard experts (armchair quarterbacks) dispensing mis-information all over the web for some other inexperienced people to use. It’s the blind leading the blind!

    Bottom line: We need a censor or something or a way to verify contributors’ legitimacy so that we can stop the influx of bad information.

    So these are my three bones to pick with the fitness industry. I believe we need increased standards to be considered a trainer or coach with real meaning to the public so that the cream of the crop can be utilized and sought out instead of blending in with other “fitness professionals” to the uninitiated masses. I do not think increased regulation is a good idea because who could we entrust to regulate the industry? I just believe we need to reform the way our industry does business, what do you think?


    Jordan Feigenbaum
    Jordan Feigenbaum
    Jordan Feigenbaum, owner of Barbell Medicine, has an academic background including a Bachelor of Science in Biology, Master of Science in Anatomy and Physiology, and Doctor of Medicine. Jordan also holds accreditations from many professional training organizations including the American College of Sports Medicine, National Strength and Conditioning Association, USA Weightlifting, CrossFit, and is a former Starting Strength coach and staff member. He’s been coaching folks from all over the world  for over a decade through Barbell Medicine. As a competitive powerlifter, Jordan has competition best lifts of a 640lb squat, 430lb bench press, 275lb overhead press, and 725lb deadlift as a 198lb raw lifter.

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