Lots of trainers and coaches like to throw around the word certification. They say they have all sorts of different qualifications - CSCS, CSCC, NSCA, CPT, USAW, NASM, ATC, ACSM, ACE, BS, MS, BA, MA, and any other abbreviation you can think of. But, what does it really all mean?
In reality, they all mean something different. Some are college degrees, some are courses designed by strength and conditioning organizations, some are simply weekend or online crash courses, and some mean absolutely nothing. But let's compare and contrast for a quick second. I know many folks who have said they have friends who go to hair dressing school, learning to be a stylist. On average, these cosmetology schools require 1500 to 2100 hours for a student to gain "certification." These is a far cry more comprehensive than most of the certifications you see after a trainer's name. The personal training industry is not standardized or governed - even a high school student can take an online course and be considered a "certified" personal trainer, with no knowledge in anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, or related fields. So, why do we ensure quality stylists with years of schooling, but take so little precaution when it comes to those who can do real damage to us physically if exercises are taught wrong?
I don't have a great answer to that question. So many trainers and coaches are woefully under-qualified. The bare minimum for a crossfit trainer is a 2-day course with no pre-requisite education. Most box gyms like The Edge and Anytime Fitness have no baseline requirements. The point of saying this is that as potential clients, you need to be objective and be able to sift through the stream of abbreviations. On the line is your health, and in the case of athletes, potentially your career. It's not easy to tell who knows what they are talking about and who is just speaking like they do.
Things to watch out for:
-Any trainer who puts you mostly or completely on machines. The truth is that nautilus machines and other similar products are well outdated. That old leg extension machine? The seated ab cruncher? All those machines are based on old ideas, and there are much more effective, safe, functional methods that get better results.
-Anyone who offers you pills or supplements early on. Many trainers are also salesmen for supplement companies, and need to sell the product to make money. There is no substitute for good nutrition and exercise, and if you trainer offers you pills without checking your diet first or really knowing your needs, that is a huge red flag. Yes, there are worthwhile supplements out there, but your trainer has more obvious and pressing ways to get results first.
-A trainer who does the same workout with multiple clients. We all have individual needs and goals, from biomechanical restrictions to strength and power outputs, from health and aesthetics to performance. Any trainer, whether in private or group settings, who doesn't address those individual needs is doing a disservice and opening up the client to risk of injuries.
-A program that does not include a proper analysis. Any good trainer or coach needs to create a complete picture of your body before they can create a complete program. This means looking at movement patterns, being able to address restrictions, and design a safe and effective program with these considerations in mind.
Unfortunately, many trainers sound good but lack the real knowledge to perfect a program. However, if you keep a few thoughts in mind as you get started, you might be able to get yourself on the right path with a good trainer.