Tips for finding the right exercise professional

July 17, 2014

“I have changed so much in the past 18 months.  It is truly amazing to have people stop and watch me at the gym…I’ve been called a “BEAST” on several occasions by random folks.  Talk about a boost to the confidence!  I’ve really made exercising a part of my daily life.  I feel SO much better.  Not only am I in a physical state of fitness that I never dreamed possible, but everything else is better too:  my hair and skin look really good and my bloodwork is amazing.”

“I wanted to relay my story, related to not starting out too hard.   I sit here now recovering from knee surgery.  I started with a personal trainer a year and a half ago.  I started out slow and then ramped to very intense quickly.  Long story short, I hurt my knee squatting 200 lbs.  I hurt both of my shoulders lifting too much weight.  I was getting discouraged, but I have a goal to do a Spartan sprint and I just bought a new mountain bike.  Moral of the story is two –fold:  When Janet says start out slow, do it.  Three injuries in 1.5 years is not fun.  If you get injured or it isn’t working, try something new and go back to something fun.”

Hi Everyone!

Above are two quotes from patients with the ups and downs of exercise training.

This is the easiest time of year to be an exercise professional in this part of the country. More people seem to come out of “hibernation” with a renewed appreciation for moving outdoors.

Many of our patients seek advice from outside exercise professionals.  You may go to physical therapy for rehab of an injury or joint pain.  Many go to gyms and gain advice from personal trainers.

I thought it would be useful to break down the word “exercise professional,”  as there is really very little regulation of this field, despite the fact that “exercise is medicine” and exercise is  “prescribed”  like a medication to help so many health concerns.  Just as you would not ask advice about your medications from someone without training, it is important to know who to ask about exercise related questions. The difference is that to be called a pharmacist, the laws ensure that the person has the proper required training.  With exercise advice, it is up to you as the consumer to be very savvy about who you listen to.

Anyone can call themselves a “fitness expert”. Next time there is an exercise segment on a TV show, notice the credentials of the person giving exercise advice.  More often than not, it simply says “fitness expert.” Before you take their advice, find out more. They may have twenty years of experience, have trained the stars, won world records, have lost 150lbs – but it does not mean they are an expert with professional exercise training for YOUR needs and goals.

Medical professionals do not generally take exercise physiology in training. They know your medical history so it is very important you check with your doctor before starting a vigorous program.  However, medical professionals, unless they have sought it on their own or through a specialty, generally are not educated in exercise physiology and exercise training.

So here is the lowdown on exercise professionals:

A Clinical Exercise Physiologist (CEP): is a healthcare professional who is trained to work with patients with chronic diseases where exercise training has been shown to be of therapeutic benefit. This may include but is not limited to patients with heart disease, lung disease, and metabolic disorders, (ie: diabetes, obesity), in addition to diseases such as fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, cancer, etc.  With the unique combined understanding of how the body responds to exercise as well as an understanding of various medical concerns and how they are affected during exercise, CEPs assist clients and patients in designing an exercise plan that is safe and effective for their medical concerns and their lifestyle.

A CEP holds a minimum of a master’s degree in exercise physiology, exercise or movement science, or kinesiology AND is either licensed under state law or holds a professional certification from a national organization such as the American College of Sports Medicine’s (ACSM) Certified Clinical Exercise Specialist® (CES) or ACSM’s Registered Clinical Exercise Physiologist®  (RCEP) credentials.  Currently, CEPs are only licensed and regulated in the state of Alabama, although we are working on licensure in Massachusetts. More information at:

Physical therapists (PTs) treat patients who have acute (immediate) or chronic (long-term) pain due to injury and disability. An example is rehabilitation after knee or shoulder surgery. They use exercise and other therapeutic modalities like ultrasound, traction or electrical stimulation to focus on improving the area of injury.  PTs are regulated and are required to hold a higher degree in physical therapy and pass credentialing examination.

In general, PTs focus on rehabilitation from an injury or chronic issue in one part of the body, whereas CEPs focus on regular exercise programs as a lifestyle change that improves overall function and as a treatment for certain medical issues. 

Personal trainers work with clients who are generally healthy (whereas CEPs work with clients who have one or more medical issue that can be helped with exercise). Like CEPs, personal trainers use different types of exercise to enable their clients to reach their physical potential. Personal trainers are not required to have any formal training in exercise science: the minimum educational level for certification as a personal trainer is a high school diploma.  Anyone can call themselves a personal trainer. CPT is the acronym for Certified Personal Trainer – however the certifications can vary quite a bit. Below are just some of the top personal training certifications and a bit about the requirements. Hopefully this is helpful to show you are a knowledgeable consumer as you choose a trainer or seek advice.

I mostly encourage you to ask questions and trust your instincts. If the trainer uses their personal story to convince you they know what is best for you—red flag!!  If the trainer is not listening to YOUR goals and is pushing you way beyond your limits—red flag! If your first workout is very hard so the trainer can prove how hard he/she can work you—red flag!!!!! First workouts are not intended to “shock” the body. They are to test your starting level and ease you into a lifelong exercise habit.  You should be able to walk the next day.J

There are many great and knowledgeable trainers out there.  Gather as much information as you can when choosing the right one for you. Here are the top certification programs:

American College of Sports Medicine  The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) has two non-clinical health and fitness certifications. In order to sit for the Certified Personal Trainer exam, the individual must have a high school diploma and adult CPR certification. Before July 1, 2011, the Certified Health Fitness Specialist had to have an associate or bachelor’s degree in a health-related field. Since that date, the minimum requirements is a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology or exercise science.

National Strength and Conditioning Association  The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) has two fitness certifications. Before taking the NSCA-certified Personal Trainer exam, an individual must be at least 18 years old with a high school diploma. Although a college degree is not required, knowledge of exercise physiology, biomechanics and anatomy as well as program design are encouraged before taking the exam. Individuals must have a bachelor’s degree or a chiropractic medicine degree in addition to a current CPR and AED certification before taking the Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist exam.

National Academy of Sports Medicine   The National Academy of Sports Medicine has three certifications: CPT, PES and CES.

  • To sit for the Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) certification exam, the individual must be at least 18 years old and have CPR and AED certification as well.
  • If a personal trainer wants to work with professional athletes, the Performance Enhancement Specialist (PES) certification will provide training techniques designed to enhance athletic performance with an optional in-depth training program. An exam is provided at the end of program. Prerequisites include either a current NASM-CPT certification or other health and fitness certification that is accredited. A four-year college degree in a related field will suffice as a prerequisite if a personal training certification is not available.
  • A Corrective Exercise Specialist (CES) certification is available as well. This certification provides injury prevention techniques for the personal trainer. The main focus in the in-depth CES training program is musculoskeletal impairments and muscle imbalances. Prerequisites are the same as PES.

Cooper Institute    In order to sit for the Cooper Institute Certified Personal Trainer exam, the individual must be at least 18 years of age and have a current CPR certification. The Cooper Institute was established by Kenneth Cooper, MD, MPH, who coined the term “aerobics” and is known for his interest in preserving health through exercise.

American Council on Exercise  To be eligible to sit for the ACE Personal Trainer certification exam, the individual must be at least 18 years old and carry a current CPR and AED certificate. Additional certifications, such as Lifestyle & Weight Management Consultant, Advanced Health & Fitness Specialist and Peer Fitness Trainer, require additional prerequisites to take the exams. Depending on the certification, holding a NCCA-accredited personal trainer certification and/or bachelor’s degree are required. The Advanced Health & Fitness Specialist requires 300 hours of documented experience developing exercise programs.

I hope this is helpful. Please email me any questions or comments.


Leave a comment

by | July 17, 2014 · 8:33 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s