Determining whether or not degrees and certifications truly make you a more effective trainer
By Mark Roozen
Trainers are often proud to let people know about their degrees, their certifications, their specialized certifications, their new, improved, higher level of specialized certifications and diplomas of completion, papers of participation and verification of every class, clinic or conference attended. After battling through all the collection of consonants and volume of vowels, the question that comes up is, does having an alphabet behind a John or Jane Doe really offer any true benefits? Or is it a feather in a trainer’s hat so they can stride and strut through the training facility, proud as a peacock, showing off new foliage? 

Having a College Degree
The old battle of “Do you need a college degree to be a great trainer?” comes up all the time. I’m here to tell you (in my opinion): Just because certain trainers have a college degree does not mean they are better trainers than those without one. As trainers, we have to deal with the intangibles of training: personality, personal skills, business knowledge, marketing ability, the list goes on and on. 

So can education be a benefit? Of course! There can be a certain level of respect both from clients and other trainers that a college degree brings to a personal trainer. Anyone that has been through college or took classes in college knows that there is certain level of knowledge learned that has a huge value. Courses in a related field to training never lose their value and can never expire or be discounted. 

A big question is, can a college degree enable a trainer to advance further than a trainer who hasn't obtained one? This can be answered by a question: Do you think with a degree, you open up your service market? Would you like to work in a clinical setting, with rehab services, in an educational setting, or would you like to work with elite athletes or professional teams? As of now, Major League Baseball requires their strength coaches be certified strength and conditioning specialists, which requires a degree to sit for the exam. Without a degree, no certification; without a certification, no job in MLB! 

So can you work in these settings without a degree? You might be able to, but the path to achieve success and enter into that arena is diminished in many cases if a degree isn’t part of the package you bring to the job.

Bottom line — You may not need to have a degree to be successful as a personal trainer, but being able to put initials behind your name that shows your sheepskin can be a benefit as a personal trainer. 

Having a Certification
It's hard to imagine that there are professions that require eight years of education, some with internships programs to go through and that a trainer with little or no formal education or internship can guide clients on fitness, performance and nutrition programs. Unfortunately, for now, there are neither state guidelines, state regulations nor state/national board exams to verify the trainer has adequate knowledge or skills to be a qualified trainer.

Keep in mind that a nail technician and a hair stylist have to be licensed by the state to touch someone’s hair or nails, but there are no guidelines for someone to touch and transform someone’s body inside and out. It is because of this lack of regulation that there are so many horror stories of people being injured by personal trainers. It is truly a “buyer beware” industry.

So the answer comes back to “making sure your trainer is certified.” Is this the end-all, be-all answer? There are literally hundreds of different personal trainer certification programs out there to certify people to become personal trainers; however, most of these institutions are not interested in producing competent trainers. Rather, their main objective is to generate a profit and therefore will certify almost anyone.

In the past, to the public, one certification may had been viewed the same as another. Those in the profession of health, fitness and training view accreditation of a certification as adding another level of value to the letters behind the name of a trainer. As knowledge of clients increase on what to look for when selecting a personal trainer, the value of being certified by an accredited association or organization can be a huge benefit to trainers in the market.

As a trainer, you might want to check with some clubs in your area to determine which credential they want their employees to have. With so many personal trainer certification organizations determining which credential will be most helpful to your employment is a first step. When considering any certification, you should look at the organization behind the credential. Is it for-profit or non-profit? How long has the organization been in existence? Is their governing body elected or appointed? What is the passing rate for their examinations? (If the passing rate is too high, then it may be presumed that the examination does not discriminate between qualified and unqualified professionals.) Has the organization/program earned accreditation?

Bottom line — Again, getting the answers to the above questions may not guarantee success as a trainer, but taking the time to elevate yourself within the profession and making sure the ladder you are climbing to reach success is leaning against the right wall can be a huge benefit while you become the best trainer you can be.

Mark Roozen, M.Ed, CSCS*D, NSCA-CPT, FNSCA, is currently the Director of Certification for the NSCA. He also owns his own company, Performance Edge Training Systems (PETS), which oversees his training, consulting and speaking. Mark can be reached at or