I just wrote a blog about obtaining your Spinning certification at age 18, and Cori Parks, one of our bloggers on the other side of the world commented on it and asked a question about experience vs. academics and she wondered what I thought should come first.
In the United States, there has not been a history of academic requirements such as a B.A. in Exercise Physiology for fitness instructors employed at gyms. The industry has not been regulated by the government in the same way that the beauty industry of cosmetology, barbering, estetician and nail technician has been. The massage industry, more akin to fitness due to working with the whole body and understanding muscle, tendon, ligament and bone differences varies state by state. In California one does not need a license to call him/herself a massage therapist. One does not need a license to call oneself a Nutritionist, but one does to use the term Dietician because there are clinical requirements and a state board exam.
I believe we should have stricter requirements in this industry. I believe people should have to earn at least an AA degree in "Fitness Instruction" which would include anatomy, physiology, biomechanics, kinesiology, sport psychology, nutrition, exercise testing, exercise prescription, class planning, music selection and special populations before being elligible for employment in any gym. The schools should be set up like Cosmetology schools where the first couple of months the students are in the "freshman" room and not allowed to work on clients until they pass their theory exams with an A and their labs done on a doll head. Once a student has passed all necessary testing, which in the case of fitness could take a whole year, the students earns his or her way onto the floor where the public can come in and take classes, or get personal training at a reduced rate with the understanding that the person teaching is still learning and may need assistance from a master instructor. The clients would then give feedback so the students could improve and make themselves ready for the professional fitness market.
There should be a national exam at the conclusion of the AA degree for Fitness Instruction making one hirable in any state in the union. Then when people want to take a specialty training such as Spinning, or Yoga, the basics are already known and the seminar could include more hands on opportunity in that mode of teaching.
Since there is no national standard regulated by the government, companies such as American Council on Exercise and American College of Sport Medicine have created certifications, manuals and workshops for people to attend in order to learn the theory. Because all the certifying bodies are moving towards accredidation, there are very few now that have practicals because that means a human has to judge another human and that cannot be monitored. Accredited programs have paid an outside source to come in and regulate that program so it is taught in the same way every time and the exam must be done online at a testing facility. There can be pictures and video to establish if a person knows what good form looks like, but that doesn't always mean that person will apply that knowledge outside the testing site.
There are a few programs like I described popping up at junior colleges around the country. Most of the ones that I have read about use ACSM cPT or Health Fitness Specialist certification exams as their exit exam because these exams have very high standards.
In lieu of a degree, my advice for anyone considering entering the fitness industry is to first get a "Group Fitness" certification, work with a mentor that you team teach with for a few weeks or months and then add on specialty certifications when you find programs you wish to qualify to teach. I do wish more gym owners would see the value in requiring their instructors to have degrees in Kinesiology as well as specialty certifications, but that would only occur if it got voted in by a states government.
For the many people reading these blogs that have their Spinning certification and no other training, definitely consider studying for and taking a Group Fitness exam because that will give you a more well rounded understanding of the other elements of fitness which include strength and flexibility training, as well as anatomy and physiology. Mad Dogg Athletics also provides a very well rounded program of continuing education, so check out our workshops, online and home study courses. In this field, the learning never ends, but that is what keeps it exciting.