Certification of exercise professionals is crucial to ensure safe and effective fitness programming for patrons and is an important element of a fitness facility’s risk management plan. Certification of exercise professionals is not mandated by law, but rather is a voluntary process based on industry recommendations. Understanding certifications and the value of certifications in the fitness industry will not only help you navigate which next steps to take in your career, but it will also help build trust and confidence with employers and clients that you are a qualified professional. In the absence of government-mandated regulation, employers must serve as the gatekeepers to ensure and uphold appropriate certification of exercise professionals.
What’s the difference between a certification and a specialty certificate?
There are multiple options and levels of education needed when becoming a certified exercise professional. There are also hundreds of fitness-related certification and certificate programs offered by countless organizations, and each have drastically varying requirements to earn and maintain credentials.
A professional certification is a voluntary (not required by law), time-limited credential issued by a non-governmental organization to individuals who have been evaluated against predetermined standards for knowledge, skills, or competencies. The certification exam is developed from a role delineation study or job task analysis which identifies the tasks performed in a specific role (e.g., group exercise instructor, personal trainer) and the knowledge and skill required to perform those tasks. Importantly, a certification does not teach or educate, but rather a criterion-referenced certification exam is intended to measure the candidate’s knowledge and skill, regardless of how it was obtained. An accredited certification exam that has been developed using sound psychometric principles provides a valid, reliable, and legally defensible measurement of minimal competency. The overarching purpose of a professional certification is to protect the public, specifically those consumers who utilize the services of certified exercise professionals such as group exercise instructors and personal trainers. As of August 2023, there are 14 organizations (one of which is NETA) offering NCCA-accredited Personal Trainer Certifications and 5 organizations (one of which is NETA) offering NCCA-accredited Group Exercise Certifications.
Specialty Certificate (Assessment- or Curriculum-based Certificate Program)
A Specialty Certificate provides instruction and training to aid participants in acquiring specific knowledge, skills, and/or competencies associated with intended learning outcomes; evaluates participants’ achievement of the intended learning outcomes; and awards a certificate to only those participants who meet the performance criteria and/or pass the evaluation. The assessment or evaluation is derived directly from curriculum specific to the program created by the certificate‐granting organization. Certificate programs are often focused on a specific sub‐category (e.g., youth, seniors) of the overall participant population, a specific modality (e.g., Pilates, yoga), or type of equipment (e.g., kettlebell, indoor cycle), and typically have a narrow focus. The certificate may or may not be time‐limited and may or may not require maintenance via continuing education. Throughout the fitness industry many certificate programs are referred to as “certifications,” but technically they are not certifications and should not be considered a replacement for an accredited certification.
- Learn more about NETA’s many specialty certificates.
The importance of professional certification
Because certifications in the fitness industry are not regulated by law, anyone can claim to be a fitness professional and work in the fitness industry, with or without appropriate credentials. That’s why it is especially important for educated, qualified exercise professionals to hold and maintain a certification from a reputable organization. There are also widely accepted fitness industry recommendations (e.g., IHRSA, ACSM) that indicate personal trainers and group exercise instructors should earn and maintain certification through a nationally recognized and accredited program, such as the NCCA-accredited certifications offered by NETA. When you earn a certification from NETA, you are demonstrating a commitment to the profession as well as the safe, effective, and ethical delivery of your services.
NETA strongly recommends obtaining a primary Personal Trainer or Group Exercise Instructor Certification to establish a strong foundation before pursuing a specialty certificate. Specialty certificates help develop superior expertise in a specialized discipline (e.g., indoor group cycling, yoga, Pilates).
To learn more about certifications, accreditation, industry recommendations, and credential verification, check out NETA’s live webinar, Understanding Certifications in the Fitness Industry. Register for the webinar
Do you have a specific question about NETA’s certifications or specialty certificates? Call our team at 800-237-6242 or submit your question through our online form. We’ll get back to you ASAP!