Is your Instructor really Certified?

Often the change in seasons brings us to the realization that we need to step up our physical activity. Whether it is a matter of just picking up where a past schedule allowed us to slack or starting from scratch, there are some boulders to navigate as a consumer.  Some questions you may know to ask, but this post will cover a big one you may not have even thought of:

What does a “Certified” trainer mean?  Can I call myself Certified and not be? Unfortunately the answer is yes, it happens all the time!  In this two part blog we discuss what it means to be a “Certified Instructor”; in the next installment we give some guidelines to find the right trainer for you.  At the bottom of this article, I have listed most of the nationally recognized certification agencies and their requirements to maintain a certification.  Please feel free to peruse their websites; many have consumer areas to help you.

I marvel at the fact that the woman, who styles my hair, not only has had to attend several thousand hours of school but also carries a state regulated license. Just because she does, doesn't necessarily mean she is going to work out for me, but at least I know she has the basic skills required for the job. This is absolutely not the case with Personal Trainers, Fitness and Pilates instructors and the like. It is amazing to me that someone who might have me standing on a Bosu, holding a weight and asking me to jump up and down several times in a row, has not so much as asked me if I have a knee problem.  Never mind about that mild heart attack I (might have) had a couple of years ago!

While a Certified Trainer doesn't guarantee me a safe and productive workout, at least if I know what to look for in a trainer’s list of certifications, I have a fighting chance of spending my money wisely. Unfortunately for you as a consumer, there is not one single source that you can turn to which monitors the education, competency or skills of personal trainers.  While for the most part you can assume that your health club has checked to make sure their instructors have at least one certification, in some of the investigating we have done in the last few months we have noticed that a simple weekend course has led some clubs to call these trainers “certified” when they are not.

How can you protect yourself without going overboard by doing a background check?  In most cases a few simple questions will give you some indication of the level of competency of your potential trainer.  You should be able to get these questions answered at no cost in a 15 to 20 minute consultation or at the very least during a phone call.

In our research, we have found that there are over 300 personal training “certifications” available from several month long programs that require a degree to online tests of a few questions.  This makes for a very confusing environment for the consumer to navigate.  Being informed about the different programs a trainer may have taken allows you the best chance for a productive, safe workout.  Below are the few that we look for our trainers to have as minimum requirements to work at Absolute Center.  You should look for the same at your gym!

The first listings are for Personal Training (fitness training) the second listings are for Pilates Programs.  We list these in our order of preference.  Please note the Pilates industry is beginning its turn to considering “Pilates Certified” as being only those who have completed a recognized training program AND having passed the Pilates Method Alliance Certification Exam.  Not all reputable Pilates training programs subscribe to this request.

Personal Training Certifications

The National Strength and Conditioning Association is an international nonprofit educational association. They now serve nearly 30,000 members in 52 countries. They have two basic certifications.  Each one is maintained by taking 16 continuing education credits (CEC’s) every 2 years.

  • CSCS®  To be eligible to take the exam, you must hold a BA/BS degree, be enrolled as a college senior at an accredited college or university, or hold a degree in chiropractic medicine, and be CPR certified.
  • NSCA-CPT®    The NSCA-CPT® credential is designed for professionals who work one-on-one with their clients in a variety of environments. 


  • Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) Certification  Professionals with the *NCCA-accredited NASM CPT Certification learn how to master: Goal-specific program design for optimal results, Accurate assessment — from first-time health club members to high-performance athletes, Developing and modifying exercises in a safe and effective manner that is adaptable to any client


  • ACE Personal Trainer Certification is continually evaluated and updated to ensure that it includes the most current research in exercise science.  This certification must be renewed every 2 years.


A three-day certification workshop including lectures, practical demonstrations and written and practical exams.  The curriculum includes the basic skills a personal trainer should demonstrate.  Renewal every two years.

Pilates Certifications:
All of the programs listed below have prerequisites that must be complete before you begin the program. Some are quite extensive — up to a year of previous study and an exam before you start — and some are minimal, as little as 30 hours of previous Pilates experience. In addition, the classroom hours I quote do not include varying apprentice and independent observation hours.

Pilates Method Alliance 

While not an educational entity in and of itself, PMA administers an exam that can only be taken by those who have passed an approved program.  The PMA has created the only psychometrically validated, third party professional certification exam in the Pilates field. To achieve certification in the field of Pilates instruction, candidates must first meet eligibility requirements to sit for the exam, and then pass a 150 question multiple-choice examination. The Certified Pilates Teacher (CPT) examination has been designed to measure skill and knowledge level based on 450 hours or more of lecture self-study, apprenticeship and assistant teaching hours.  The PMA Certified Pilates Instructor must submit 16 CEC’s every 2 years.  Some of the organizations listed below are PMA approved.  Each of the courses below requires course hours, student teaching, observation and a practical as well as written test.  You cannot call yourself “Certified” unless those criteria are met.

Balanced Body University
Hours: 488

BASI Pilates
Hours: 500 hrs.

Stott Pilates
Hours: 310

Physical Mind Institute
Hours: 300

Polestar Pilates
Hours: 240

Romana’s Pilates
Hours: 600
Program Notes: Romana Kryzanowska is a Pilates elder, meaning that she trained directly with Joseph Pilates, and was considered one of Joseph Pilates’ closest students. This is one of the most traditional classical Pilates training programs.


Katharine SantosComment