The one thing you need to do to survive in the fitness industry…

By: Brian Sutton MS, MA, CSCS, PES, CES


No it’s not that simple – after all learning should go hand-in-hand with applying. However, if you want to stand out on the gym floor, or gain infinitely more clientele than what the sales team helps provide you, well then you need to expand your knowledge-base and your training toolbox. Continuing education, and most importantly, specialty certifications, will open the door to a successful training career.

In fitness, the one thing you can count on is… change!

The fitness industry is constantly changing and evolving. As such, continuing education is required for you to stay current with the latest guidelines and skills required to keep your clients safe while implementing innovative exercise techniques. Overall, continuing education is considered a way for fitness professionals like you to keep abreast of fitness industry trends and training strategies so you don’t lag behind or provide your clients with antiquated training or nutrition strategies. Did you know, many careers, not just fitness professionals, require continuing education? For example, nurses, physical therapists, athletic trainers, accountants, teachers, real estate agents, and engineers (to name a few) are all required to earn continuing education, and it is not exclusively required for certified personal trainers or group exercise instructors.

Keep pumping out brain reps

In the fast-paced fitness industry, continuing education is more important than ever. Continuing education focuses on subject areas relevant for fitness professionals such as health, wellness, mind-body (i.e., yoga, Pilates), and sport performance. Within each of these subject areas fitness professionals can expect to gain more knowledge, insight, and application techniques into many concepts and training strategies including, exercise modalities (i.e., kettlebells, suspension bodyweight trainers, battle ropes etc.) assessment and program design for various populations (i.e., seniors, youth, chronic disease, athletes etc.), behavior change, and nutrition/dietetics. Today’s fitness professionals must, therefore, commit to a life-long learning philosophy that enhances their effectiveness to deliver safe, effective, and scientifically proven exercise programs. If your goal is to maximize your skillset, earning potential, and help your clients achieve remarkable results, then continuing education is a crucial step in that journey.

Keep it safe – for you, for them, for your bottom line

It is critically important that you stay current and in compliance with changes in exercise guidelines and nutrition recommendations, as well as aware of technological advancements; particularly, exercise modalities, wearable fitness trackers, and other popular fitness trends. By staying abreast of these developments, you will be able to identify facts from fads. The first goal of every fitness professional should be “to do no harm”, therefore, staying current on the latest guidelines and trends is a necessity versus a luxury. Below are a few examples of how fitness has evolved and why fitness professionals must stay at the top of their game to help keep their clients safe. For example…

Cardiorespiratory Exercise

Due to the rise of obesity, cardiovascular disease, and other chronic diseases, the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans were established. These guidelines recommend adults to accumulate 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (i.e., brisk walking) every week or 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity (i.e., running) every week, or an equivalent mix the two intensities (1). Fitness professionals should keep these guidelines in mind when developing cardiorespiratory exercise programs for their clients to ensure clients are achieving enough aerobic activity each week while minimizing the effects of overtraining; especially if the fitness professional is prescribing alternative approaches to steady-state cardio like high-intensity interval training (HIIT) or Tabata. Continuing education courses are available for fitness professionals to learn these new cardio training strategies and how they are to be implemented with various clientele.

Self-myofascial Release

Another scientific development is the emergence of self-myofascial release (foam rolling) as a viable flexibility training technique. New research studies have validated the use of foam rolling to improve flexibility, range of motion, and neuromuscular efficiency (coordinated movement), without subsequent deficits on power development (2-6). In light of this new research, fitness professionals should investigate the use of foam rolling into their client’s warm-up and cool-down processes, and potentially purchase a continuing education course to learn how to effectively teach self-myofascial release to their clients.


Fitness professionals also need to stay current regarding nutritional strategies. New fads are constantly being marketed to the general public and professionals alike. By having a solid grasp of sound nutritional principles, fitness professionals will be able to communicate to their clients how to differentiate fact and fad. To help with this, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans were developed by the United States Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services and emphasize a balanced nutritional approach. The guidelines are published every five years with the latest Dietary Guidelines published earlier this year (2015) (7). Fitness professionals should investigate completing continuing education courses in nutrition that emphasizes a balanced approach in accordance with federal guidelines every few years as new developments emerge.

Pick Your Preference…

There are different types of continuing education available for fitness professionals with many being flexible to accommodate busy work schedules. These programs can be completed through certifying agencies, attending industry events, or through local or online colleges (Table 1). Education via Certifying Agencies You have the option to earn continuing education by completing another certification or advanced specialization, or through online continuing education courses offered through a certifying agency, such as the National Council for Certified Personal Trainers (NCCPT). These courses can be taught via distance education (online) or in person (live workshops). The NCCPT, for example, offers many continuing education programs ranging in length, depth and cost; from online articles discussing numerous topics, to additional certification programs and affiliate programs. For a complete list of continuing education offered by the NCCPT, visit Industry Events Attending an industry event is another viable option for you seeking to further your education. There are industry events all across the country, so you have the option to attend events nearby without the added cost of travel. Some organizations that offer live events include; the International Health Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA), IDEA Health and Fitness Association, SCW Fitness Education, CANFITPRO, and ECA World Fitness. There are many other organizations not previously listed who also host well-attended conferences, so all it takes is a quick online search to find an event in your area. College Programs Continuing education is available to fitness professionals as degree programs (i.e., AS, BS, MS), certificate programs, and diploma programs at colleges. These courses can range in topics including kinesiology, exercise physiology, anatomy and physiology, nutrition, athletic training, and physical education, to name a few. Many of these courses and programs can now be completed online enabling fitness professionals to continue to work with their established book of business. In addition, online formats such as, e-learning (Blackboard, Moodle) is becoming more widespread and accepted as an industry norm, versus traditional brick and mortar campuses. Given the emergence of online education, fitness professionals now have more options than ever to learn new techniques and further their career as a leader within the industry.

Table 1. Types of Continuing Education
Live Workshops Certification Programs
Online CEU courses Advanced Specializations
Industry events (i.e. IHRSA, IDEA, SCW, etc.) College classes

Recertification Requirements

Each certifying agency has their unique set of standards required to complete recertification. The NCCPT for example, requires fitness professionals to complete 2.0 continuing education units (CEUs) every two years. This equates to approximately 20 hours of continuing education (0.1 CEU = 1 hour). It is important for all fitness professionals to double check if the CEU course they are planning to take is approved by their certifying agency. If it is not pre-approved, most certifying agencies have a petition process, usually with a small added fee. The fee is used to cover additional administrative expenses because the certifying agency will need to perform an audit of the course to determine the quality of the education being provided. For more information of recertification requirements through the NCCPT visit

About the Author

Brian is an adjunct faculty member for California University of Pennsylvania in the Exercise Science & Sports Studies department teaching undergraduate and graduate level courses in corrective exercise, sports performance, and personal training. He is a regular contributor to several health and fitness textbooks, online and print publications, and has been featured as an expert in the fields of health, wellness, and fitness. Brian resides in Queen Creek, Arizona with his daughter Hannah and enjoys a variety of outdoor and sporting activities including golf, basketball, and hiking.


  1. US Department of Health and Human Services (USDHHS). Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Report, 2008. Washington, DC: USDHHS; 2008. Available at:
  2. Schroeder AN1, Best TM. Is self myofascial release an effective preexercise and recovery strategy? A literature review. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2015 May-Jun;14(3):200-8. doi: 10.1249/JSR.0000000000000148.
  3. Sullivan KM1, Silvey DB, Button DC, Behm DG. Roller-massager application to the hamstrings increases sit-and-reach range of motion within five to ten seconds without performance impairments. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2013 Jun;8(3):228-36.
  4. Halperin I1, Aboodarda SJ1, Button DC1, Andersen LL2, Behm DG. Roller massager improves range of motion of plantar flexor muscles without subsequent decreases in force parameters. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2014 Feb;9(1):92-102.
  5. Bradbury-Squires DJ1, Noftall JC, Sullivan KM, Behm DG, Power KE, Button DC. Roller-massager application to the quadriceps and knee-joint range of motion and neuromuscular efficiency during a lunge. J Athl Train. 2015 Feb;50(2):133-40. doi: 10.4085/1062-6050-49.5.03. Epub 2014 Nov 21.
  6. MacDonald GZ1, Penney MD, Mullaley ME, Cuconato AL, Drake CD, Behm DG, Button DC. An acute bout of self-myofascial release increases range of motion without a subsequent decrease in muscle activation or force. Strength Cond Res. 2013 Mar;27(3):812-21. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31825c2bc1.
  7. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, Office of the Secretary, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Available at: