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ACSM Certification: ACSM Improves the Preparation of Exercise Professionals

Keteyian, Steven J. Ph.D., FACSM


ACSM issues new academic curriculum standards for exercise science.

Steven J. Keteyian, Ph.D., FACSM (, is program director, Preventive Cardiology, Henry Ford Heart & Vascular Intstitute, Detroit; adjunct associate professor, Department of Physiology, Wayne State University School of Medicine, Detroit; and clinical professor, Exercise Science Program, Oakland Universtiy, Rochester, Michigan. He is ACSM Registered Clinical Exercise Physiologist® certified and a past member of the ACSM Board of Trustees.

In the 1960s, the interests and capabilities of physiologists, coaches, and physical educators began to expand outside of the research laboratory and gymnasium and into fitness centers, hospitals, and health centers. At just about the same time, deaths caused by heart disease were at an all-time high in the United States, smoking had just been proclaimed the leading cause of preventable death in our country, and the important role of exercise and physical activity in health maintenance and disease management was being increasingly recognized by physicians and public health experts. All of these factors worked in concert to launch what is now an exponentially increasing demand by the public for learned and trained exercise professionals who are able to assist both apparently healthy people and those with clinically manifest disease.

One problem recognized by my predecessors during those formative years and, quite honestly, one that has persisted for decades, was the absence of national academic curriculum standards that helped ensure that a student graduating with an exercise-related degree from a school in San Diego, California, had similar quality classroom, laboratory, and practical training as a student graduating from a school in La Crosse, Wisconsin. ACSM, recognizing the shortcomings associated with absence of a standardized curriculum, began offering workshop and certification programs in the 1970s. However, despite the excellent manner in which ACSM has helped tens of thousands of people become certified over the past 30 years, this simply is not enough. The need for a standardized academic curriculum that would equally and fully prepare students remained… until now.

I'm pleased to share that this past summer a uniform set of academic standards for both an undergraduate curriculum in exercise science and a graduate curriculum in exercise physiology was approved by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). I can't emphasize enough that these approvals by CAAHEP are huge, with far-reaching effects for the fitness and exercise professions for many, many years to come.

Instead of operating as an organization that both defines the curriculum and offers the examination, ACSM chose the more recognized and industry-accepted approach to keep academic preparation and examinations separate. Specifically, ACSM worked with an external accreditation agency (CAAHEP) and several other professional organizations (American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation, American Kinesiotherapy Association, and Medical Fitness Association) to develop, make available for comment, and finalize academic program standards and guidelines for exercise professionals.

Representatives from these participating organizations comprise a committee that now oversees the implementation of the approved standards and guidelines. It is important to point out that the path that ACSM chose to follow in the development of these academic standards is the same one that our colleagues in athletic training, kinesiotherapy, and physical therapy followed during the emergence of their professions.



So, what we now have, after almost three decades of void, is a widely agreed upon set of standards and guidelines for students enrolled in an exercise-related program at both the undergraduate and graduate level. The Table briefly describes each of the two exercise programs approved by CAAHEP. Note that the graduate-level exercise physiology program actually has two emphasis areas, one for applied exercise physiology and the other for clinical exercise physiology. For a copy of the complete standards and guidelines document for each program, go to

Table. CAA

Table. CAA

From my perspective, ACSM's involvement in this project represents just another example of the College's ongoing strategy to "professionalize" these exercise-related professions. Another professionalizing step that ACSM helped initiate, along with the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation, is the Joint Committee on Advancing Exercise Physiology. One of the primary objectives for this Committee is to develop and implement strategies that advance the use of qualified clinical and preventive exercise physiologists. This would presumably include an evaluation of the merits and feasibility of occupational licensure and regulation. As such, it might include a national and state-based advocacy initiative to educate state legislatures, regulatory bodies, payers, and others on the preparation, qualifications, and proper roles of exercise physiologists.

A third big initiative undertaken by ACSM this year, one that also is aimed at helping ensure the quality of exercise professionals working with the fitness-minded public, is the offering of a new personal trainer certification. In fact, I'm happy to report that this December the first group of candidates will sit for this examination. We now have in place a rigorous examination that will determine a candidate's knowledge and abilities to meet the public's exponential demand for the most qualified of personal trainers-one evaluated using an evidence-based approach.

This certification differs from all of ACSM's other certification products in that a post-secondary education is not required. Individuals with a high school diploma and evidence of having completed an approved course in cardiopulmonary resuscitation are eligible to sit for the exam. Our intention is to offer a certification examination that fairly and accurately tests a candidate's ability to safely and correctly work with people interested in using exercise to improve their health and well-being. A series of on-line assessments and self-study materials is available and can be accessed at

Before closing, I want to formally acknowledge and thank the dozens upon dozens of volunteers who spent countless hours advancing ACSM certification-related activities in 2004. I encourage each of you reading this article to consider doing the same, if not at the national level then closer to home through a state or local fitness organization or one of ACSM's 12 regional chapters. Being involved can make a difference. The return you garner in personal satisfaction will far outweigh your investment of time. After all, helping others improve their health is what we do.

© 2004 American College of Sports Medicine