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ACSM Certification

Pathway To Professionalism

Costanzo, Dino M.A., RCEP®, FACSM

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ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal: July 2007 - Volume 11 - Issue 4 - p 33-34
doi: 10.1249/01.FIT.0000281230.54137.d1
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In Brief

Since assuming associate editor responsibilities for ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal® last year, I have focused my columns around one important theme: the professionalism of the exercise practitioner. In my first article appearing in the March/April 2006 issue, entitled "Who Moved Our Cheese," I described the climate of the health and fitness industry and the need for the exercise practitioner to be prepared for the rapid and substantial changes ahead. For the past year, the infrastructure of our developing profession has become strengthened by developments in both academic and examination accreditation. I will present in this column a high-altitude perspective of the interrelationship between the academic and examination accreditation processes. A simple algorithm is provided to help delineate career paths for those looking to maximize their professional preparedness and employability as exercise practitioners.

Academic accreditation. Systematic skills training and development is clearly the first step in the ladder to professionalism. As with most other established professions, third party accreditation has become an expectation for academic institutions offering curriculum to prepare students in careers in fitness and exercise. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) has championed for academic standardization for years with the University Connection Endorsement Program. Recognizing the need to move curriculum toward a true accreditation process, ACSM, along with other nationally prominent professional organizations, signed on as a sponsoring agency to support the Committee on Accreditation for the Exercise Sciences (CoAES) under the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). Recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, CAAHEP is the largest accrediting organization for academic curriculum in the health sciences. Most recently, CoAES has established standards and guidelines for the Personal Fitness Trainer (associate's degree) in addition to already existing programs in Exercise Science (bachelor's degree) and Clinical and Applied Exercise Physiology (master's degree). The impact of the CoAES on colleges and universities offering curriculum in the exercise-related fields has been substantial. Recognizing the need to demonstrate quality and remain competitive, colleges and universities are increasingly pursuing CoAES accreditation. As well, students seeking careers in the exercise sciences should be aware of the colleges and universities who have obtained CoAES accreditation. If you are not familiar with CoAES, visit their Web site at

Examination accreditation. Skills validation is the next rung in the professional ladder, and as with academic accreditation, examination third party review and certification are fast becoming the industry standard. Fitness professional, trade organizations, and health and fitness centers are defining employment standards around examination accreditation. The National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) under the National Organization for Competency Assurance is recognized as a world leader in accrediting certification programs. The American College of Sports Medicine has recognized the need to validate its examinations through third-party scrutiny and recently secured NCCA accreditation for all of its credentials (e.g., ACSM's Certified Personal Trainer®, ACSM's Health Fitness Instructor®, ACSM's Exercise Specialist®, and ACSM's Registered Clinical Exercise Physiologist®). Exercise practitioners seeking credentialing should understand that the ACSM credentials have stood up to the rigor of NCCA accreditation. Visit to learn more about NCCA.

ACSM Photo/Don Distel.

Algorithm. Appreciating that there exists a wide range of career opportunities for the exercise practitioner, choosing the type of work that most interests you is a first and critical step. As you consider your career possibilities, take time to research the field. Talk to those in the trenches, and observe their work; become familiar with the way exercise is applied in a variety of settings and with different populations. Once you identify your interests and career goals, use the algorithm above to guide you through the pathway to obtain the credential most appropriate for you (Figure).

Career Pathway. *Although obtaining a college degree is not a requisite to sit for ACSM's Certified Personal Trainer® certification, most of those currently certified do hold degrees that provide them with a competitive market advantage. Consider that more than 65% of the ACSM Certified Personal Trainers® responding to ACSM's recent job task analysis survey reported having at least a bachelor's degree and more than 10% held degrees at the master's or doctoral level. Also, consider the data reported from the Medical Fitness Association Compensation Survey (June 2005), which showed that higher educational levels translated to higher pay rates across all job categories. †Also available for other health care professionals without degrees specifically in the exercise sciences (e.g., nursing, physical therapy, and athletic training).
© 2007 American College of Sports Medicine