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Advancing the Exercise Science Profession

Riebe, Deborah Ph.D., FACSM

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doi: 10.1249/FIT.0b013e3182337383
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In Brief


In 2008, the Committee on Certification and Registry Boards (CCRB) developed a 5-year strategic plan for the American College of Sports Medicine’s (ACSM) credentials. During this process, it was acknowledged that, although ACSM credentials historically have been recognized as the gold standard, there are hundreds of other organizations in existence that credential thousands of exercise professionals. The requirements necessary to become certified vary widely among these organizations. In some cases, the requirements to become a certified exercise professional require little education or experience, and virtually everyone qualifies as a certification candidate. Because ACSM is committed to excellence, the CCRB identified, as one of its strategic plan goals, to advance the profession of the exercise professional.

The Australian Council of Professions defines a profession as a disciplined group of individuals who adhere to ethical standards and uphold themselves to, and are accepted by, the public as possessing special knowledge and skills in a widely recognized body of learning derived from research, education, and training at a high level, and who are prepared to exercise this knowledge and these skills in the interest of others.

We are part of a relatively young profession. In 1975, ACSM was the first organization to define minimal proficiencies for a clinical exercise professional and published the first edition of the Guidelines for Graded Exercise Testing and Prescription. As an organization, we have taken steps to respond to the growth and changes in our field. For example, our clinical certifications were initially concerned with only cardiovascular, pulmonary, and metabolic diseases. The Registered Clinical Exercise Physiologist (RCEP) certification was added in (June 2000) to address many other clinical populations (e.g., cancer, Parkinson’s disease) as new research demonstrated the positive effects of exercise on various disease processes. In response to this evolving profession, new certifications have been added, whereas others have been refined or eliminated.

To truly establish exercise physiology/science as a profession, members of the CCRB have determined that four factors must be in place:

  • established academic guidelines for colleges and universities interested in offering exercise physiology/science programs
  • the existence of a professional organization that services its members and advocates to others on their behalf
  • the existence of a unique body of knowledge
  • an examination that can be taken by only those students who graduate from an accredited program in exercise physiology/science

ACSM has achieved many benchmarks in professionalizing our field. One of the most important steps was the decision for ACSM to participate in the Committee on Accreditation for the Exercise Sciences (CoAES). This organization established academic standards under the auspices of the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs, a well-respected accreditation agency.

The CCRB has continued to make strides toward advancing the profession of both the clinical and health fitness exercise professionals since setting this as a formal strategic goal 3 years ago. Below are some of the recent achievements:

Academic Standards. In 2011, the eligibility requirements for the Health Fitness Specialist (HFS) and the Clinical Exercise Specialist (CES) certifications were changed so that certification candidates must now hold a bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology, Exercise Science, or an exercise-based program. Previously, an individual taking the HFS or CES examination needed a degree in a health-related field, which allowed individuals without formal training in exercise physiology/science to qualify for the examination. Because our field is based on a unique body of knowledge, certification is now available only to true exercise professionals.

This academic preparation was deemed necessary based on the required knowledge and skills of those currently working as HFSs and CESs. In making this change, the CCRB took many things into consideration, including professionalizing the field as we move toward the future.

Advocacy. Several states have proposed legislation to require licensure for personal trainers. The CCRB and ACSM have been monitoring this process, as some of the proposed bills are not in the best interest of the exercise profession. We are in the process of developing a health fitness advocacy kit that can be used proactively or as an alternative to existing proposals. The CCRB also is working with the Clinical Exercise Physiology Association to develop a blueprint for licensure legislation for clinical exercise professions.

Body of Knowledge. In collaboration with Human Kinetics and Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, the CCRB continues to publish new editions of flagship books (e.g., ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription) and publish new books in the latest areas of study. Writing teams are working on a variety of new resources including ACSM’s Resources for the Group Exercise Instructor, ACSM’s Resources for the Health Fitness Specialist, ACSM’s Guide to Exercise and Cancer Survivorship, and ACSM’s Behavioral Aspects of Exercise. These publications will become available in 2011, 2012, or 2013.

We continue to collaborate with other national organizations to create specialty certifications to provide the latest information for exercise professionals who work in very specific aspects of our profession. These include the Certified Cancer Exercise Trainer in collaboration with the American Cancer Society, the Certified Inclusive Fitness Trainer in collaboration with the National Center of Physical Activity and Disability, and the Physical Activity in Public Health specialist in collaboration with the National Society of Physical Activity Practitioners in Public Health.

National Examination. A long-term goal of the CCRB is to require that certification candidates for HFS, CES, and RCEP graduate from a CoAES-accredited program. As a first step, the CES eligibility criteria now differentiates the amount of clinical experience needed before the examination between colleges and universities whose curriculums are accredited by CoAES and programs that are not accredited. Candidates who attend a non-CoAES accredited curriculum must have an additional 100 hours of clinical experience before being eligible to take the CES examination. ACSM has established a University Partnership and will work closely with this network to promote accreditation and support the programs that prepare future exercise professionals.

The CCRB will continue to identify strategies that will advance the career of the exercise professional. The college leadership and the professional volunteers that make up the CCRB are qualified and willing to tackle the important issues that our profession will face in the months and years to come.

© 2011 American College of Sports Medicine.