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Progress for ACSM Certifications

2015 and Beyond

Simpson, William F. Ph.D., FACSM

doi: 10.1249/FIT.0000000000000112
COLUMNS: ACSM Certification

This ACSM Certification column discusses the name change for two ACSM certifications.

William F. Simpson, Ph.D., FACSM, is an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin - Superior and directs the Exercise Physiology Laboratory. His experiences include YMCA fitness director, cardiac rehabilitation, and 20 years in higher education, including as health promotion and wellness faculty. He has been a member of ACSM for more than 30 years and is serving currently as the chair of the Committee of Certification and Registry Boards. Outside of the classroom and laboratory, he enjoys running, cooking, and hanging out with his daughters.

Disclosure: The author declares no conflicts of interest and does not have any financial disclosures.

As the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) transitions into a new year, the Committee for Certification and Registry Boards (CCRB) has its share of changes. The CCRB, originally named the Prevention and Rehabilitation Committee, was formed in 1975, along with the first edition of the Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription. So just think of it, ACSM certification will turn 40 this coming year. There has been much progress in these 40 quick years.

The first three certifications (Program Director, Exercise Specialist, and Exercise Test Technologist) focused on the clinical professional and were groundbreaking at the time because there were no credentials or certifications for exercise professionals. ACSM truly was leading the way and forging ahead with no landmarks as well as no competition. A few years later, Health Fitness Director, Health Fitness Instructor, and Exercise Leader were developed to reflect the needs of the nonclinical exercise professionals.

Across time, we’ve observed the cessation of some of the original certifications, the addition of the Registered Clinical Exercise Physiologist, adjustments to some titles (Clinical Exercise Specialist, Health Fitness Specialist), and the offering of certifications for the nondegreed exercise professionals (Certified Personal Trainer and Group Exercise Instructor). ACSM currently certifies 3,900 clinical professionals, 10,500 Health Fitness Specialists, and just more than 13,000 nondegreed exercise professionals. The last 3 years has seen continued growth in certification although mostly in the nonclinical credentials.

We have accomplished much in 40 years and have seen the blossoming of many other organizations in the exercise certification field. In concert with the competition, we also must struggle with our profession’s identity within the public sector, medical community, and ultimately how the exercise profession progresses toward state regulation/licensure.

Exercise professionals are compared with other health care professions such as dieticians, athletic trainers, and physical therapists to name a few. Although we share common disciplines and beginnings, the exercise professional is different. First, we are the “new kid” on the block only at the age of 40. In perspective, we are just approaching adolescence. However, all the professions mentioned have one distinct difference from us. They all developed to enter into patient/client care professions. We evolved from a body of knowledge with roots in physical education and physiology. We evolved into “practicing” our profession. Given this contrast, it is a major hurdle as we move the profession forward.

Thus, some of our challenges in the forthcoming 3 years will be to come to agreement on our professional identity. The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics lists the bachelor-degreed exercise professional as an exercise physiologist. The health and fitness industry currently is essentially hiring three types of people: group exercise instructors, personal trainers, and exercise physiologists. Given the market and how we are recognized by others, the discussion surrounding changing the name of the degreed ACSM-certified exercise professionals is a credible discussion. As a result, the CCRB has conducted extensive research before updating the titles of its certifications, surveying certified professionals, fitness industry employers, health and medical partners, and the general public. The proposed name changes where to change the ACSM Certified Health Fitness SpecialistSM to ACSM Certified Exercise Physiologist and the ACSM Certified Clinical Exercise SpecialistSM to ACSM Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist. This would give us three “exercise physiologist” titles from the bachelor-degreed exercise physiologist and clinical exercise physiologist to the master-degreed registered clinical exercise physiologist. The survey data showed the new names resonated with audiences across the board, with more than 70% of all individuals surveyed agreeing with the new titles.

The CCRB proposed the name changes to the ACSM Board of Trustees at its November meeting. The ACSM board voted in support of both changes based on the evidence presented by the CCRB. The changes were announced this month that the names of two ACSM fitness certifications will be revised to better represent the scope of practice and expertise of the fitness professionals holding these titles. The new titles, ACSM Certified Exercise Physiologist and ACSM Certified Clinical Physiologist, will replace ACSM Certified Health Fitness SpecialistSM and ACSM Certified Clinical Exercise SpecialistSM, respectively (Table).



Exercise professionals holding an academic degree have additional knowledge that is not duplicated in other health-related professions. Naming these certifications “exercise physiologist” helps the public better understand and recognize the high level of training and education these exercise professionals have attained. The CCRB looks forward to continuing its efforts in moving the profession forward.

© 2015 American College of Sports Medicine.