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COLUMNS: ACSM Certification

Important Updates from ACSM’s Committee for Certification and Registry Boards

Simpson, William F. Ph.D., FACSM

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doi: 10.1249/FIT.0000000000000165
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The past year has been a busy one for ACSM’s Committee for Certification and Registry Boards (CCRB) as the exercise professions continue moving forward to adapt to an ever-changing health care environment. A number of initiatives have been proposed in concert with these adaptations. In November 2014, ACSM’s Board of Trustees approved to change the Health Fitness Specialist certification title to Certified Exercise Physiologist and the Clinical Exercise Specialist certification title to Clinical Exercise Physiologist (CEP). These changes were designed to bring the degreed exercise certifications under the common identity of “Exercise Physiologist.” Thus, this differentiates the degreed exercise professional from the nondegreed professional (i.e., certified personal trainer and certified group exercise trainer).

However, as this change now has been implemented, the next step is to further delineate the CEP and the Registered Clinical Exercise Physiologist (RCEP). Presently, the two major differences between these clinical certifications are as follows: CEP requires the candidate to have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree within the exercise sciences and 400 to 500 hours of clinical experience (on the job or internship) to sit for the examination. Also, the CEP works mainly with individuals who have cardiac, pulmonary, and/or metabolic conditions. In contrast, the RCEP must have a master’s degree in the exercise sciences with a minimum of 600 hours of supervised clinical experience. Furthermore, the RCEP is prepared to work with patients with additional clinical diagnoses including muscular-skeletal, neurological, immune, and/or cancer.

The challenge ahead is to decide if ACSM should continue with two clinical certifications or move to one. Changing to one could simply be eliminating one and keeping the other. Combining the two into one or creating an entirely new certification also is a possibility. Doing any of the above is a deliberate and complicated process because the CCRB must abide by best practices and the Institute of Credential Excellences/National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) standards. Once a decision is made, a new delineation study and job task analysis will be required to ascertain the specific domains and associated scope of practice.

To arrive at a decision, CCRB has hired a consultant who has decades of experience working with organizations and NCCA/accreditation issues. Since spring 2015, a number of individuals in the clinical exercise professions including those in practice, academics, health care administration, and other stakeholders have been consulted about his or her individual beliefs and opinions. These interviews led to convening a focus group at ACSM’s Annual Meeting in San Diego this past May. Eighteen individuals participated, again representing CEP and RCEP practicing professionals, academics, CCRB, Clinical Exercise Physiology Association, and hospital administrators. The purpose of this session was to discuss the various related perspectives on the issue that also would serve as the basis for development of a survey that would be sent to all stakeholders (CEP and RCEP) as well as academics and employers of clinical exercise physiologists.

The survey was sent out in late August, and the CEP and RCEP committees along with the CCRB Executive Committee currently are reviewing the data and the consultant’s report and recommendations based on his review of the survey results. Once a consensus is reached based on the evidence collected, the CCRB Executive Council will make a recommendation to ACSM’s Administrative Council and Board of Trustees (BOT). The BOT will then vote on the proposal brought forth by the CCRB.

Once approval from the BOT has been obtained, the CCRB will then need to complete a number of required steps including a validation study, delineation, and a new job task analysis to identify the definition of either the remaining certification(s) or the new certification. Often, members of CCRB have been asked what will happen to CEP or RCEP and so on. No one can answer that question at this time. The decisions that will be made will be based on the evidence that we learn from the surveys and input from all stakeholders. In the end, the CCRB will recommend and ultimately the BOT will approve what is the best decision for all those concerned with the profession.


What is important to recognize at this time is that the CCRB realizes that not all stakeholders will be satisfied completely with the final decision. However, we all must recognize that this project, as well as the name change last year, has been a detailed, thoughtful, and timely process. For us to comply with NCCA standards for continued accreditation, we must abide by best practice.

Another current CCRB activity includes the Group Exercise Instructor (GEI) Certification committee working through the NCCA accreditation requirements. The process for achieving accreditation is labor intensive on the part of ACSM’s national office. Details of the delineation study, job task analysis and examination specifications, blueprint, and items need to be reported in specifics for NCCA to review and comment on, and it is anticipated that they will accept and approve the GEI credential. Once this hurdle is accomplished, all five ACSM credentials will be NCCA accredited.

The importance for this is paramount for ACSM certifications to remain competitive in the health and fitness as well as clinical exercise professions. Often, employers demand their certified professions hold a professional NCCA-accredited certification as a condition for employment. For more information regarding NCCA standards and practices as well as a current listing of all professional certifications currently accredited, please visit the ICE/NCCA Web site at

On another note, the personal trainer certification committee recently has been reviewing its scope of practice and job task analysis as concerns have been raised regarding some certified personal trainers providing nutritional and medical advice that is beyond their scope of practice. Inappropriately crossing the line into a regulated and licensed profession is a serious event, and the committee wants to make sure all of its certified professionals have a clear understanding of his or her scope of practice and the potential consequences related to crossing the line into the scope of another profession.

© 2015 American College of Sports Medicine.