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The Future of Fitness Education & Certification

The Future of Fitness Education & Certification

Ahead of IHRSA 2024, execs from ACSM, ACE, ISSA and NASM share how they’re educating the personal trainers and coaches of tomorrow

The fitness industry’s benchmark for excellence is continuously shifting, highlighting the critical need for fitness professionals to stay informed. Fitness education and certification is on the cusp of a new era, fueled by technological innovation, evolving client expectations and a deepening comprehension of wellness.

Ahead of IHRSA 2024 and other upcoming fitness industry trade shows, Athletech News spoke with leading organizations shaping the industry’s future, including the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), American Council on Exercise (ACE), International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) and National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). These players are driving innovation by launching new products, services and initiatives designed to improve fitness professionals’ skills, employability and influence.

As we step into 2024, the blend of technological advancements, a focus on wellness over traditional fitness training, and the introduction of innovative programs and tools promise to redefine professional excellence in our industry. 

ACE Commits to AI Education & Community Building

The American Council on Exercise (ACE), founded in 1985, provides NCCA-accredited certifications, continuing education and evidence-based health information. Sarah Beavins, ACE’s Vice President of Sales & Marketing, said that ACE is dedicated to keeping health and exercise professionals equipped with timely, relevant information, and named artificial intelligence (AI)/fitness technology as one area of focus in 2024.

She referenced a recent report from Future Data Stats in which the global AI in Fitness and Wellness Market was valued at $7.80 billion in 2022, and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 20.5%, reaching $30.56 billion by 2030.

“AI can be an assistive tool in developing personalized recommendations and adaptive programs for clients, and all exercise professionals and health coaches should understand the ins and outs of this emerging technology,” Beavins said. “AI also has the power to help health and exercise professionals run a more efficient business, while growing and maintaining their clientele.”

Sarah Beavins (credit: ACE)

Another area of focus for ACE is building a unique community where health and exercise professionals have a trusted, safe place to connect. Beavins mentioned the recently launched ACE Pro Connect 2.0 app, which “allows like-minded health and exercise professionals to share ideas, talk through pressing issues and gain insights to build their career.”

Beavins also highlighted ACE’s goal to create timely educational content that helps exercise professionals and health coaches navigate the evolving landscape of weight management and GLP-1 drugs and announced that ACE will be offering a 200-hour yoga certification this year. 

ACE is also actively working to ensure that those in the LGBTQIA+ community experience a welcoming and inclusive fitness environment. The organization offers several EDI education resources, including courses, webinars and LGBTQIA+-specific live conversations so fitness professionals will be equipped with not just the knowledge but the tools to serve individuals who have not always felt welcome in a health or fitness setting.

ISSA Focuses on Wellness Coaching, Recruitment

Since 1988, the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) has been working on its vision to connect 100 million people to the power of healthy living by 2030, with a focus on service, promoting wellness, and fostering connections.

ISSA’s Chief Growth Officer, Craig Bradley, said that this year marks a significant shift towards embracing optimal wellness, strongly supported by ISSA’s commitment to health coaching. 

“In the fourth quarter of last year, we expanded our portfolio by acquiring Health Coach Institute along with other prestigious brands in the wellness education space, signaling our dedication to this growing field,” Bradley said. “Data suggests that consumers are increasingly prioritizing wellness and fitness, with interest in these areas outpacing traditional fitness training by a substantial margin. This indicates a clear preference for holistic health and life coaching over conventional training methods that focus mainly on physical exercise.”

Craig Bradley (credit: ISSA)

Bradley also mentioned the development of a recruitment solution tool, launched last year, designed to connect ISSA graduates with potential employers. 

“We’ve observed a strong demand from the industry for such a streamlined recruitment process,” said Bradley. “This platform showcases our graduates, featuring their profiles, qualifications and locations. With approximately 3,000 trainers graduating monthly, many are actively seeking career opportunities, particularly within their local communities. This system allows us to directly address the industry’s demand for qualified trainers by offering direct access to a pool of newly certified professionals.”

Of note, ISSA is also expanding its highest enrollment course offerings in Spanish, recognizing the global diversity of its audience.

NASM Launches Comprehensive Membership Program

The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) has been educating fitness professionals for over 35 years, and offers a range of science-based training programs and strategies.

The company recently launched a membership program called NASM One, a response to the growing realization that achieving and maintaining health is a multifaceted endeavor that demands a deep understanding of nutrition, mental health and the ability to leverage technology to achieve better outcomes. 

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“NASM One brings together multiple tools and exclusive resources to support fitness professionals’ personal development, professional growth and career longevity,” said Mike Fantigrassi, MBA, MS, senior director, product development. 

“At launch, NASM One features over 300 continuing education courses, four career education courses, how-to and trending topics guides, the EDGE app, member discounts, CPR/AED certification, and unlimited access to NASM fitness experts.” 

NASM has also updated its Performance Enhancement Specialist (PES) course, which is designed for performance-minded coaches.

“The PES combines critical thinking with a deep understanding of exercise science to tailor training that minimizes injury risks and maximizes athlete potential,” Fantigrassi said. “With a focus on individual athletes, the course integrates real-world coaching insights and the latest in sports psychology and recovery science.”

NASM has included new chapters on communication and youth training, alongside evidence-based injury prevention, which Fantigrassi said ensures (fit pros are) equipped to support both the physical and mental aspects of athletic performance.

ACSM Offers Enhanced Training Programs for the Modern Era

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) was established in 1954 and has grown into a global sports medicine and exercise science organization, with more than 50,000 international, national and regional members, all committed to promoting healthier lifestyles.

Francis Neric, MS, MBA, associate vice president of certification and credentialing, said that ACSM continues to advocate for efforts to raise the bar for health fitness industry certification through its professionalization efforts, including third-party accredited certification, requiring accredited exercise science degrees to sit for its highest level certifications, and the national registration of exercise professionals.

In 2024, ACSM turns its efforts toward career advancement and healthcare referrals. ACSM recently launched new Inclusive Fitness Specialist, and Physical Activity and Public Health Specialist designations. Additional ACSM offerings scheduled for launch in 2024 include a Youth Exercise Specialist and a Cancer Exercise Specialist, developed in partnership with the American Cancer Society, with more options planned to be introduced later this year.

“ACSM has converted its specialty certifications (written exams only) into educational certificate programs,” said Neric. “Educational certificates are advanced training programs that extend a certified professional’s capabilities to practice in specialized fields. These fields either: (1) are emerging areas with limited and/or ongoing research, or (2) require additional training, knowledge, or skill to safely and effectively work with clients or patients, taking into account unique considerations.”

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