Dean’s School of Awesome: Certification


I just got back from the NSCA’s Personal Trainer conference in Sunny and beautiful Las Vegas. I had a chance to meet up with some old friends, make some new ones, and learn a few things along the way that will make my clients rue the day they were born get fantastic workouts. However, as is the case with many things in the fitness industry, there is a disturbing trend emerging that needs to be discussed, and that my dear friends is the concept of certification.

Most of the average Joe’s or Jane’s out there looking for a new personal trainer to make them sweat and feel inadequate couldn’t tell you the difference between the knowledge learned in a degree program versus a diploma program from an accredited post-secondary university, and they don’t really need to. Essentially, if someone has spent a few years of their life studying and taking exams in accredited post-secondary institutions, it’s a pretty good bet that they can tell their ass from their acetabulum, and know how to make you sweat, correct imbalances, and help you either gain or lose weight in the desired direction. Then, there are the entry-level certifications that require attendance at courses, study, and completion of either a theory exam, practical exam, or both. In my opinion, this is the absolute minimum level of certification a personal trainer should have, as it requires the person to not only show theoretical competence, but demonstrate it in front of a peer with a warm body in their care. I have no beef with these certifications, as they prepare the person for what they will need to do, and weed out those who can write a check versus those with a brain in their heads.

One of the things that’s beginning to bother me, though, is the concept of being “certified” for specific pieces of equipment or specific thought processes. Take any piece of equipment in any trainers conference trade show, and you’ll invariably find the requisite certification to go along with it in order to “qualify” the instructor to use it. There’s bosu certifications, TRX certifications, VIPR, certifications, PowerPlate certifications, kettlebell certifications, MMA certifications, butt-scratcher certifications, Crossfit certifications, gotta-get-my-deadlift-crush-on certifications, and I could go on for another thousand words, but I would begin to get redundant, and no one wants that.


Most of these certifications require you to pay up front, sometimes exceeding $1000, attend a workshop where they teach you the benefits of their specific product or way of thought, and then present you with a certificate of completion at the end, hence the term “certified.” They don’t test your knowledge of the subject matter with any kind of formalized exam with a pass-fail rate, which means any mouth-breather with a positive bank balance and the attention span of a two-year-old hopped up on sugar and red dye No. 5 can become certified in any direction they want. Essentially, the information could realistically be contained in an instructional DVD included with the sale of each item, and go through the full check-list of what to do, but then the developers and sponsors wouldn’t make a wad of cheddar from the trainers looking to become “certified.” Plus, throw in the fact that someone will become “certified” by attending your workshop, and you can pretty much double your rate. Sign me up!!! It’s so good that your thumbs up will give a thumbs up.


While I have no problem with marketing a product or service, or those who are looking to gain value from attending such events or using such products, I kinda take offense to the use of the term “certified.” For the average Joe or Jane, they won’t know the difference between a certification like a CSCS versus a bosu-bootcamp certification, or the difference between a Certified Exercise Physiologist versus a Crossfit level 2, or a CHEK, or a Poloquin, or a Santana certification. While a lot of the content may be similar, the major difference will come down to the fact that some of the most stringent and recognized certifications world-wide require both theoretical and practical examination to prove the individual taking the certification can actually tell you the difference between hypoxia, anoxia, anemia, and amenorhhea, and what they mean for exercise. Now, I can see needing certification to work on a metabolic cart, which measures the air being breathed in and out during exercise and can tell you about your metabolism, cardiopulmonary fitness, and some other really cool things, since the theories behind the numbers and the methodology behind the testing is fairly precise and typically requires the completion of an undergraduate degree and additional schooling to be considered qualified, but do we really need a piece of paper to let a trainer work with a client on a bosu? It’s a freakin stability ball that someone said “Hey, that could be fun to stand on if it wasn’t so rolly around. Let’s chop it in half and make a flat bottom on it so you can stand on it easier!!” These are the same people who say “squatting with heavy weights make your thighs flabby,” and “I just want to be toned.”


I’ve taken in a lot of courses, workshops and seminars which give me some form of designation that I simply choose not to display on my business card, because they aren’t what I would call a qualified certification. For me to display a certification, it has to be something that has international or at least national recognition, has a requisite proctored theory or practical exam to go along with it (no open book on-line exams). But hey, maybe there’s something to this offering of certifications and products and stuff like that. I should jump on this band wagon and get me a little piece of the pie, that way I can move on up to a deluxe apartment in the sky.

So I would like to announce the creation of

“Dean’s School of Awesome” certification

In this certification you will learn the 10 most under-used ways to be awesome in daily life, as well as their application to you and your clients. Learn the theory and history of awesome, from running a boot camp with a megaphone and a drill sergeant hat to checking your text messages while your client performs another set of rounded-back deadlifts, they are all in here. Are you tired of having a general lack of awesomeness? Well, wipe your chin, pick yourself up off the couch, and send me a check for $1000 to be INSTANTLY more awesome. Women will want you. Men will want to be you. You won’t even be able to handle your own awesome, and you will start your own awesome meltdown that will make the Japanese nuclear plant jealous by comparison to your awesomeness. What are you waiting for?? Send me money now, and become more awesome eventually!!


About deansomerset

Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist, Post-Rehab Specialist, personal trainer and probably the coolest guy my mom knows, I try to impart a little knowledge with a sense of humor to keep people reading. I've always thought if it's something that can grab your attention, you're gonna remember it tomorrow!!
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6 Responses to Dean’s School of Awesome: Certification

  1. Steve says:

    That would look soooooo good on my business card!

  2. Jim says:

    Do you take that in Canadian Tire dollars?

  3. C says:

    I don’t see the use of getting a CSCS, though many associations look out for it. I’m taking sports science and management as my undergrad degree and look to use my attachment period to intern at a prominent training facility.

    I feel that learning from and grilling the people who’re already getting first-hand experience of training is the best education – a bit like you interviewing Bret Contreras!

  4. Dean,

    Couldn’t agree more! I’d rather invest in info products that you and a few other guys put out than get the latest certification out there. There’s nothing wrong with being entrepreneurial and wanting to influence a lot of people. But, there is a difference between using others to help yourself and using yourself to help others, and I feel the former doesn’t help anyone but the particular “certifying agency.” It’s also pretty overwhelming, especially for new and dedicated fitness professionals, to see people always referring to different certifications as it misleads one to believe that in order to be a great fitness professional, they have to master everything. It’s almost always forgotten that personal trainer or strength coach still have the “personal” and “coach” attached to their title. At the end of the day, although we can coach people, people can only help themselves and unless we master the ability to inspire clients to change, an extra “speciality” certification does nothing but add more clutter to an already useles business card! 🙂

  5. Jon Stewart says:

    Red dye #6 is way better.

  6. A trainer at my gym won’t allow anyone to use his battling ropes unless we’re certified(and more I won’t bother you with.) Yeah, some deep study is needed to be able to shake a rope properly.

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