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Legally Defensible Certification

by George
(New Jersey)

I currently have professional liability for my personal training business. My ace and nasm certifications expired and I decided to get certified online through My question is due to the fact that there is no law for how you are certified...will I ever have to deal with misrepresentation or misconduct because my certification isn't ACSM/NASM etc?

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Must be accredited
by: Katie - Admin

If you are ever sued your expired certs and your non-accredited cert won't help you. Only the NCCA Accredited certs are legally defensible, meaning that they offer proof that you are qualified to perform the job of a personal trainer. Without this proof, the other attorney will portray you as somebody who just bought a certification on the internet.

Legally Defensible Certification
by: Dr. Anthony Abbott, FACSM, FNSCA

When a credentialing organization demonstrates that it has followed the proper steps in examination development, it has increased the likelihood that it will develop a valid and reliable exam. However, to create a valid and reliable examination that discriminates between truly qualified and unqualified candidates, exam questions must not only be proportionally directed at identified content areas but also must be presented at various cognitive levels with an appropriate degree of difficulty.

To assess a candidate’s competency, exams must contain questions that possess a sufficiently high degree of difficulty to challenge an individual’s depth of knowledge. Unfortunately, most accredited organizations have written exams that only scratch the surface of important content areas because questions are cursory and simplistic. The majority of accredited personal trainer certification exams are primarily composed of recall questions with limited numbers of application and analysis questions that constitute a higher cognitive level. The ability to identify people who are proficient in exercise science and program development requires that exams also be based upon broad behavioral objectives and high standards. Not all certification organizations, including the majority that are accredited, demonstrate this level of examination testing proficiency.

As a doctor of exercise physiology and a researcher of instructor standards, I am frequently retained as an expert witness in injury and death cases. To date, I have taken over thirty certification exams, including most of the accredited ones, in order to comment in court about their ability to discriminate between qualified and unqualified personal trainers. Based upon this experience with accredited certification exams plus twenty years of working with psychometricians, professional exam developers, it is my opinion that the concept of accreditation has lost its value. This is due to the fact that although accredited certification exams are testing appropriate content areas, they are posing poorly written and simplistic questions. Without using well-constructed and challenging application and analysis questions, exams are unable to probe the depth of a trainer’s knowledge base. Additionally, it has been noted that some exams test on proprietary language that will only be known to those persons reading that organization’s materials. This penalizes individuals who may be well versed in exercise science but have not learned the proprietary language adopted by that organization.

Although a credible certification helps in a legal defense, what is important is whether a trainer follows an appropriate standard of care, the kind of care that would be utilized by a knowledgeable and prudent trainer. Developing the appropriate knowledge base and skill level cannot be accomplished through studying a manual, taking a weekend certification course and then passing an accredited certification exam.

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