Where do health and fitness pros turn to get the latest and greatest in fitness education? With so many different avenues of fitness-focused social media filling our screens, hundreds of annual conferences popping up worldwide, and new workout programs, instructor certifications, and exercise equipment flooding the market, it’s easy for trainers and group fitness instructors to get caught up in the hoopla of it all! And, don’t get me wrong!?! Most of the time, we embark upon this journey to educate ourselves, expand our craniums, and learn something new with nothing but GOOD intentions! But “Buyer Beware!” Not all of the information out there is reliable and trustworthy! Whether you’re a seasoned fitness professional or a novice to the niche, here are my top five suggestions for obtaining quality health and fitness education:

 1. Get Certified

I’m always shocked to find out the number of fitness professionals who do not have nationally recognized certifications. It seems as if this should be an absolute bare minimum requirement for the job. However, there are numerous facilities that allow people to teach and train without it. Certifying agencies such as ACE, ACSM, NASM, AFAA, and NSCA help to establish proper standards of practice within the fitness industry. Obtaining a group fitness instructor or personal trainer certification from a nationally recognized organization will teach you the basics of coaching, proper form and safety, and what to be concerned with in terms of liability/legal issues. Certifications will not necessarily dictate the quality of fitness professionals in practice, but it is definitely something we should all have. You have to have a license before you can drive. You have to pass the Bar Exam before you can legally practice law. You should be certified before you teach or train!

 2. Go to Conferences/CEC Workshops

If you ever find yourself struggling to come up with new ideas for your clients and classes, losing your passion for teaching or training, or even just getting bored doing what you’re doing, I suggest going to a fitness conference. I think of conferences like summer camp for fitness professionals – a great place to go to rejuvenate your spirit, refresh your teaching, learn new things, connect with like-minded people, earn CECs, and HAVE FUN! Health and fitness conferences come in all shapes and sizes! Perhaps your community hosts an annual health and wellness fair – these are typically free, open to the public, wonderful for networking, and great for learning who and what is close to home. Regional and state level conferences are the most abundant. Several organizations such as SCW Mania, IDEA and EMPOWER! host multiple annual fitness conferences all over the country. Presenters and sessions at these events are some of the best and most reliable in the business. Workshops help to fine-tune seasoned professionals, give you a chance to try new products, and highlight the latest and greatest of our ever-evolving industry.

 3. College-Level Courses

As an instructional associate professor for the department of health and kinesiology at Texas A&M University, academia consumes my Monday through Friday, work-week life. On a daily basis, I see the value of obtaining an undergraduate degree in a health-related field. If you’re considering a bachelor’s, it’s important to select a university with a reputable program. Investigate your degree options. Could you major in sports management? Nutrition? Exercise physiology? Kinesiology? Compare the required coursework for each education track. Will these classes challenge you and provide you with a solid knowledge base to aid in future career success? Does it require an internship (field experience is a huge PLUS!)? All great things to consider for aspiring undergrads! Perhaps fitness is your “second job.” I hear that a lot! “I’m an accountant, but I do fitness on the side.” “My day job is [insert less exciting career choice here], but in the evenings I’m a personal trainer.” To professionals in this arena, I’d say, think about getting a graduate degree in a health/wellness-related field. Not only will your master’s and/or Ph.D. provide you with credibility that, let’s be honest, is severely lacking in our industry, but it will also give you critical thinking skills that will allow for better information filtering down the road.

One of the biggest benefits of taking more college-level courses in a university setting is that (fingers crossed) you will get less “marketing” and more informing! Hopefully, the university atmosphere promotes increased knowledge over increased sales – which is often a problem we run into on the business side of the fitness world.

 4. What Does the Research Say?

If you’re curious about a specific topic regarding health and fitness, I suggest you do more than “Google it!” Maybe start with Google Scholar instead? Accepting every checkout line tabloid, YouTube video, or Internet posting as ultimate truth will only continue to fuel the dissemination of workout myths. This content is useful though, perhaps for even more than its actual face value. And what I mean by that is: Let’s say the information presented causes you to raise questions that you may not have considered otherwise. And then, you go on to investigate those questions for yourself, and now you’re learning something! Look for the science behind concepts, ideas, and training mentalities. What is the purpose of this exercise/drill? Is there a better way to achieve this purpose? Is it SAFE (perhaps something addressed in a certification course that you have/have not taken)? Is it safe for MY clientele (again, something maybe learned through a certification course)? Does the article have a link referring back to the original research/source? If yes, go look at it! See what it says! A good education is VALUABLE, which means it is going to TAKE TIME. Instead of watching twenty random 30-second video clips that pop up on social media this week, take the time to watch one TED-Ed talk or read one research article discussing your favorite health and fitness topic. Your brain will thank you!

 5. Get Experience

I am a firm believer that the BEST instructors are the ones who actually go to other people’s classes. And the same holds true for personal trainers. If you cannot remember the last time you went to a class as a participant, or the last time you went through a fitness assessment or personal training session as the client, a world of learning awaits! The first-hand experience offers invaluable education. You’re able to pick up on the impacts of certain cues, observe different styles of organization and workout structure, and see what goes well (or not so well). Make it your goal to find 3 “takeaways” from each experience – even something as simple as a new song, piece of choreography, or equipment set-up. Occasionally putting yourself in the client’s shoes will teach you far more than any video you could watch or article could read.

The day we stop learning, is the day we stop growing. Seeking-out solid education is a key factor for professional development. As you continue to set goals and make gains physically, also challenge yourself to grow more mentally!

Lucy Waite, MS, is a BOSU® and Hedstrom Fitness Master Trainer and an assistant instructional professor of health and kinesiology at Texas A & M University.