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March 10, 2015

Do health clubs assume additional liability if their certified fitness professionals have not had hands-on practical skills testing as part of their accredited certification process?

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June 18, 2014

Industry certification and accreditation differences continue to confuse fitness professionals and their employers. In an effort to make things clearer, AFAA has asked David Herbert JD to give us the latest update on the need for education and practical "hands on" testing for all fitness professionals. The differences between organizations are also summarized by AFAA in the accompanying chart. Please let us know your thoughts. Contact Kathy Stevens at or contact David Herbert at

Click here for chart
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July 8, 2013

After many years of promoting accredited fitness certifications, we are now seeing a disturbing new direction from at least one certification organization in creating a group of new “certifications” that, in reality, more resemble continuing education workshops. Please see below to learn more about one “soft” certification and how it compares to AFAA’s fully-accredited Primary Group Exercise Certification.

To learn more and voice your opinion click here.

June 25, 2013

Lately, there has been much talk about the accreditation status of fitness certification organizations, and I am proud to share with you that AFAA is the only fitness certification organization currently to have earned dual accreditations, not only for certification testing, but also for the educational programs leading up to the testing.

AFAA's educational content is accredited by the Accrediting Commission of the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC), meeting IHRSA's 2006 recommendation on accreditation for fitness certification organizations. The Accrediting Commission of the DETC is also listed by the U.S. Dept. of Education as a nationally recognized accrediting agency, and is a recognized member of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).

AFAA's certification testing is accredited by Vital Research, Inc., a consulting firm specializing in research and evaluation. Founded in 1982, Vital Research has brought its testing and psychometric expertise to many fields of endeavor, including fitness professional certifications, nursing and education.

The following chart illustrates AFAA’s accreditation criteria compared to that of the NCCA accreditation. To learn more about accreditation and its importance, please read this article by well-known industry attorney David Herbert, JD.

If further clarification is needed, please contact me at 800-225-2322 x204

July 15, 2011

In light of some industry confusion surrounding the certification of fitness professionals, the accreditation of certifying agencies and proposals to license fitness professionals in various states, I asked for some insight into these issues from a well-known industry lawyer and commentator, David L. Herbert, co-editor of The Exercise Standards and Malpractice Reporter, now in its 25th year of publication. His comments are attached through the following link:

To read the full report, click here

July 16, 2010

On January 16, 2010, the Accrediting Commission of the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC) accredited the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America. We have looked at this moment with much pride and steadfast resolve.

Given the status of the DETC as a recognized member of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and as a nationally recognized accrediting agency by the U.S. Department of Education, the long and rigorous accrediting process has been well worth it.

AFAA chose the DETC over other accrediting agencies for much of the same reasons cited in a new report produced by CHEA titled, "The Value of Accreditation". Because we chose an accrediting agency that is recognized by both of the above entities, we are confident the value of the education AFAA provides meets the highest of standards.

To read the full report, click here

February 3, 2010

Sherman Oaks, CA — The Accrediting Commission of the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC), the nation's premiere accrediting organization for distance learning institutions, voted in its January 16 meeting to grant an award of accreditation to the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America.

This award of recognized national accreditation was made after an exhaustive review of AFAA by the DETC, in which all aspects of the organization were thoroughly evaluated by peer-group evaluators and independent curriculum experts.

The DETC Accrediting Commission has been listed by the U.S. Department of Education as a nationally recognized accrediting agency since 1959. DETC is also a recognized member of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).

Accreditation is the nation's principal means to identify reliable and reputable education institutions. Accreditation is also a badge of quality, and it assists institutions in attaining excellence by using a set of standards developed by peers. Accredited status means that an educational institution lives up to its promises to course participants and the public. It means that the education that a participant receives at an accredited institution has real value.

“On behalf of AFAA, I would like to thank the participants and staff for all their hard work, patience and trust they have placed in us throughout this pursuit of DETC accreditation,” said AFAA's President, Linda Pfeffer. “We realize that many are called but few are chosen to be accredited. This marks a historic day for us, and signals the beginning of a new era of leadership and cutting edge innovation in distance learning for our organization.”

AFAA - The Aerobics and Fitness Association of America has been the world's largest fitness and TeleFitness® educator since 1983, issuing more than 250,000 AFAA certifications to fitness professionals in more than 73 countries. Each year, health clubs and studios host more than 2,500 AFAA certification and AFAA continuing education workshops across the nation.

DETC - Located in Washington, D.C., the Distance Education and Training Council is a non-profit educational association founded in 1926. The independent nine-member Accrediting Commission of the DETC was established in 1955. It has the approval of the U.S. Department of Education as the “nationally recognized accrediting agency” under terms of Public Law; and it is recognized as an Accrediting Commission by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

For additional information or questions about AFAA and its accreditation, please contact Dorette Nysewander at or call Lisa Shapiro at 800-446-2322, ext. 213. For more information on DETC, visit

March 9, 2009

Online Distance Education: AFAA debuts Distance Education Center

The Aerobics and Fitness Association of America has expanded its educational opportunities for personal trainers through its new Distance Education Center.

The DEC allows participants to study select online courses from any Internet-enabled computer and interact with AFAA's instructors and guest lecturers through forums, chat and teleconferencing capabilities.

The core mission of the AFAA DEC is to provide comprehensive cognitive and practical education for fitness professionals, grounded in research, reflecting a commitment to quality distance education that upholds safe and effective fitness practice.

The DEC currently offers two courses now available for enrollment:

  1. Personal Fitness Trainer Online Preparatory Course
  2. Telexercise® Resistance Training Course.

With the enrollment in either course, participants are offered a host of online study tools that can help them prepare and successfully complete the course. The educational support includes:

  • Multitraining Live™ a technologically driven study group resource to assist the participant in preparing for their course(s) with full-featured, flexible web conferencing software, video chat server, and webinar training applications
  • DEC Forums — a technology platform that allows comprehensive interactions between participants and AFAA instructors.
  • Library — along with references within course materials, AFAA has provided additional databases and resources for full-text journal articles, online and through local libraries.

Upon successful completion, each course is worth 18 AFAA Study Units. To learn more, view AFAA's Distance Education Catalog:

Or visit to enroll.

October 3, 2008

National Board of Fitness Examiners (NBFE) Update:
Part II, Practical Examination

The National Board of Fitness Examiners (NBFE) has been working diligently on completing the PFT Part II of the National Board Examination. After several months of planning and preparation, we are ready to begin the beta testing process.

The first step in this process is to conduct a small group calibration of examiners, candidates and of the process itself. Qualified NBFE Examiners and standardized volunteer clients will participate in this calibration session overseen by the administrator.

Separate calibration and grading sessions will be conducted and inter-rater and intra-rater reliability will be calculated. Upon completion of the exam process, each Candidate will be interviewed by the administrator regarding the process.

Feedback from this calibration process will be used to make any necessary modifications prior to beginning the actual beta test.

This process will be conducted on November 2, 2008 at 24 Hour Fitness in Las Vegas, NV. We are looking for 12 eligible Candidates and 4 to 6 volunteers to participate as standardized clients for this process. We encourage your participation for this very important process and would like each affiliate organization to participate.

Travel will be at the Candidate’s expense; however the cost of the test will be waived. Upon successful completion, those who successfully complete the test will be considered as "passing" Part II of the NBFE exam. If you are interested, please read further. This process is extremely important to the success of NBFE Part II and we ask that you honor your commitment to participate if accepted.

In order to continue to move the process along, we are allowing individuals who have previously sat for NBFE Part I and/or those eligible to sit for NBFE Part I but have not yet taken or passed Part I to participate in this process, with the understanding that they will not receive certification until such time as they successfully pass both Part I and Part II. In addition, we are waiving the registration fee for NBFE Part II for those who are willing to participate in this process. This will be a one-time opportunity!

For Further Information Contact:
Dr. Dorette Nysewander
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October 3, 2008

Certification, Accreditation and National Boards
Build your career on a solid foundation with AFAA

The Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA) is the "one-stop" source for state-of-the-art education services for fitness professionals. AFAA offers a complete package of up-to-date training, testing, certification and continuing education, including workshops and classes, written and practical examinations, online courses, and a wide range of reference works and other publications. AFAA's programs and materials are affordable, offered at frequent intervals, and designed to meet the latest criteria and highest standards of the fitness industry.

- the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA) is the world's largest fitness and TeleFitness educator.

- AFAA provides education, training and certifications, including written and practical exams.

- AFAA is an affiliate of the National Board of Fitness Examiners.

- AFAA provides an NBFE National Board Review Course for personal fitness trainers.

- AFAA's certifications are accredited by Vital Research and AFAA is a member of the National Organization of Competency Assurance (NOCA). AFAA also applied for an additional accreditation through an organization recognized by the Council of Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and the U.S. Department of Education, meeting IHRSA's 2005 recommendation on accreditation for fitness certification organizations.

NEW - Telexercise Resistance Training
- Personal Fitness Trainer Certification V3
- Personal Fitness Trainer Online Preparatory Course
- Personal Fitness Training: Theory and Practice textbook
- Multitraining DVDs and CDs

November 2, 2006


Over the past 10 years, many states have drafted initiatives or proposed legislative bills that would have required personal fitness trainers (PFTs) or other fitness professionals to become state licensed. While to date, none of these bills have become law, one of the more recently proposed bills, Georgia SB401, stated a desire to utilize the National Board of Fitness Examiners' (NBFE) test results as a means to assess the qualifications of PFTs in that state for licensure purposes.

While the NBFE did not contribute to, nor promote licensure in Georgia, the NBFE does believe that the fitness profession can best be served by utilizing a standardized national board examination to evaluate and test the qualifications of PFTs and other fitness professionals. The test process could be used as a model if states feel the need to license those in this profession.

Since its inception in 2003, the NBFE has supported the utilization of a nationally standardized written and practical exam to assess PFT qualifications. The NBFE believes this process can be used in lieu of requiring personal trainers to sit for 50 different state board examinations in order to obtain a license. The NBFE believes that a PFT in New York should meet the same qualifications and possess the same knowledge and skills as a trainer in California. If a PFT moves to a different state, a standardized national board examination credential should be sufficient to obtain a license, if the new state of residence requires a license.

At this time, the NBFE does not endorse, support or lobby for or against licensure of any fitness professional, but rather believes that the industry should listen to the opinions of personal trainers working in the field before taking any stance on the licensure issue. In an attempt to begin the process of finding out how personal trainers feel about licensing, the NBFE recently deployed the largest survey ever conducted in the fitness industry on the subject.

The NBFE polled a randomly sampled group of personal fitness trainers who hold a wide array of degrees and fitness certification credentials. Of the trainers polled, 0.5% have some high school education; 32.9% have some college education; 40.5% are college graduates (including those holding Associate’s Degrees); 6.0% have some graduate education; and 20.1% hold graduate degrees (Master’s/PhD, other doctorates).

This randomly sampled group of 2730 respondents revealed interesting findings. An overwhelming majority of respondents (76%) agree or strongly agree that licensing of personal trainers will increase the perception of professionalism of personal trainers in the public eye. Similarly, 75.4% feel that licensing of personal trainers will facilitate referrals from traditional healthcare providers, and 61% feel that insurance companies will be more likely to reimburse for services if personal trainers are licensed. 62.7% agree or strongly agree that they would like to be denoted as a “licensed personal trainer;” however, less than half (47%) of respondents believe that licensing will lead to better pay for personal trainers. Overall, the majority of the respondents support the idea of having a national board exam over the alternative of state-specific exams, with 62.5% favoring a national exam and 19.5% of respondents being neutral on the issue. Among those who favor a state-specific exam, 79.5% believe that the specifics of the exam should be guided by a national board of experts, rather than the states themselves.

The survey demonstrated that there may be a general sense of discontent with the level of professional competence currently existing in the field, since close to two-thirds of participants reported that they have come into contact with trainers who they felt were incompetent in their work. Similarly, two-thirds believe that national licensing will help “weed out” trainers who are professionally deficient.

With regard to feasibility of developing a fair and objective exam, 70.4% of respondents either agree or strongly agree that it would be possible to accomplish this goal, with an additional 17% feeling neutral about this item.

The results of this first of several contemplated NBFE surveys will help us study various aspects of the profession and the needs of personal fitness trainers. We strongly encourage all organizations to work together toward the identification and ultimate achievement of goals that best serve the entire profession.

The NBFE believes that by incorporating data gathered from surveys of trainers who are located in diverse areas across the country, all of whom work daily with clients, it will provide objective information and more accurate views held by those in the profession. This information should ultimately guide the evolution and future for fitness professionals, and move the industry forward.

# # #

Although the results of the survey have already been calculated, you may still access the survey and make your opinions known. The survey can be found here. Thank you for your participation.

July 11, 2006

Certification of Fitness Professionals
Separating Myth from Fact

By:David L. Herbert, J.D.
Senior Partner
Herbert & Benson, Attorneys at Law
4571 Stephen Circle, NW
Canton, Ohio 44718-3629
Telephone: 330-499-1016
Facsimile: 330-499-0790
Co-Editor, The Exercise Standards and Malpractice Reporter


The recent fitness industry movement towards the certification of personal fitness trainers accompanied by a related “push” from some segments of the industry to encourage the accreditation of personal fitness trainer certifying organizations and the creation of “national board” testing and registration for personal fitness trainers has created a myriad of “spins” about the meaning of certain terms associated with these developments. This “spin-zone” needs to be examined to separate myth from fact and to debunk those matters and issues which are not supported by either historical events or relevant evidence.


The training and certification of various fitness professionals has been the subject of examination and inquiry for many years. Several organizations including the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA), the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) and some others, have been involved in the testing and certification of fitness professionals for many years.

Such efforts by these prominent organizations, as well as others, were undertaken to provide presumptive evidence of competency for fitness professionals so that the consuming public could receive some assurance about the qualifications of those who were to provide them with desired training and fitness services. However some other organizations began to offer what many considered “lesser forms” of certification for fitness instructors through what some would call “certification mills” or “fly-by-night” outfits. According to some accounts there were perhaps several hundred certification/training organizations in existence at one time, some of which fit within the definition of prominent certifiers and some of which would be in the later specified classification.

Slip shod practices by some industry certifying and training groups led to what some claimed were an abundance of less than qualified instructors. Once consumer injuries and even deaths began to occur in the industry, the media started an intense examination of the industry and some ill prepared instructors. The “fall out” from this coverage was noted by many providers.

All of the foregoing combined with other concerns led some in the industry to take action in an effort to improve the qualifications and status of fitness professionals. IHRSA, the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association, for example, passed a corporate resolution in 2003 recommending that its member clubs hire only those personal fitness trainers certified by organizations accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). This resolution was later amended in 2004 to expand the approved accreditation list from this one accreditation provider to include the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and the United States Department of Education.

At about the same time the National Board of Fitness Examiners (NBFE) was founded to develop nationally based and uniform standards of practice for personal fitness trainers to be used to administer an NBFE provided written and practical examination followed by registration of those who successfully pass the test process. Under NBFE’s procedure, preparation for the NBFE examination can take several forms and includes training through a number of affiliated organizations who themselves include certifying organizations for fitness professionals. These affiliates, now classified as provisional affiliates, include AFAA, American Fitness Professionals and Associates (AFPA), International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA), World Instructor Training Schools (WITS), American Aerobic Association International – International Sports Medicine Association (AAAI-ISMA), and Health and Fitness Training College (HFTA), among others. The NBFE board examination effort is expected to be in full swing by the end of 2006 and has gotten to the point that some trainers have already taken and passed the written examination and are now listed on the organization’s registry as having passed that examination (

As a result of aspects of the foregoing, some certification organizations within the industry began efforts to obtain NCCA accreditation for their certification programs. Others joined the NBFE effort as affiliate organizations to act not only as certifiers themselves but also as educational providers for those who wished to sit and take the NBFE tests.

Both the NCCA accreditation processes for certification organizations as well as the NBFE effort were based upon structured psychometric principles. The application of this process for both organizations was established to ensure non-discrimination in the testing process and to help provide minimal due process to those taking either a certification or national board examination. The processes were thus designed to be “legally defensible” – meaning that the processes could withstand challenges legally as being non-discriminatory and that minimal due process principles would attach to the certification or testing process. Despite this accepted definition for the defensibility of these processes some within the industry began to circulate information that the term “legal defensibility” dealt with the ability of personal fitness trainers who were certified by organizations accredited pursuant to the IHRSA initiative to withstand claims and suits arising from their delivery of services. This article was written to address some of the issues related to these matters and to debunk certain myths while separating fact from fiction.

Myth vs. Fact

Myth 1: NCCA or similar third party accreditation for fitness industry certification organizations will protect consumers from harm due to injuries caused by personal fitness trainers.

Fact: Like nearly every similar profession which provides personal services to consumers, the delivery of services by personal fitness trainers includes the possibility of injury – or even death – to those who receive these services. Some of these instances of injury will be due to the occurrence of certain untoward events which are not the result of anyone’s negligence but are simply a result of the risks inherent in the activity. At least one court of appeals in California has in fact ruled that fitness activities involve such inherent risks. Other such instances of injury/death however, will sometimes be the result of negligent conduct which occurs by way of a sustained act or omission to act when a duty to act exists. Some of these occurrences will result despite the best of intentions and can happen to even the most careful and prudent of providers. Education, training, certification by respected organizations according to sound psychometric principles which can be achieved through a number of processes – including those provided by a certification organization accredited by an entity such as the NCCA, as well as testing and the provision of national board examinations through such entities as the NBFE, can all help improve the qualifications of fitness professionals. Such steps may hopefully reduce the occurrence of negligently performed and provided services. Whether or not the accreditation of certifiers will protect consumers from harm however, due to injuries caused to them by personal fitness trainers remains to be seen.

Myth 2: Accreditation of fitness professional certifying organizations will protect personal fitness trainers and their employers/contractors from claims of negligence and related lawsuits.

Fact: Accreditation of fitness certification organizations by any entity, including those approved by IHRSA, is but one alternative means to be used to help insure that the certifications earned by fitness professionals are provided from an authoritative and respected institution. However, accreditation of fitness certification organizations does not insure that certified professionals and those employing them will not be faced with claims related to negligence and subsequent lawsuits instituted by clients when those clients claim to be injured due to the negligent provision of service from those professionals. Moreover, accreditation of certification organizations does not provide “immunity” for certified individuals or their employers/contractors from successful claims and suits.

Fitness professionals need to understand that actual immunity from some claims and lawsuits is provided by the terms of certain federal and/or state legislation or case law to selected individuals or organizations under specified and narrow circumstances. Immunity from successful suit, may be provided in some states, for example, when a good samaritan comes to the aid of an individual who is in need of an emergency response. Despite the foregoing, however, there is no immunity provided under existing federal or state law to a personal fitness trainer who is certified by an organization that is in turn accredited by NCCA or any other accreditor of fitness certification organizations. Moreover, there is no federal or state statute, corresponding regulation or court decision which has ever provided protection from claim or suit for those who are certified by organizations that are in turn accredited by some accrediting organization. The fact of the matter is that those who provide personal training services regardless of their background, education, training or certification are potentially liable to any consumer who claims to have been hurt as a result of the negligent provision of service by such professionals. While education, training, experience, background and certification may all assist in the defense of any such suit, and while certification may provide presumptive evidence of competency to be used to refute claims that a personal trainer provided service below the required standard of care, such matters are always determined by fact finders in the course of deciding the allegations of particular lawsuits. So, the fact of the matter is that the accreditation of an organization which provides certification for a personal fitness trainer does not provide either immunity or per se protection from claims and lawsuits against personal fitness trainers.

Myth 3: Required or specified educational prerequisites to certification or testing of personal fitness trainers are a detriment to or a negative aspect of such a process and are really unnecessary for the certification of personal fitness trainers.

Fact: Prerequisites to candidates’ admission to certification programs which require specified educational training is one of a multitude of resources that individuals can bring with them to the certification or examination table for the purposes of improving their individual abilities to provide first rate personal training services to clients. Education can never be a detriment to the process and is in fact a big plus for trainers and those programs which require educational prerequisites before certification or examination. Such requirements can only provide evidence of greater qualifications for those who have such prerequisites and those who achieve a subsequent certification milestone.

Myth 4: Practical testing of personal fitness trainers is either unnecessary or inappropriate for any testing or certification process for such individuals.

Fact: Testing of personal fitness trainers through the performance of a practical test provides a very valuable and reasonable basis upon which to test and review the qualifications of individuals who will thereafter provide actual training services to consumers. To best illustrate this process, one must necessarily ask whether or not a consumer would undergo an operation by a surgeon who had never before performed a surgical procedure or whether or not a consumer would ever fly on an airplane that had a pilot at the controls who had no previous flying experience. Obviously, when service is provided, practical training is a desirable component of the qualifications of a personal fitness trainer and should serve to demonstrate his or her ability to provide service in accordance with the expected standard of care.

The testing of professional skills through a practical examination is apparently something that no fitness certification organization is presently pursuing. The NCCA accreditation process for certification organizations permits the provision of a practical examination if a certifying organization chooses to do so and properly formulates the practicum. However no NCCA accredited fitness certification organization for example, is believed to provide such a practical component to its certification process at the present time. Despite the foregoing, several non-fitness industry NCCA accredited certification organizations have practical testing components included in their testing and certification process.

In an effort to improve the qualifications and competence of personal fitness trainers, the NBFE examination process will include such practical testing for personal fitness trainers sitting for its national boards. Such testing should take the personal fitness training profession to new levels of demonstrated competence. In addition, the written and practical examination process should provide a true gold standard for the profession to strive to achieve.

Myth 5: Individual certification programs can provide uniform standards for personal fitness trainers.

Fact: The lack of uniform national standards for personal fitness trainers has led to confusion in the industry and in the delivery of varied services by professionals to consumers. Moreover, the lack of such standards has probably resulted in more claims and lawsuits against industry providers, confusion in the application of standards of care issues in court and inconsistent jury verdicts and court rulings. One must necessarily wonder whether or not the care provided or the service rendered by a personal fitness trainer in Ohio should be any different from the personal fitness service provided by a trainer in California. Can clients in California expect better service than that provided by personal fitness trainers in Ohio? Should they? Should there be any difference whatsoever?

Decades ago, medical care in this country was delivered in accordance with the prevailing standard of care within particular local jurisdictions. Consequently, there was often a difference in care between that which was provided in one locale or one state when compared to that provided in a different locale or a different state. Judicial evaluation of that care in malpractice actions was often evaluated by reference to a local as opposed to a national standard. Some years ago and in a progressive manner, the medical profession, state legislatures and the courts began to determine that services rendered by medical professionals should be judged from a national as opposed to a state or local standard of care so that the populace would receive uniform care which could be so evaluated regardless of where they resided or where service was provided. That type of milestone is one which all service providers should seek to achieve.

Aside from the foregoing, there is also a decided difference in the subject matters of various certification examinations which are now provided to those who seek various fitness certifications. When the goals and study materials of one certifying organization are compared to those of another such organization this is obvious. Knowledgeable industry observers have indicated that such differences may slant one certification process or another toward an emphasis on certain subjects or domains while another certification process may be differently constructed with a different emphasis. National and uniform standards need to be applied to test the knowledge base of personal trainers such as those utilized by the NBFE for testing purposes. Such uniform standards should be applied to the certification or testing process regardless of where such examinations are given or which certifier does the testing.

AFAA long ago committed to such an effort by its development and publication of Exercise Standards and Guidelines Reference Manual, Fourth Edition (2006) (first published in 1993). The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) also committed to the development of standards and guidelines for health and fitness facilities when it published its First and then its Second Edition of ACSM’s Health/Fitness Facilities Standards and Guidelines in 1992 and 1997 respectively. That effort is continuing as that organization is in the process of finalizing and publishing the Third Edition of this work later this year. The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) began a similar effort some years ago when it first developed and published its standards of practice, see, IHRSA, the American Heart Association (AHA) with ACSM, the Medical Fitness Association (MFA) and others have all similarly engaged in some standards development. Each of the foregoing efforts however, to one degree or another has not resulted in a consistent, uniform expression of the standard of care to be expected from and delivered by personal fitness trainers. It is hoped that the effort now being undertaken by the NBFE will result in a uniform, national standards statement which can be used and applied in a very consistent way not only to test the qualifications of various fitness professionals, starting with personal fitness trainers, but also to be used as a benchmark for expected service delivery by such professionals.

February 23, 2006

Certification of Fitness Professionals and Legal Defensibility:

What it Means (and Does Not Mean) !

By: David L. Herbert, J.D.
Senior Partner
Herbert & Benson, Attorneys at Law
4571 Stephen Circle, NW
Canton, Ohio 44718-3629
Telephone: 330-499-1016
Facsimile: 330-499-0790
Co-Editor, The Exercise Standards and Malpractice Reporter

The ability of certified fitness professionals to defend themselves against negligence lawsuits is an entirely different matter than the “legal defensibility” of the examination or certification process by which such professionals attain their “certified” or satisfactory test completion status. Despite the foregoing statement, some within the fitness industry have issued various communications indicating that the certification of fitness professionals provides “legal defensibility” of such individuals from client negligence actions or similar claims or lawsuits. Such statements really cloud the issue and reach the wrong conclusions. Certification does not provide immunity (freedom from successful suit) or legal defensibility (which pertains to the examination or certification process) from negligence actions.

The legal defensibility of certification or testing processes leading to some form of credential for any professional, including those fitness practitioners engaged in personal training activities, deals with the certification or examination process itself as opposed to the later performance of professional activities with clients which may lead to claims and suits against such professionals predicated upon negligence. Legal defensibility of the certification or examination process looks at whether the process in a legal sense is fair, reliable, non-discriminatory and related to defined job or established professional criteria. If such a process is discriminatory toward a person who is a member of a legally protected group and as a result such a person is denied certification, or due to such a factor, does not successfully complete an examination process, that process may not be legally defensible. Members of protected groups in this regard include those who might otherwise be discriminated against based upon their sex, race, color, national origin, religion or protected disability/handicap. Those examinations/certifications which are able to withstand such challenges based upon these or other similar factors are referred to as “legally defensible.”

While satisfactory certification or successful completion of an examination process by fitness professionals may well provide presumptive evidence of competency and thus assist in demonstrating adherence to the so-called legal standard of care which can be used to defend against negligence claims, the attainment of such a status does not provide legal defensibility in this regard. Moreover, those organizations which provide certifications/examinations do not defend those who are certified or pass such examinations from claims or suits against certified professionals. Lastly, such organizations do not indemnify such professionals from any judgment or award which might be made against those professionals due to the acts or omissions which might occur while professional services are performed.

Defenses to fitness related personal injury actions or wrongful death suits may be predicated upon a variety of factors. However, such defenses have no direct relationship to the certification or examination process. While such defenses may include: 1) adherence to the so-called standard of care in the delivery of service to clients, 2) lack of proximate cause between an act or omission and an injury, or 3) the execution of an assumption of risk or a waiver/release document, no defense to such an action relates solely to the certification or examination process itself or the satisfactory attainment of such a credential by a fitness professional.

Guidelines have been adopted by the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to assist employers and others to ensure that their employment related examinations are job related, non-discriminatory and legally defensible. Those guidelines are contained in 29 C.F.R. (Code of Federal Regulations) Part 1607.

Professionals seeking to understand the use of the term “legal defensibility” in regard to examination or testing procedures for fitness professionals should review and understand such references. Those in the fitness industry who seek to promote certification or testing of fitness professionals as a means to withstand claims of negligence and thus be “legally defensible” or immune from suit are “barking up” the wrong tree.

September 8, 2005

An Industry Solution:

Let’s Get Everyone on the Same Page!

Consumers, whether as individuals or members of health clubs, are entitled to assume that personal trainers who hold themselves out as “certified” have mastered the same skills and possess the same knowledge as other “certified” personal trainers. But when different certification organizations use different standards and approaches to certify these trainers, consumers often end up comparing personal trainer qualifications by reference to “apples and oranges.”

For that reason, the education and certification of personal fitness trainers — and the accreditation of the organizations that issue certifications — must be based on a standard set of skills that all personal trainers must possess in order to safely and competently counsel and instruct their clients. The tasks that a personal fitness trainer must be able to perform, and the skill set that is required to perform them, should be determined by conducting a “job task analysis” which can be used to judge what skills and competencies they actually need.

Currently, the fitness industry is faced with a serious problem when it comes to the issuance of certifications and the accreditation of organizations that issue certifications. One significant problem is that each certification organization uses its own job task analysis for establishing trainer competencies. As a result, a different set of skills is tested by each organization, and thus a certification issued by one organization means something different than a certification issued by another organization. Similarly, because various accreditation agencies rely on the job task analysis utilized by a particular certification organization, an accreditation means something different for each organization as well. The problem is further compounded when universities and colleges develop curricula based on, yet again, different job task analyses for the same professionals.

The good news is that a solution is now available to address this problem. Due to the successful debut of the National Board of Fitness Examiners (NBFE) examinations—it is now possible for instructors, health clubs, universities, colleges, certification organizations and accrediting agencies to rely on the same job task analysis to be utilized to test such trainers.

This is made possible by the fact that many national certification organizations, although competitors, at the invitation of the NBFE, have participated in an industry-wide effort to develop the largest personal fitness trainer job task analysis ever conducted. By having accomplished this task, these organizations have helped the NBFE establish the industry’s first formalized standards of practice. For the first time, the fitness industry has the benefit of a standardized job task analysis for personal fitness trainers that has been created by many organizations working collaboratively with the NBFE and another respected organization, Thomson-Prometric—the world’s largest developer and provider of testing services. Thanks to the NBFE which spearheaded this effort, this one definitive job task analysis is now available for all affiliated organizations to use, whether they educate, test, certify or accredit.

The development of a uniform job task analysis for personal trainers bestows an important benefit on instructors, health clubs, universities, colleges, certification organizations and accrediting agencies. By using the same job task analysis in education, certification, accreditation, and for testing by the NBFE, there will be a consistency and continuity in the fitness industry that has not existed before.

For the first time, because of the National Boards, it will be possible to compare “apples with apples” — that is, consumers and employers can count on the fact that all certified personal trainers who successfully complete the National Boards will have the same core knowledge and skills regardless of which organization provided educational, certification or accreditation services.

Now that a uniform job task analysis has been developed to be utilized to test personal trainers by the NBFE, there is an easy industry solution to what was a big problem — let’s get everyone on the same page when it comes to certification, accreditation and the National Boards!

February 28, 2005

A Personal Message From Linda Pfeffer

President of AFAA

As many of you are already aware, 2005 promises to be a pivotal year in the fitness industry, which is seeking to “raise the bar” for certification of personal fitness trainers. Soon you will find yourselves being asked to make some crucial choices in your education, training and certification — choices that will ultimately affect your career.

We are confident that AFAA can help you make the best decision for you , all the while continuing to provide you with the “affordable excellence” that has been the hallmark of AFAA for more than 22 years.

So what is AFAA's plan to address the changes in the fitness industry? Here are some developments you need to know about, and the ways that AFAA is responding to each one.

Accreditation . You may have heard about the proposal to require that all certification organizations be “accredited” by an independent accrediting agency.

AFAA fully supports the idea of accreditation. In fact, AFAA's examinations have been accredited by Vital Research, a leading national agency. Vital Research recognizes and approves certifications that include both written and “hands-on” practical exams, both of which are important components of AFAA's certifications. By contrast, other accrediting agencies will accredit certification organizations that do not provide a true practical test and offer only simulated video testing.

Would you or your client go to a surgeon whose practical skills have never been tested, or tested only in a video simulation? We at AFAA feel that practical testing is crucial to “raising the bar,” and we offer you the opportunity to prepare for, and take, AFAA's written and practical exams at an affordable price and at the same time and location where we conduct our workshops.

National Boards. You may have also heard about the National Boards, the first set of standardized written and practical exams offered by the National Board of Fitness Examiners (NBFE).

The NBFE is a non-profit organization founded in 2003 whose mission is to provide industry-developed standardized exams that will allow the testing of personal fitness trainers. The standards of practice to be tested are defined by the industry rather than by individual certification organizations, and the tests will be both written (Part I) and practical (Part II). AFAA has been invited by NBFE to participate, along with other NBFE Affiliates, in the development of the National Boards, including both the written and practical exams.

The “beta” version of the written component (Part I) of the National Boards for Personal Fitness Trainers will be tested by the NBFE starting in January or February 2005. (If you want to participate in the beta-testing phase, contact the NBFE at The final version of the written exam will be administered starting in April 2005, and the practical component (Part II) of the National Boards is scheduled to be administered toward the end of 2005. The written exams will be available at any Prometric testing site across the country. The practical exams will be available at health clubs, universities and hospital based fitness facilities that are granted Affiliate status by the NBFE.

AFAA has been an early and strong supporter of the NBFE and the National Boards, and we are proud to announce that we have been granted Affiliate status by the NBFE.

AFAA has also submitted the curriculum for our new three day Personal Fitness Trainer Certification Course to the NBFE, and we are excited to have received provisional approval from the NBFE for AFAA's new PFT Certification Course. AFAA's PFT Certification Course, which was introduced in November 2004, will assist personal fitness trainers in preparing for the National Boards.

Of course, we cannot guarantee that everyone who takes and passes the AFAA PFT Certification Course will pass the National Boards, but it's the best way to get started on preparing for the new exams.

So how will the National Boards work? Any personal fitness trainer who holds a current certification from AFAA (or another NBFE Affiliate organization or an individual or trainer who meets other eligibility criteria) is eligible to take the National Boards. This includes instructors who completed the courses previously presented by AFAA under a former marketing arrangement with Fitness Resource Associates as well as instructors who have completed AFAA's new PFT Certification Course which debuted in November 2004.

For AFAA certified personal fitness trainers who have not taken the new PFT Certification Course, AFAA will allow you an opportunity to audit the new course at no cost to you , space permitting , if you register for the National Boards PFT exams before June 30, 2005 . (Fees will apply if the course is taken for continuing education credits.)

If you cannot attend the new AFAA PFT Certification Course, or if there isn't sufficient space for you to attend, you may request a free copy of the Study Guide for the course if you register for the National Boards before June 30, 2005 . (The Study Guide is free, but shipping and handling charges still apply). For more information, please call 1-800-225 2322, Ext. 420 or Ext. 213.

Furthermore, keep in mind that the NBFE is offering a 50% discount on enrollment fees for the National Boards to personal fitness trainers who hold a current certification from AFAA or another approved NBFE Affiliate and who register for the National Boards through AFAA (or another NBFE affiliate organization) prior to June 30, 2005 .

Now that's affordable excellence!

The Next Step. AFAA firmly believes that the National Boards offer a much needed step that will take Personal Fitness Trainers to the next level of professionalism. It's a vital decision for the fitness industry, and we urge all of AFAA's Certified Personal Fitness Trainers to take the next step with us.

For more information about the National Boards, visit the NBFE Website at , or call Linda Pfeffer or Lisa Shapiro at AFAA by dialing 1-800-225 2322, Ext. 420 or Ext. 213.

August 27, 2004


1. What is the National Board of Fitness Examiners (NBFE) and How Does It Work?

The NBFE was founded in 2003 as a non-profit organization for two principal purposes. First, the NBFE will address and define a series of prescribed “scopes of practice” for all fitness professionals. Second, the NBFE will determine the “standards of practice” for various fitness professionals, including floor instructors, group exercise instructors, general personal trainers, specialists in areas such as youth and senior fitness, and medical exercise specialists.

“Standards of practice” are a set of skills and a body of knowledge that a fitness professional is expected to master in order to meet the highest standards of the field. The first formal standards of practice to be issued by the NBFE will focus on personal fitness trainers. Based on these standards of practice, the NBFE will go on to generate standardized national examinations for personal fitness trainers in collaboration with a leading international testing organization starting in March or April 2005.

A “standardized” national exam is one that measures the same body of knowledge, skill and competence in the same way for all test-takers. Thus, everyone who successfully completes a National Board exam has proven that he or she meets the same national standard of excellence, regardless of where he or she lives or which courses he or she has taken.

The first exam will be titled “The NBFE Personal Fitness Trainer Examination.”

By passing the exam, a fitness professional will be permitted to use the title “NBFE Registered PFT” (National Board of Fitness Examiners Registered Personal Fitness Trainer) and will enjoy the prestige and confidence that will come with being registered with the NBFE.

Standards of practice and standardized exams for other areas of fitness instruction will be addressed toward the end of 2005.

Bear in mind that the NBFE is not a certifying organization in itself, and will not take the place of any certifying organization like AFAA. Rather, the NBFE will set national standards of excellence in the fitness industry and provide tools to test whether a fitness professional has met those standards. Individual personal fitness trainers must successfully complete a personal training certification program from an approved NBFE Affiliate or meet other qualifications prior to taking the NBFE exam. (See below for more information about NBFE Affiliates.)

Today, most organizations that certify fitness professionals rely on their own standards and their own tests in making certification decisions. Consequently, the standards for becoming a personal trainer vary from organization to organization, and so do the tests and ultimately, the skills of those receiving certifications. The NBFE will establish one national standard of excellence that every certifying organization and college is free to adopt and use. This also provides a means of achieving standardization for all certifying organizations. In a sense, one might say that the NBFE “standardizes” the various certification organizations. In this way, the fitness industry and the consumer will be confident that every fitness professional who has passed the National Boards has met the same high standards.

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2. What are the advantages of taking and passing the “National Boards”?

The examinations to be generated by the NBFE will permit fitness professionals to demonstrate their knowledge, skill and competence by successfully completing nationally standardized exams.

Fitness professionals who have passed the national boards will be registered with the NBFE. Employers, clients, the medical and allied health professions, insurance companies and the public can readily verify that a particular individual has achieved the distinction of passing the National Boards.

The NBFE has been approached by at least one state that is actively considering a program for the licensing of fitness professionals for the purpose of determining whether or not NBFE examinations might be used for licensing purposes. If state licensing comes into existence, it is likely that the National Boards would be adopted by various states as a standard exam that fitness professionals would need to pass in order to be licensed. (See below for more information on licensing.)

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3. What “National Boards” are available?

The NBFE is presently working on several specialized versions of the National Boards. The first one to be developed will be a Personal Fitness Trainer National Board Examination. Additional exams in other areas of specialization for fitness professionals will be issued in the future.

Once a fitness professional has passed the Personal Fitness Trainer National Board Examination, he or she will be entitled to use the designation “ NBFE Registered PFT ,” that is, “National Board of Fitness Examiners Registered Personal Fitness Trainer.”

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4. How long does registration last?

Once a fitness professional has passed the required National Boards and has been registered with the NBFE, the registration will remain in effect for two years.

During each registration period, fitness professional will be required to successfully complete approved Continuing Education Units (“CEUs”) in order to keep their registration in effect.

CEUs will be available from various organizations that are recognized by the NBFE as “Affiliates.” Organizations that wish to become affiliated with NBFE for this purpose will offer a program of CEUs specially designed to keep registration with the NBFE in full force and effect. AFAA is proud to announce that it is an NBFE Affiliate in the “certification organization” category and will offer a program of CEUs specially designed to keep registration with the NBFE in full force and effect.

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5. What is an NBFE “Affiliate”?

The NBFE draws support from five advisory committees: medicine, certification organizations, fitness professionals, health clubs, and higher education. “Affiliate” status is available to qualified groups in each of these five areas.

The Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA), for example, has recently been granted “Affiliate” status in the category of certification organizations, that is, organizations that offer workshops, seminars, and training courses covering both theoretical and practical skills that are designed to prepare individuals to take the NBFE National Boards.

NBFE Affiliate status is available to qualified groups that participate in the programs of the NBFE, actively support its mission, and comply with other requirements of the Affiliate program. The following minimum requirements currently apply to groups that seek NBFE Affiliate status.

  • The group endorses and supports the NBFE as the national standards-based body that provides industry-wide standardized testing for personal fitness trainers.
  • The group, through its designated representatives, volunteers for service with the NBFE itself and/or with NBFE's various advisory committees.
  • The group provides subject-matter experts who serve as NBFE Fellows and assist the NBFE in developing assessments and implementing domain and task analysis.
  • The group actively encourages students, employees and/or members who are practicing personal fitness trainers to complete the NBFE assessments.
  • To be approved as an Affiliate for the year 2005, the group must submit its training curriculum to the NBFE before the end of 2004 for review and approval by the NBFE in preparation for candidates to take the National Boards starting in 2005. (Provisional approvals of training curriculum are now being granted, but final approvals may not be issued until the end of 2005.)
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6. What is the difference between “Certification,” “Accreditation,” “National Boards,” and “Licensing”?

Certification: Certifications are issued to individual fitness professionals by training and certifying organizations, like AFAA, which offer education and training programs. Each certification organization offers its own programs, administers its own tests, and issues certifications to individuals in its own name. Certification organizations generally require individual fitness professionals to prepare for and pass its own tests, both written and practical, in order to demonstrate proficiency in various aspects of fitness training. Once issued, a certification from one of these organizations is generally valid for a period of two years and must be maintained by taking continuing education courses.

Accreditation: Certification organizations may obtain accreditation of its own policies and procedures from a third-party accrediting agency. AFAA's certification tests, for example, are accredited by Vital Research, an organization which AFAA has worked with over the last twenty years. Accreditation usually remains in effect for a specified number of years and must be periodically renewed according to the procedures established by the accrediting agency.

National Boards: The National Boards will be a set of standardized tests that are now being developed by the NBFE with input from the fitness industry and in conjunction with a leading international testing organization. The National Boards may be used by various certification organizations, colleges and universities, state licensing programs, and others to test the knowledge, skill and competence of fitness professionals. Because the National Boards will be standardized, all candidates will be tested for the same skills and knowledge regardless of the certification organization with which they are affiliated. Once a fitness professional passes the National Boards, he or she will be eligible for registration with the NBFE as an “NBFE Registered PFT,” that is, “National Board of Fitness Examiners Registered Personal Fitness Trainer.” If a state licensing program adopts the National Boards as its licensing exam, then a fitness professional who takes and passes the National Boards will have satisfied that state's requirement to take and pass a licensing examination.

Licensing: Licensing is a proposed program that may or may not be adopted by one or more states throughout the United States to provide for state regulation of the fitness professionals. Under a state licensing program, fitness professionals would have to apply for a state-issued license in order to offer their services to the public. Each state would set its own requirements for issuance of a license, but it is likely that applicants will be required to take and pass an exam in order to receive a license. It is possible that one or more states will adopt the “National Boards” as issued by the NBFE as their state licensing exam. As the term is used in the fitness industry, “licensing” refers to a license issued by a local, state or federal agency only.

As can be readily seen, there are fundamental differences between “Certification,” “Accreditation,” “the National Boards, and “Licensing.” Here is a quick summary:

Certifications are issued by various certification organizations to fitness professionals who satisfy the requirements set by each certification organization.

Accreditation is issued to a certification organization by a third-party accrediting agency.

National Boards are standardized examinations provided by the NBFE as a way to test the knowledge, skill and competence of individual fitness professionals, and a fitness professional who passes the National Boards will be entitled to identify herself or himself as an “NBFE Registered PFT,” that is, “National Board of Fitness Examiners Registered Personal Fitness Trainer.”

Licensing , if and when adopted by one or more states, will require a fitness practitioner to apply for a license before offering services to the public, and will require the fitness professional to meet the requirements of state licensing program before a license is issued.

A fitness certification organization may or may not be “accredited,” and state licensing may or may not be adopted by various states around the Untied States, but every individual who takes and passes the National Boards will be registered by the NBFE and will be recognized by the fitness industry and the public as having met the highest national standard of excellence.

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7. What is “Licensing” and how does it affect fitness professionals?

There has been much discussion in the media and in the fitness industry about a proposal to require fitness professionals to be licensed by the states in which they live and work. Like other businesses and professions, including various kinds of health care professionals, fitness professionals pursuant to these proposals would be required to apply to the state for a license, pass a licensing exam, and comply with other licensing requirements.

No state has yet adopted a licensing program for fitness professionals, but the NBFE has been approached by at least one state that is actively considering such a licensing program. As noted above, there is a possibility that a state which requires licensing could decide to use the National Boards as its licensing exam rather than developing an exam of its own.

It is too early to know whether licensing will be adopted by any state and, if so, how it will affect the fitness industry. The NBFE is not presently promoting state licensing, although it is responding to requests for assistance and advice from states that are considering a licensing program. One possible benefit of state licensing of fitness professionals, however, is that licensing may make it easier to secure coverage of services by insurance plans.

Important Note

Organizations that are granted Affiliate status by the NBFE are not entering into any partnership or joint venture relationship with the NBFE. Rather, Affiliate status is granted to an organization by the NBFE to recognize the organization's role in preparing individuals to take standardized examinations offered by the NBFE for fitness professionals. NBFE is a duly organized and operating non-profit corporation formed under the laws of the state of Maryland, and is neither an owner nor a member of any of the organizations which are granted Affiliate status, each of which is organized as a separate entity. Aside from the interest of Affiliates in educating, training and preparing fitness professionals to take NBFE prepared tests and examinations, there is no unity of interest or purpose between NBFE and any of the Affiliates, there is no ownership or control of one organization by the other, and there is no integration of corporate organizations nor commingling of corporate finances between these organizations.