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So You Think You’re A Fitness Expert?

So, You Think You’re a Fitness Expert?

It amazes me how many advertisements I see from individuals and companies advocating accomplishing given fitness or performance goals at the beginning of a new year. Most of these advertisements offer lofty promises of improving your body composition or getting stronger. The main question that comes to my mind is: what makes you the fitness expert in terms of your education and training background? Webster defines an expert as “an individual having, involving, or displaying a special skill or knowledge derived from training or experience”. Being classified as an expert based on the aforementioned criteria denotes proper skill sets and knowledge pertaining to human anatomy and physiology, and pertinent areas related to human performance; not just experience alone since experience doing the wrong thing can perpetuate bad practice.

Before I go any further in giving you my thoughts on what makes a fitness expert, it is important for me to discuss what my qualifications are. I am currently an Exercise Science faculty member at LaGrange College and strength and conditioning faculty mentor for baseball, women’s soccer, and men’s golf. I earned my doctorate degree in Kinesiology from the University of Mississippi with concentrations in Sports Biomechanics and Human Performance. Over the past nine years I have had the opportunity to work at seven collegiate strength and conditioning programs three of which were in the SEC at Ole Miss, Tennessee, Florida and one in the ACC at the University of Pittsburgh to highlight the larger programs. I also hold a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist certification with Distinction (CSCS*D) through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Needless to say, in a non-arrogant way, I believe I have the qualifications to write on this issue.

In my opinion, there are three criteria that must be met for one to be deemed a fitness expert. 1.) a strong professional background and education within the area of Exercise Science or closely related field, 2.) a nationally accredited certification, and 3.) adequate personal experience practicing what you preach. I understand that accomplishing all three of these aspects can be difficult especially when considering where you currently are in life. However, one needs to meet a minimum of two of the criteria to even consider the designation.

The first tenet regarding having a background in the field of Exercise Science is mainly geared towards the young professional starting out in the field of strength and conditioning. I believe that you should have a foundation in the areas of exercise physiology and exercise prescription to better understand how the body reacts and adapts when prescribed a given training program. It is also important to understand how the body moves in relationship to human, sport, and exercise movement along with understanding how these movements change based on an individual’s lever system. Over the past several years there have been a number of cases at both the high school and collegiate level where strength and conditioning professionals prescribed a training program that lead to a serious injury in one or more individuals. I believe this could have been prevented if we as a profession took the time to properly educate ourselves both in and outside of the classroom.

Now if you’re not in a position to get back into a classroom there are some options available to earn a graduate degree from the comfort of your own home like our graduate program at LaGrange College specializing in strength and conditioning. So, what if you’re not in the position to pursue a degree in strength and conditioning that could be due to a host of things? How do you become a fitness expert? As the old saying goes “The only ways to get better at something are through the people you meet and the books you read”. Get involved in strength and conditioning at your local college or university. Every place I had an opportunity to work at as an intern, I did it for free. At the price of my time, I was able to learn the day to day operations, training philosophy, and programming from some of the best strength and conditioning coaches in the country. Those experiences were worth their weight in gold. Putting in thousands of hours of time gave me the opportunity to now work at a college that not only values my teaching experience, but how much practical experience I can bring our students at the undergraduate and graduate levels in strength and conditioning. Volunteering your time will truly test whether or not you’re willing to go the extra mile to make your dreams come true. Coach Mickey Marotti once asked me “What are you prepared to do in order to be where you want to be?”. Only you as an individual can answer that. It is important to note that just because you spend time interning/volunteering at a strength and conditioning program doesn’t mean the time is spent wisely as they could be doing it wrong. Working under individuals who integrate evidence-based practices through applied research and athlete monitoring is the way to go. This better ensures the long hours you are putting in will be valued among other fitness experts in the field.

Also, read from people within the field of strength and conditioning that have the appropriate level of education. The internet is a great tool if you know how to search for the information. The amount of resources available is vast, but so is every fitness fad and trend under the sun from people who think they are fitness experts. Know what to look for by searching for credible sources that possess extensive knowledge, hold a nationally accredited certification, and practice what they preach.

Having a background in Exercise Science is important for a variety of reasons. In addition to this, possessing a nationally accredited certification to work in the fitness industry provides more objective proof that someone has taken the proper steps and has been more formally assessed. Although not necessary to be an expert, a certification that is nationally accredited confirms the principles and applications of implementing strength and conditioning programs that are accepted within the field of health and human performance. Most of you working with both students and athletes, probably have a first aid/CPR certification. You are taught a specific set of steps that have been shown to help save an individual in an emergency situation. If you fall outside of those given steps/parameters you can open yourself up to certain legal issues if something were to go wrong. With a national certification, you are taught a given set of steps and parameters on how to improve an athlete, client, or team in a manner that has been shown to be effective based on research and practice. This does not include a BuzzFeed article you see on your social media feed or certification you get over a weekend seminar on how to be a fitness expert. If you fall outside of that scope of training and progressions of that national organization you can possibly predispose an athlete to injury, as has been seen in recent years at the collegiate level. The service you provide to an athlete/client comes with certain legal risks and it is important to not jeopardize your reputation and career by implementing training programs outside of your scope of practice.  

Last but not least, it is vital that you practice what you preach, especially within the fitness industry. If you are preaching the importance of eating a healthy diet to lose weight, but yet you are eating a little debbie cake on the weight room floor, how much credibility do you think you will have in getting an athlete/client to buy in? One of the best internship requirements I had at the University of Pittsburgh was that I was required to compete in something if I worked in strength and conditioning. The thought process was that if you are going to coach competitive athletes for a variety of sports and you yourself weren’t competitive, what on earth gives you the right to train athletes who compete against other schools? We had blocked off periods of time where the entire strength staff trained as a group for a competition, which in our case was powerlifting. It taught me the importance of holding myself accountable regarding every facet of training and nutrition to compete at the highest level I could for each meet our staff competed in. This gave me a real perspective of what it was like to train like an athlete along with completing coursework like all student athletes at Pitt.

To wrap everything up, there are a variety of criteria I believe make a fitness expert. You may not agree with me especially if this is something that you have not done yourself, but in my experience working in this profession, and the mentorship these strength coaches provided me, they ALL stressed the importance of accomplishing these things. Working in strength and conditioning means serving not only your athletes, but also other strength and conditioning professionals as well. If I can be of any service or help in any way, I would love the opportunity to assist you. My contact information is cwilli36@lagrange.edu and I will respond to you as soon as possible. Now that you know what makes a fitness expert it’s time to attack the day and make yourself the best fitness professional you can be within our field.

By: Caleb Williams, PhD, MS, CSCS*D

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