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Fitness Certifications—Which Ones to Get and Why?

As health and fitness professionals on the verge of graduation, resume building is something on the forefront of everyone’s mind. A great way to accomplish this is to go the extra mile and obtain a fitness certification. There are many fitness certifications out there, so be sure do to your research before choosing which one is right for you. The most respected exams will require time, energy, and a pretty penny…BUT, the beauty of it is that Winter Break is right around the corner! Which means, maybe just maybe, Santa can cover the bill of the certification, and you’ll have plenty of time to get a jump start on studying! I’ve been fortunate enough to obtain various certifications, which have given me a solid foundation for my areas of fitness and have helped make my resume stand out. And, I work with a lot of professionals who have experience with certifications as well. So, I’ve compiled suggestions to help you get started on your certification search.

American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)1

ACSM has several different certifications which are generally respected in the fitness field, but their “gold standard” certification is the Health Fitness Specialist (HFS). This certification is great for individuals seeking a profession in health and wellness promotion. Exercise science majors—this exam might pair up well with your current studies, as it is very science based.

2American College of Sports Medicine (ACE)

I became an ACE certified Personal Trainer this past summer. I was going back in forth in my head on which certification to get, ACSM or ACE, and I went with ACE because of the population I plan to work with. ACE is a great certification to have if you are working with the general population, you might lead toward ACSM if you plan to work with a special population or a medical setting. The ACE exam lays the foundation for safe, effective, and individualized personal training. ACE also has a well-respected Group Exercise certification that many of my colleagues currently have. The Group Exercise certification will help teach you the foundations essential components for developing Group Exercise classes. If you’re a Health Fitness Specialist major, the ACE Personal Trainer and ACE Group Exercise exams should be fairly easy for you.

Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA)3

I’ve had the AFAA Group Exercise certification since 2010, and to be honest, the training wasn’t as organized/informational as I had hoped, BUT I’ve heard that AFAA has come a long way since then, and has really upped their anty for their certification workshop. AFAA did help lay the foundation of anatomy and physiology for me, and help me feel more comfortable leading a group exercise class on my own. If you know you want to be a group exercise leader, I highly suggest you obtain either the AFAA or ACE Group Exercise Certification. Both certifications are respected in the group exercise world. But, word on the street is, stay away from the AFAA Personal Training Certification—use my other suggestions for that. J

4National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA)

If you plan to work with athletes or any competitive arena, you should definitely look into obtaining the NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) Certification. And yes, the exam is even harder than it is to remember all the acronyms associated with this certification! But, this certification really is the gold standard of strength and conditioning!

National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)5

A buzz word in the fitness world right now is “correct exercises”. And, NASM has a certification called Corrective Exercise Specialization (CES) which is grabbing some attention. This certification will help teach you how to create exercise programs using techniques to prevent injuries. I’m not too familiar with this certification, but I’m excited to see if NASM will continue to gain popularity and respect in the near future.


Phew! I know the certification search can seem overwhelming at first, but take the time to choose the right one for you, it will be worth it! Also, once you lay your foundation with these heavy hitter certs above, keep getting certified! There are tons of specialty workshops that are less expensive, a lot of fun, and can help you stay on the cutting edge of fitness! Do remember though, that while certifications are great, they aren’t everything. Make sure you have all your ducks in a row throughout the entire job search; the certification gets you to the interview, but it doesn’t get you hired.


ShelbyDietz_BioPicShelby Dietz is currently a second year graduate student in the School of Public Health studying Physical Activity, Fitness, & Wellness. She is working on campus at IU Recreational Sports as a Group Exercise Graduate Assistant. Fitness is her biggest passion in life, and she hopes to ignite that passion in others.





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IUSPH Career Services

Job opportunities for Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington majors are diverse and expanding as the emphasis on living a healthy lifestyle grows around the world. Career Services experts in each of our academic departments will provide one-on-one counseling and career building opportunities throughout your academic career, from choosing the right major to developing a strategy to find a job. They can assist you with:

•career counseling
•job placement
•volunteer opportunities
•resume and cover letter preparation
•interview skills
•graduate school preparation

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