Since new leadership took over about two and a half years ago, the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) has been steadily reinventing itselfâ€”updating educational materials, opening new facilities, offering expanded services and a striking a recent stream of alliances with groups like IDEA, the National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA), Reebok and FitnessInsiteâ€”all in a concerted effort to advocate for and to expand education for fitness professionals.
"The industry needs to be shaken up in terms of education and certification," Jeff Dilts, NASM director of business development, told SNEWS. "We'd love to be the gold standard in training and the industry leaders in fitness education and research, but we will happily share the podium. We just want the bar to be raised overall."
Partnering with clubs
Part of raising that bar meant going beyond what some traditional certification/education organizations -- such as ACSM, NSCA and ACE -- typically provide. For instance, upon noticing that large health club chains often aren't equipped on their own to provide consistent, ongoing training to fitness staff, NASM offered its educational services to them in special packages. And fitness facilities jumped at the opportunity: Within about a year, NASM's client roster includes companies such as 24 Hour Fitness, The Sports Club, Lifestyles Family Fitness, Lifetime Fitness, Fitness Formula/Multiplex, Tennis Corporation of America, TSI, Spectrum Clubs and U.K.-based David Lloyd's Leisure.
"We've asked clubs to let us be their university," said Dilts. "We have the training and tools to provide ongoing, congruent education, and it can take a trainer three to seven years just to get through all the materials we have today."
Training employees at participating clubs get preferred pricing on NASM live seminars (there are already 100 sessions lined up for 2004) and CD-ROM home study coursesâ€”all presented exclusively by NASM's full-time facultyâ€”to earn continuing education credits. As part of the organization's reinvention, it has updated all of its 20 course offerings so that none now is more than about three years old. Plus, IDEA just approved NASM's Certified Personal Training (CPT) and Performance Enhancement Specialist (PES) certification courses as part of its Fitness Trainer Recognition System.
Aligning with associations
To provide more educational opportunities to fitness professionals, NASM recently decided to hold its third annual conference concurrently with the annual IDEA World Fitness convention in July 2004 in San Diego. Although the IDEA show traditionally has attracted predominantly group exercise instructors, Dilts says that attendance in recent years is approaching a 50-50 mix of group exercise leaders and personal trainers. In fact, NASM is out to broaden fitness professionals' overall competence by stimulating more deliberate crossover between the typically separate camps of group fitness and personal training.
"We're trying to create more well-rounded fitness professionals," said Dilts. "And a true fitness professional can work one on one, with small groups and in larger group exercise situations."
As an extension of this commitment, NASM has also formed a multi-year partnership with Reebok University, the fitness and sports programming arm of Reebok, to create vehicles that pull group exercise instructors into personal training and, conversely, to teach trainers how to lead large groups of people. Expect to see the first fruits of this relationship at the IHRSA show in March 2004 in Las Vegas, Nev.
"At the end of the day, the trainer has the opportunity for more income," Dilts said, "and club owners love it because they have more committed employees who are there serving members in more ways, more often."
Going directly to the websites
To help equip trainers with better information faster, NASM also recently signed a five-year exclusive alliance with web-based sales and e-marketing group FitnessInsite. That arrangement means NASM will develop and manage all interactive workouts and fitness content on the FitnessInsite network, which includes the websites of 1,600 clubs and fitness retailers in the United States. Though this relationship, NASM plans in November to launch its own more user-friendly and resourceful website, which will include practical business tools that let trainers capture client leads, maintain their own billing module, and manage their schedule.
In March, NASM will add to its site the Educational Resource Center (ERC), an extensive information suite including research updates, case studies, a comprehensive exercise library, a Q&A and a glossary. Here, trainers can access NASM's Optimum Performance Training (OPT) automated technology with more than 400 interactive workout designs to create programs quickly and e-mail them if necessary.
And for those who want to pursue higher education while still working, NASM has developed a 12-month online Master of Science in Exercise Science and Health Promotion curriculum, offered in collaboration with California University of Pennsylvania (CUP). Recently approved by the Board of Governors of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, the program already has 400 prospective students from 41 states and 15 countries.
Not stopping now
So what's next for NASM (www.nasm.org), which now numbers its members at 100,000 when including IDEA (20,000), Reebok University (55,000), FitnessInsite (2,500) and NATA (28,000)? Dilts said the group is not deliberately aiming to eliminate or dominate all other certification and education organizations, since he believes that there is value in having several quality companies.
"What we're best at is science, research and education, and that's the resource we bring to our partnerships," Dilts said. "Our mission ultimately is to change lives at the consumer level, and we're focused on doing it one trainer at a time."