In an industry that is constantly evolving, the world of fitness is never boring. As a fitness professional, I get a lot of questions about what I do and why I do it. Each question, although relatively complex, has a simple answer.
I chose my profession because I love to motivate, converse, educate, and be enthusiastic around other people. My passion made college classes and clinical research thrilling. I also wholeheartedly believe that a healthy lifestyle extends positively to all aspects of an individual’s life, as well as their family, friends, and coworkers. The human body is miraculous and deserves to be treated so.
The incidence and severity of disease can be decreased through regular physical activity (insert flashing neon arrows). Even so, large populations of individuals still do not have the knowledge to maintain an active lifestyle for themselves or their families as preventative action. It is my career goal to educate those individuals who might not know where to begin or how to progress, or have diminished hope, through behavioral-change goals. However, in an industry that also has many non-credible sources and educators, it is important to be able to separate the two.
Below are some of the regularly asked questions within our field and their answers to help you in choosing a fitness professional who best fits into your plan.
What Is a Fitness Professional?
The best definition of a fitness professional comes from the American College of Sports Medicine:
“A Health Fitness Professional has a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science. The individual performs pre-participation health screenings, conducts physical fitness assessments, interprets results, develops exercise prescriptions, and applies behavioral and motivational strategies to apparently healthy individuals and individuals with medically controlled diseases and health conditions to support clients in adopting and maintaining healthy lifestyle behaviors. Academic preparation also can include fitness management, administration, and supervision.” (2015)
How Do You Become a Fitness Professional?
To become a fitness professional an individual must obtain a four-year degree or a graduate degree in Exercise Science, Kinesiology, Health Studies or in a health and fitness–related field. After graduating, an exam is taken through a certifying body, such as the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) or the National Academy for Sports Medicine (NASM). Some of the most common exams include the Certified Exercise Physiologist (formerly Health Fitness Specialist) and the Certified Personal Trainer. If an individual is in a cardiac rehab environment and obtains 400/500 hours of clinical exercise programming, the professional can then apply to take a clinical-level exam.
How Do Fitness Professionals Stay Up-to-Date?
ACSM is the largest sports medicine and exercise science organization in the world, and they continue to set the standards in the fitness industry. ACSM requires a minimum number of CECs (continuing education credits) and CEUs (continuing education units) in a three-year period to maintain certification.
NASM, a leader in providing technology-based education and certification solutions, also offers CEUs alongside specialization exams.
Alongside CECs, CEUs, and specialization exams, individuals can subscribe to additional research publications and continue to take certifying exams. Attending conferences, taking graduate classes in the field, and meeting other individuals in the industry is also a great way to network and learn from peers.
How Do I Choose a Fitness Professional That Is Right for Me?
Today, many individuals market themselves as trainers or nutritionists. When choosing an individual to work with, ask about their education and background, how many clients they have worked with, and their specializations. Working directly with an individual is similar to hiring for a job; don’t be afraid to ask for their resume or references! An individual who is qualified should happily comply.
It is also important to remember that a fitness professional is not a Registered Dietitian (RD). According to ethical guidelines, a fitness professional can discuss and provide insight into healthy alternatives but can’t develop meal plans or suggest drastic diet changes. For in-depth nutrition advice, a fitness professional should always refer to an RD. Fitness and nutrition go hand in hand, but knowing scope of practice is important.
At NIFS, we pride ourselves on providing the most well-rounded professionals for every health and wellness need. For more information on what qualifications a fitness professional should have, check out the following resources.
“Exercise is really important to me—it’s therapeutic.” —Michelle Obama
This blog was written by Ellyn Grant, Healthy Lifestyle Coordinator. To read more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.
A Low-Impact Resistance Band Workout for Your Upper Body
When it comes to workout tools, resistance bands are often under-appreciated. These stretchy, looped devices offer a ton of benefits—including effective, low-impact strengthening—but in many gyms they take a backseat to heftier equipment like dumbbells, kettlebells, and barbells.
But not today. We've got a 25-minute Sweat with SELF workout that gives resistance band exercises the spotlight they deserve. The routine—created and led by Taylor and Justin Norris, cofounders of the LIT Method—features nine resistance band exercises that will seriously engage your muscles and get your heart pumping without straining your joints. You can easily do this workout at home and scale it up or down to match your fitness level.
Yet another perk of this workout: It emphasizes your upper body—particularly the back, shoulders, and arms. Strengthening these key areas can help anyone improve their posture, as SELF previously reported.
Ready to try this sweaty program? First, make sure it's safe for you. If you're injured or have joint pain, check in with a professional to determine whether a routine like this is a good idea.
Once you're given the OK for this workout, grab a mat, water bottle, and resistance band. (If you're new to resistance bands or to working out in general, start with a light resistance band. As you progress, you can amp up the intensity with a heavier resistance band.) Check out the video below. Or, keep scrolling to get detailed resistance band exercise directions and GIFs of each move.
Start with the dynamic warm-up. Do each exercise for 60 seconds with no rest between movements. When you're done, rest for 30 seconds.
Next, move on to the circuits. There are 3 circuits with 3 moves each, and all moves use the resistance band unless otherwise noted. Do each move for 60 seconds with little to no rest. (It's okay to take 5 to 10 seconds between each move to transition to the next.) At the end of the circuit, rest for 30 seconds. Do each circuit 2 times before moving to the next circuit.
- Bodyweight Upright Row x 60 seconds
- Jab x 60 seconds
- Side Stretch x 60 seconds
- Squat to Biceps Curl x 60 seconds
- Squat to Row x 60 seconds
- Standing Crunch x 60 seconds
Rest for 30 seconds. Repeat the circuit once more.
- Bent-Over Row x 60 seconds
- Biceps Curl x 60 seconds
- Triceps Kickback x 60 seconds
Rest for 30 seconds. Repeat the circuit once more.
- Seated Row x 60 seconds
- Seated Biceps Curl x 60 seconds
- Seated Static Hold x 60 seconds
Rest for 30 seconds. Repeat the circuit once more.
Fitness / Workouts
Cullen Jones’s Success Story
As a kid growing up in New Jersey, I always watched the Olympics. And in 2006, after swimming for North Carolina State University, I found myself in the pool alongside Michael Phelps at the Pan Pacific Championships, where he beat me by 1/10th of a second. By 2007 I had made the U.S. World Championship team.
It was the next year, in 2008, that I found myself in a rut and decided to do something unorthodox. If I was going to make the Olympic team, I knew I needed a change.
I called the coach for the national team, and he told me I needed to train with the Olympic-level coach in Charlotte, N.C., about three hours away from where I was living in Raleigh. It was nearly midnight when I finished that call, and I left that night without telling my coach at N.C. State, who thankfully understood.
At practice with my new coach the next morning, I realized I was rusty — my metabolism had slowed down and I wasn’t eating as healthy as I should have been. So, I buckled in for a whirlwind of training, revamped my eating, started lifting weights, and ramped up important skills like visualization and staying present in the moment.
Two months after arriving in Charlotte, I went to the Olympic trials, made the team, and went on to win a gold medal as part of the 400 free relay team.
The first thing I did was thank my coach at N.C. State for empowering me to do what was best for me and to be the best athlete I could be. Given my childhood experiences in the pool, winning a gold medal wasn’t something anyone could have predicted — especially since I nearly drowned at age 5.
My Swimming Scare
My dad has always been my mentor, and I always wanted to follow in his footsteps and do as he did. So, when he told me he was going down the waterslide at Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom in Allentown, Penn., I was right behind him.
At the time, I was 5 years old, but I still remember what my dad had told me: “Whatever you do, don’t let go of the inner tube.” In fact, he said it twice.
My dad went first. Then, almost as quickly as my ride had begun, I hit the water and flipped upside down, unable to pull myself back up. Time had to have passed slowly . . . 29, 30, 31, 32. I was stuck underwater for 30 to 35 seconds — an amount of time that can cause brain damage in children.
The next thing I knew, I had been rescued by a lifeguard. And I had one question: What ride are we going on next?
My mother (who had not been far behind me on the waterslide and subsequently nearly drowned herself while trying to save me) was the one to immediately insist I take swimming lessons. Looking back, I realize how bold a decision that was; it would have been so easy for her as a protective mother to swear off swimming altogether.
I absolutely bombed my first lesson. I cried. I hated being in the water, and I told my mom I needed a new teacher. It took five different teachers until I felt comfortable — and by that time I was 8 years old. Little did I know I was already building the empathy I would need to later teach others to swim.
Around the same time, my passion and competitive drive for swimming began. I remember watching other kids racing, and I was drawn to it immediately. In my head, I believed I could beat them.
Did that happen? No. At the time, it may have been hard to believe that I would eventually be a four-time Olympic medalist and the second African American in history to win an Olympic gold medal in swimming. But I was having fun, and it was an outlet where I could control my progression. So I kept swimming.
Creating Positive Change
I swam throughout high school, even though most of my classmates — the majority of whom were Black or Latinx — played football or basketball, or ran track. I would often end up in the weight room at the same time as the school’s basketball team, many of whom didn’t necessarily see swimmers as athletes. I always took joy in surprising them with my bench-press and pull-up skills.
Many of my classmates also didn’t see a place for themselves in swimming, and during my time training for the Olympics, I had been so focused on representing my team and competing that I hadn’t processed the fact that I was going to be a role model for young swimmers of color.
I was living in New York City at the time, and it wasn’t until I got back home that it really hit me. When I was growing up, no Olympic swimmers looked like me, and now I was able to show young people what was possible.
I believe that creating change and making the sport more inclusive starts at the grassroots level. There is a stereotype that Black people don’t swim, which is rooted in the very real fact that we were not always allowed access to public pools. So, when you’re teaching a person of color, you’re often reprogramming their mindset — and even the mindset of their family.
Looking Toward the Future
Swimming and fitness are still a huge part of my life. Especially during the pandemic, I’ve realized how essential activity is to my well-being when the world can be so unpredictable.
I’m currently working with Speedo as the philanthropic sales manager; I lead its fundraising initiatives, enhance its relationship with grassroots teams, and develop its community-support strategy.
I’ve also been working with the USA Swimming Foundation’s Make a Splash initiative for the past 12 years, teaching others, especially children of color, how to swim. The program promotes water safety by providing free swimming lessons to children from disadvantaged communities. We’ve helped reduce the number of African Americans with little or no swimming ability from 70 percent in 2007 to 64 percent today.
Along with this work, I spend a good chunk of time at events and colleges speaking about overcoming challenges and the powerful and transferable life skills common to athletes, like growth mindset, time management, and motivation.
I want to work hard now so I can spend as much time as possible with my family in the future. Also — and I want this to be in print, so I hold myself to it! — I want to travel for my 40th birthday, be fit, and look great in a black T-shirt.
Swimming is for everyone, and it’s an essential life skill. This is the same approach I take with my 2-year-old son, Ayvn — he just needs to learn to swim. He doesn’t need to be an Olympic athlete; I just want to know that when we’re near water he’ll be safe.
Cullen’s Top 3 Success Strategies
- “Strive for perfection but settle for first place.” It’s easy to beat yourself up, but remember to give yourself some grace. Work hard and be proud that you laid it all out there.
- Focus on your goal. When you swim, there might not always be people who look like you or who you can relate to, he says. But if you keep your focus on your progression, you’ll grow as a person and you might even change your life.
- Know when to be relentless. Cullen’s mom insisted he learn to swim. Not only was it an extremely important life skill, but it was the reason he became a four-time Olympic medalist.
Tell Us Your Story! Have a transformational healthy-living tale of your own? Share it with us!
This article originally appeared as “Welcome to the Water” in the June 2021 issue of Experience Life.
Have you tried this NEW workout plan that everyone is talking about?
Moving for Mental Health
As a freshman in high school, Lindsay Byrd didn’t recognize her anxiety for what it was. The teen — and aspiring surgeon — had always had perfectionist tendencies, so she thought it was natural to feel stressed about academics and her GPA. She knew she needed stellar grades to achieve her goals.
But when she started approaching her teachers to discuss assignments they’d graded and scores she’d received, one of her teachers took notice. She scheduled a meeting with Lindsay’s parents to discuss her concerns and went so far as to say that she didn’t think Lindsay would make it beyond her early 20s if she continued to be so stressed over school.
Lindsay and her parents were caught off guard by the teacher’s concerns, but they listened and took immediate action. She began seeing a therapist, who diagnosed her with anxiety and depression. Other than school-related stress, Lindsay can’t pinpoint anything else that might have caused these issues for her. “I think it’s important to note there doesn’t have do be a particular issue or trauma or wound for mental illness to affect people.”
She attended therapy regularly and eventually began taking medications. These measures were helpful and she felt OK for a while. But then Lindsay started to notice some worrying trends during her sophomore year.
“I always had highs and lows, but I really started to notice a lot of lows,” she recalls. “To the point where I couldn’t even think about the highs because everything was just a low. I felt like my brain was sick — I was constantly sad.”
The issue came to a head when Lindsay’s depression progressed to the point where she stopped caring about school. “That was when I realized something was drastically wrong. School was my love, and I just didn’t want to go anymore.” She knew that something needed to change.
Physical fitness had never been a top priority for Lindsay. Though she’d joined the dance team in middle school, she’d largely strayed away from sports after eighth grade. Her schoolwork became her focus, and it didn’t leave much time for her to worry about being active.
In 2020, Lindsay decided to sign up for a membership at Life Time. Her older brothers had been working out for several years, and she’d seen how integral fitness was in their lives. She thought if it worked for them, maybe it was worth a try — though she had no real desire to workout.
To get motivated, Lindsay made a deal with herself: After every workout she completed, she’d let herself relax in the jacuzzi.
To get started, Lindsay initially worked with a personal trainer, who showed her how to do squats and other strength exercises. She even started running on the treadmill, something she never thought she’d do. She started with small increments — just five minutes — and slowly added more time to her runs. Soon enough, she was hitting a mile.
She was blown away — and was also hooked. “Once you start working out, you don’t even have to think about it anymore. I started working out every day, and then it just became a habit, and I didn’t even need to go to the jacuzzi anymore.”
As Lindsay established her routine, it didn’t take long before she began to notice the effects it was having on her mental health. She remembers being motivated by the feeling of her body when it was sore, which indicated progress. And she thrived on the sense of accomplishment she gained from her physical progress — coupled with the serotonin release from her workouts.
“I’ve always loved to feel proud of something that I did,” says Lindsay. “When I started to feel accomplishment, and to feel like I could see progress, that was when I really got the boost. It was like ‘OK, Lindsay, you did it!’”
Lindsay’s fitness gains inspired her to focus on her eating habits, too — she didn’t want her diet to hinder her progress. So she started taking more notice of what she was using to fuel her body. “When I went to the grocery store, instead of grabbing snacks from the chip aisle, I’d grab them from the granola and peanut aisle,” Lindsay recalls. “When I started eating better in addition to working out, I started to have more energy on a daily basis.”
Focusing on a Bright Future
After personally experiencing the mental, emotional, and physical benefits of working out, Lindsay, now 18 and just weeks away from her high-school graduation, notes that it was hard when fitness centers closed down due to COVID in 2020. She did what she could to maintain a routine by going on brisk walks outside and doing some at-home strength training — but she realized quickly how important Life Time had become to her.
And as soon as the health club reopened, she jumped back into her routine, making up for lost time.
Now, as she looks back at her mental-health journey (so far), Lindsay wishes that one of her doctors or a therapist would have recommended physical activity as part of her recovery plan. She acknowledges the value of therapy and medication, but for her, exercise turned out to be her most important tool.
“Little did I know that my mental health would be impacted more than my body,” she says. “Even after a 5-minute run, both my body and mind feel better.”
More importantly, Lindsay’s experience has encouraged her to look outward. Having seen how much her well-being improved after adopting a fitness routine, Lindsay would love to see other people — particularly those struggling with mental-health issues — try to incorporate fitness and movement into their lives.
“I think that doctors forget to tell you that, yes, the medicine might work, yes, the therapy might work, but one other thing that can really change your mental well-being is focusing on your physical body,” Lindsay says. “If you focus on nutrition and getting active, the mental well-being often benefits, too. My hope is that people will just give it a try. You know, see how their brain feels after a little bit of working out and a little bit of good food.”