Now that I have finished my personal training certification, I feel as though I can do a full review of the course – and also address the commonly-held belief that personal training certifications are one of the lowest forms of education.
I studied through Fitness Industry Education (FIE), a UK-based institution. I completed all of my study online over a period of five months. I was assessed externally for the level two (fitness instructor) module while I was still in Australia, while I completed my level three (personal trainer) assessments over two consecutive weekends once I arrived in London.
The course was £1500, which is about $2300 in Australian dollars. Outside of America, that’s about the cheapest you’ll find. The exact same course in Australia is $6000 and would have taken twice as long as mine, but on a full-time basis. I was working full-time and only studying about eight hours per week. If I had completed the entire course at once – and not suffered any delays with my assessments – I would have had the whole thing finished in no more than six weeks.
My overall opinion is that the course content and set-up was not as bad as I was expecting, but there certainly is a lot of room for improvement. I did not learn anything I didn’t already know, so I essentially paid £1500 for a piece of paper.
The main problem with the course is that it is 80 per cent theory-based. The only practical experience I had was during my assessments this month, and the useless videos they provide about how to use stability balls and resistance bands. Even if I had studied here in the UK, my hands-on experience would have been exactly the same.
It’s great that they want you to learn every single muscle in the body, and how the cardiovascular, respiratory and digestive systems work. But how useful is that information when I haven’t learnt a single thing about helping someone with an injury, helping someone to achieve a goal or even coaching someone in general!
It didn’t dawn on me until I had to do a two-hour practical interview yesterday that I have taught myself everything I know. When I had to come up with training programs on the spot, I was solely using my own experience to formulate ideas.
Thankfully, I do a lot of background reading and I have been educating myself for years about weight training. I taught dance for three years so have gained a decent amount of experience coaching others. And training my husband helps a lot! I did really well in the interview, so I’m obviously doing something right.
FIE messed me around a lot when I was waiting for my exam papers to arrive, and a lot of the important course information regarding assessments was not made clear or available (and I wasn’t the only person who struggled with this!). Whenever I called the staff were mostly unhelpful, and didn’t do anything to keep me.
But I was most unimpressed when I finally had the chance to meet someone from the institute during my first in-person practical assessment. The assessor arrived 45 minutes late, with no apology (but this seems to be the English way – super unreliable!) to supervise the theory exams. I overheard one other student saying it was his SIXTH attempt at the theory paper (you have to score above 70% to pass). Seriously, if someone fails five times, should you really give them another chance?!
When we moved on to the practical portion (where I killed everyone with my push-ups!), the assessors provided information which went directly against what was in our course material. When they were questioned about it, they simply said that everyone in the fitness industry will tell you something completely different. Sure, but certainly not when they work for the same institution? Eek.
We had time to practice and then we were supposed to be assessed. However, following the practice the assessors immediately passed everyone and we were let out three hours early. Apparently just showing up gives you a passing grade.
When we were leaving, there was another Australian there who asked me what I thought of the course. He said he liked it because of the fact that it is an internationally-recognised certification but, like me, he was not impressed with how easily they seem to be giving away certifications. He said he was thinking of transferring to a different institution, but I told him I could almost guarantee it wouldn’t be any better.
So what needs to change?
The theory exams need to be a lot harder. All the papers are multiple choice, and most of the answers are totally obvious. If people are failing this, they should NOT be given a second chance – unless there are some extra special circumstances involved.
My final practical assessment included me training someone for two minutes on the treadmill, and then we demonstrated four different resistance exercises. Just because I can deliver a simple 20 minute workout does not mean I am fully capable to do this as a living. I’m confident that I personally am, but what about the other people out there who just had to memorise a simple workout routine?
As much as it seems silly for me to say, I think they should remove the option to study online. To be a personal trainer you need to have significant actual experience training a real live client. It’s scary to think who is out there, newly-qualified and ready to injure some poor person.
If you are a personal trainer, what did you think of your course?
If not, have you ever considered becoming a trainer? What reservations do you have about the qualification?
Note: Since I published this review, I have been contacted by FIE and understand that several moves have been taken to improve the service on offer. This includes staff replacement, customer service training and addressing other elements I believed were lacking such as the practical elements of training.