Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Strength & Conditioning Profession - Part 1

The following is an excerpt from a paper I wrote during my time as a Master's student at the University of British Columbia.  This section looks at the state of the governing bodies that currently exist, and how they do not yet mean a strength & conditioning pro is providing an athlete/client optimal service, results, or safety.

The Question of Governing Bodies

In the world of fitness, personal training, and strength & conditioning, there is no single governing body which reigns over all professionals within the industry.  There are an excessive number of certifying bodies which offer the reward of becoming a self-described ‘qualified professional’ once their certification requirements have been met by the prospective individual.  The reason why the industry is over saturated with certifying bodies, is that there is no existing government regulations that requires all persons who list their profession as a strength & conditioning, fitness, or personal training professional, to meet a pre-determined set of guidelines prior to working with human beings.  In the medical profession, there are governmental regulations in place that require all members to study under a standard learning curriculum in a government sanctioned institution.  Furthermore, the bare minimum admission requirement of a medical school is a four year degree.  These restrictions are designed to ensure that all medical professionals possess the same knowledge base in order to provide the patient with high quality continuity in the care they receive from one medical practice to the next.  In the strength & conditioning industry, any willing member of society (with or without a degree) is capable of earning a training certification.  Some of these training certifications, such as ExpertRating®, may be completed online, in as little time as a weekend.  Of course, there are existing organizations’ who provide strength & conditioning certifications that require their members to possess a four year degree, and whose testing procedures require a much higher level of knowledge.  Two of the most prominent organizations include the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), and the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM).  Another point worth comparing with the medical profession is the fact that the four year degree required for admittance to a medical school, or achievement of the NSCA or NASM certifications does not have to be in health or science.  This has been a point of discussion amongst many industry professionals, who believe that a degree in a field such as kinesiology must be required to become a successful strength & conditioning professional.  By looking at the medical professionals who have successfully completed the requirements of medical school, we may discern that it is likely not the content of the undergraduate degree that necessarily dictates who will have a successful career, but what is learned afterwards.  Conferring with multiple university professors, I have come to the conclusion that the significance of an undergraduate degree is that the student is taught how to learn.  While a base level of knowledge in a health field such as kinesiology would put an aspiring strength & conditioning professional on an accelerated path to certification and career success, it should not be the sole factor to consider.  With the stringent theoretical and practical curriculum existing in medical schools, one may assume that students (regardless of the field of their undergraduate degree) would absolutely possess the drive necessary to graduate and continue on in their career with a passion to help others.  While the NSCA and NASM may have the most stringent requirements of any fitness, personal training, or strength & conditioning certification, these organizations still lack, in the opinion of leading experts, components which should be implemented in testing procedures to ensure competence.  While these organizations require an in-depth base of theoretical knowledge of physiology, anatomy, and training principles and protocols, they do not require the aspiring professional to demonstrate their competence in properly coaching an exercise.  Without the ability to safely and effectively coach an athlete the movements that they preach, achievement of optimal sport performance and the reduced risk of injury is not possible.  A lack of competence in performing exercises with near perfect technique will lead to dysfunctional movement patterns.  In recent years, it has been determined that high quality movement patterns are required to keep an athlete healthy and performing to their highest potential (Cook, 2010).  Ideally, under government regulation, any strength & conditioning certification would require its constituents to study a strict knowledge base including physiology, anatomy, and effective training principles and protocols, with the coaching of foundational movements patterns at the centre of attention.  Presently, only the coaches who are the most passionate about their profession are likely to conveniently stumble upon the most up to date methods and information available to us as strength & conditioning professionals.  Realistically, every industry includes a wide spectrum of passion from its’ members.  It is not feasible to simply ban anyone who ‘works to live’, rather than ‘lives to work’, from their chosen profession.  However, it must be understood that every member of every health profession has the duty to achieve the base level of competency needed to keep their patients, clients, or athletes’ healthy, and in our case, to improve performance.  A medical doctor is liable to lose their license to practice, or be sued, if they put their patient in undue risk.  While the stakes are not as high in every situation for the strength & conditioning coach, serious injuries or death have and may continue to occur as a result of negligence.  With this level of risk, the threat of license revocation must hang over their heads.    
Unfortunately, without governmental regulations, the strength & conditioning industry will continue to attract those looking to make a ‘quick buck’.  This thought was conveniently exemplified in the November 2011 issue of Money Magazine.  In a written piece with the premise of “Best Jobs If You’re...”, the topic came to “...winding down your work life”.  Under the premise of “After decades in your office chair, you’ve earned a break for your last act”, personal training is listed as a high paying job that does not require hard work.  Public advertisement of this nature lends credence to the ignorant perception that a high level of knowledge, and continual learning is not necessary to succeed.  While the profession in the example above used the job title ‘personal trainer’, the strength & conditioning industry has no shortage of like minded individuals.  Further discouraging to the dedicated professional, is the fellow trainer who is biding their time as a strength coach due to the fact they haven’t yet decided which career path they’d like to continue down.

1 comment:

  1. such an awesome story sean this would definitely motiate anyone looking to join a higher institution of learning keep up the good job