Guest post by CrossFit Inc.’s Derek Fields:
NBC Connecticut recently conducted a “Troubleshooters” investigation called “Questioning the Certifications of Your Personal Trainer”. The Troubleshooters claim to “ask the tough questions” and “solve problems”, exposing borderline scandalous stories like charity clothing drives that sell clothes to make money and police who use “excessive force”. Their story on personal trainer certifications focused on CrossFit’s Level 1 Trainer designation, failing to mention any other specific course that an individual can take to receive some type of training education and credential. The critics interviewed in the article pointed to “CrossFit’s high injury rate”, a myth the Russells have debunked in depth before. The critics focused on the idea that CrossFit trainers were somehow inferior to those who held a credential accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA).
Shortly after NBC Connecticut’s “investigation,” Cincinnati.com published a similar article. It mentioned that critics often cite a high injury rate for CrossFit (although the article did not say which critics made this claim or present any related evidence whatsoever) and quoted a trainer who said that it would be best to be coached by a trainer with an “NCCA accredited certification”.
We’ve heard this argument many times before. Critics cry out that “CrossFit Coaches get certified in only two days!” They then go on to speculate (almost always having absolutely zero knowledge of the Level 1 Seminar) that a two-day seminar couldn’t possibly be effective enough to educate someone on how to coach the fundamentals of functional movement. Like those cited in the NBC Connecticut and Cincinnati.com articles, the “experts” usually then suggest that it’s much better to trust a “certified personal trainer” whose credential is NCCA-accredited, stating that an individual who has completed a lengthier course is generally a more knowledgeable, safer bet.
There are several problems with this criticism that need to be addressed in an honest discussion about CrossFit’s seminars. First, the Level 1 seminar does not designate a graduate as “certified” in anything, and it certainly doesn’t give the graduate the title of “CrossFit Coach”. In order to earn the title of “Certified CrossFit Coach” (also known as the CF-L4) an individual must pass a hands-on evaluation in addition to passing the extensive written examinations and meeting the requirement for hundreds of hours of coaching experience required to achieve the CCFT or CF-L3. A trainer who completes the CF-L1 seminar is known as a “CrossFit Level 1 Trainer,” not a Certified CrossFit Coach. We’ll discuss CrossFit’s credential system in a bit more depth later in this post.
The CrossFit Level 1 Trainer certificate course is accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). Similarly, the NCCA accredits many of the personal trainer certifications that critics tend to hold up as examples. Favoring NCCA over ANSI is unwarranted. ANSI accredits organizations such as the FDA, the FBI, and the Army Combat Readiness/ Safety Center.
The main differences between ANSI and the NCCA are in ANSI’s favor. ANSI accreditation is more expensive and more rigorous (because it includes bi-annual onsite audits and personnel interviews). Furthermore ANSI is international, not merely national, in scope.
All of the NCCA-accredited personal training certifications, such as the ACSM’s Certified Personal Trainer, ACE’s Personal Trainer Certification, and NSCA’s CPT, although sometimes presented as safer and more thorough alternatives to the CF-L1 seminar, require only CPR/ AED certification, having reached at least 18 years of age, independent study (which students complete at their own pace, determining the length of their study themselves) and the completion of a written exam. These certifications are only exams. Preparation for success may only involve reading a textbook. Certification requires no personalized instruction. Think this through then – it is entirely possible that the first time an ACSM or NSCA Certified Personal Trainer evaluates an athlete’s technique in real time may be after they are already certified by these organizations.
To be sure, the NSCA’s Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist certification (CSCS) requires a bachelor’s degree, generally attained through four years of undergraduate education. But the NSCA doesn’t specify what the applicant must have studied in college. An art history degree may be a useful prerequisite for a personal training career, but I fail to see how.
The CrossFit Level 1 Trainer course is not meant to contain the entirety of all fitness knowledge. Rather, as Co-Director of CrossFit’s Certification and Training Department Nicole Carroll says, “CF-L1 trainers have the fundamentals required to responsibly train others through firsthand exposure, and they continue to learn via experience.”
Learn more about CrossFit’s credential system and the philosophy behind it from Nicole Carroll here.
CrossFit also offers a whole host of specialty courses in addition to the CrossFit Level 1 Trainer course and offers further levels of instruction that build off of the CF-L1, including a CrossFit Level 2 Trainer’s course (CF-L2). For “Certification” there is the Certified CrossFit Trainer exam (CF-L3), and Certified CrossFit Coach performance exam (CF-L4).
The Certified CrossFit Trainer designation requires hundreds of hours of coaching experience, CPR/AED, and either a CF-L1 & CF-L2 –or- professional experience as a collegiate level or higher Strength and Conditioning Coach. These are prerequisite to self-study and completion of a comprehensive computer-based exam. The Certified CrossFit Coach designation requires a hands-on performance evaluation of the individual’s coaching ability and expertise by CrossFit HQ’s Assessor Staff.
Also, CrossFit offers a publicly-searchable Trainer Directory (http://trainerdirectory.crossfit.com/) where the public can see which trainers have which credentials and choose accordingly. Get a snapshot of the requirements for our credentials here: http://www.crossfit.com/cf-seminars/crossfit_credentials_faq.pdf
I contacted the authors of both the NBC Connecticut and Cincinnati.com articles, giving them all the information above. The author of the NBC Connecticut piece responded saying that the “details [I] listed were taken into consideration upon writing this piece”. Keep in mind that this was an investigation into “personal training certifications”, not CrossFit. It seems strange that all the information about the NCCA’s programs had been taken into consideration and yet the piece still came out as a CrossFit gym owner vs. Dr. Cody Edgar, a man presented as an expert giving a counter-argument, on the dangers of CrossFit and its irresponsible credential system. The author claimed that “the piece was meant to open consumers’ eyes to the fact that there aren’t any regulations in the health and fitness industry whatsoever” and pointed out that Dr. Edgar had said that a bad trainer, “CrossFit or otherwise”, was dangerous. That still doesn’t change the fact that a piece on personal training turned into a debate on the dangers of CrossFit. No critic cited a single piece of concrete evidence. It should also be noted that the author didn’t update the article to include any of the important information that I gave her.
The Cincinnati.com article author invited me to write an op-ed piece or letter to the editor to get the information I gave her into their media, and she promised to keep my contact information for future articles. However, she also refused to make any changes to her article, saying that while she wished she had some of the details and sources I sent her while writing her article, “it would be inappropriate to add them at this point.” She also claimed that “the jury is still out on injury rates [for CrossFit].” Any jury that hears one side present concrete numbers and evidence and the other make unsubstantiated claims should not need to deliberate very long, but for some reason the press often seems to disagree. While I was invited to write an op-ed to “tell all sides of the story,” I would only have to write such a piece because the author failed to do so herself.
As Nicole Carroll covers in her article, CrossFit’s credential system has adapted and evolved over the years based on feedback. Any genuine criticism that seeks to deliver meaningful feedback rather than protect the interests of the entrenched health and fitness establishment needs to acknowledge all the relevant facts. The CrossFit Level 1 Trainer course is accredited by an independent agency just like many other “certified” personal training courses. Many of those accredited courses, although they may take a long time to prepare for, require only independent study from a book or the internet rather than in-person instruction, discussion, and coaching experience. NBC Connecticut and Cincinnati.com weren’t able to conduct balanced investigations of either personal training certifications or CrossFit. They refused to update their pieces even when we confronted them with new information; therefore I’ve corrected the record here.
A trainer who has experience coaching an athlete to keep their spine in a neutral position during a functional movements is more useful than an expert on metabolic processes who may have never coached or been coached. The CrossFit Level 1 Trainer course teaches topics fundamental to training uncommonly well while some NCCA-accredited courses require irrelevant pieces of paper, but not experience.