Credential Measuring Contest; CrossFit Wins

Guest post by CrossFit Inc.’s Derek Fields:

CrossFit Trainer Stuart Ashley, holding his L1 Course Certificate.

CrossFit Trainer Stuart Ashley, holding his L1 Course Certificate.

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. 

CrossFit Course Supervisor Cherie Chan, instructing a group of participants at the CrossFit L1 Course.

CrossFit Course Supervisor Cherie Chan, instructing a group of participants at the CrossFit L1 Course.

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

Matt Chan, working with a participant at the CrossFit L1 Trainer Course.

Matt Chan, working with a participant at the CrossFit L1 Trainer Course.

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.

Nicole Carroll

Nicole Carroll

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.

8 comments

  1. Nothing about this article makes sense. If CF trainers are so well educated. Why do we continue to see the most random undisciplined training at CF Boxes.

    You have to understand. Most people probably have gotten the “why” wrong. Looking for answers to that question. Probably even making reasons up. Which I agree does not help. But on the other hand, we have people with conflicts of interests denying there is any problem at all, just as loudly.

    So here I am going to make up another one that makes sense…….

    CF gives you concussion. Every time you do it. Causing memory loss. So all the well educated trainers simply “forget” about how important discipline is. And the longer they do it, eventually they forget the word ever exists.

    • Mr. Shaw,

      Just wondering what your credentials are. These are some broad statements. What do you mean by “undisciplined training”? What do you qualify as “disciplined”? I know a lot of CrossFit Coaches, and am one myself.

      Just to keep an open discussion, I’m a College Strength and Conditioning Coach, a job which I’ve held for three years, during which I have coached numerous teams and athletes to National Championships. I have my college degree, and I hold 9 fitness-based certifications in addition to my L1. I have completed thousands of hours of coaching and hundreds of hours of continuing education in my field. Would you assert that my background as a CrossFit instructor makes my coaching style “undisciplined”?

      We have bad coaches and bad trainers everywhere. Generalizing that the CFL1 leads to poor coaching is naive. The CFL1 Certification is, to this day, the best certification I have been to, and the materials provided to me for study and reference have been invaluable tools over the years.

  2. Michael

    I feel that there are good trainers and bad trainers despite the credentials. I Like aspects of Crossfit and I use them with my clients. Certifications don’t make the trainer the trainer’s work into the field make the trainer. I don’t feel that people get injured bc of crossfit i feel people get hurt doing crossfit bc they compete with a time and let their form go to crap. I know good trainers in all certs and i know bad trainers in different certs regardless of what cert you have know your specialties and continue to grow.

    I will say this most trainers don’t like to listen to anyone other than themselves crossfit, Nasm or any other cert. (just my observation in the gyms ive worked in)

    I crossfited heavily for 2 (09-11) years and chose to do other types of fitness instead of crossfit. To each his own I only tell people do what makes you happy and learn from everyone you can. I prefer Kettlebell training to crossfit its my cup of coffee.
    Certified threw ISSA and The World Kettlebell Club trainer for 4 years going on 5

  3. Eric

    Crossfit loves to promote that it’s registered with ANSI but please explain how having ANSI certification is meaningful?? ANSI primary purpose is to ensure different organizations have the same meaning for terminology. If anything Crossfit should understand pullup does not mean flopping like a dead fish to get over a bar – the correct term for that is the kipping pullup.

    Also Crossfit refuses to let an outside agency study it’s injury rate so all we are left with is what people we know who do Crossfit tell us, the fact that the Crossfit message boards are full of injury posts and the fact that crossfit trainers know well the term Rombo and even make “funny” comics about it. Maybe Crossfit should open up it’s own records so a proper study can be done.

    You can say whatever you want about a level 1 coach not being certified but the fact is that’s all that’s needed to open up your own box. On one hand you allow someone to open up a gym under the Crossfit banner after one weekend, on the other you say level 1 is inadequate – which is it??

    You haven’t corrected anything here, an independent reviewer could but you can’t due to bias. Crossfit rep says Crossfit is awesome is not good enough.

    • Eric,
      CrossFit’s ANSI accreditation is meaningful in exactly the ways stated in this article. You seem to be assuming that an accrediting body should assess and evaluate the content taught by the organizations it accredits, but that’s not how it works. the NCCA, the organization that accredits most of CrossFit’s competitors, doesn’t do that either.

      As for your injury claim, it’s clear that you are speaking purely from your own ignorance of the subject. CrossFit’s injury rates have been published by at least 3 different outside researchers. In each case the results found CrossFit to be about as dangerous as things like triathlon training and gardening. We are also in regular communication with exercise scientists who want to organize more studies of our program. These are all things you would have known if you read this article.

      Finally, you claim that being “certified” is all that is needed to “open up your own box.” Again, if you had read the article you would know that the L1 is not a certification. More importantly, anyone can open a gym anywhere in the US and use constantly varied functional movement performed at high-intensity with absolutely no credentials or training. CrossFit has created a standard that trainers must meet in order to affiliate with our organization, and after attending our course, passing our test, and successfully applying to become an affiliate, we grant them the ability to put the name “CrossFit” on their gym… a gym they could have opened without any education to begin with.

      So in summary, read the article before you post on this blog again or I’ll just delete your comment to avoid wasting our time and yours.

      • Mr. Berger,

        ANSI accreditation is not on the level of the current “gold standard” NCCA accreditation for the following main reason: “Distinct firewall between education/training and certification activities (no conflict of interest)”.
        For example, an ACSM certification requires the individual to take the written test in an accredited testing facility. ANSI does not.
        Why is this important? All those who pass a NCCA test are knowledgeable of the material. Going to a 2 day clinic and taking a quick test afterwards conducted by those who just led the clinic is not equivalent and should not be claimed as equivalent. This is clearly shown by the high CrossFit Level 1 pass rate vs ACSM’s 61% pass rate.
        This also ignores the great disparity of topics covered on one of the big 4 NCCA trainer tests vs. the CrossFit level 1, but that is a whole different topic.

      • I suggest you actually attend an L1 and experience the testing process before you imply there is some sort of issue with our staff administering the test. Your implication that this has anything to do with the pass rate is a logical leap on your part that you’ve provided nothing to support. You also seem to be implying that those who pass the L1 test are not “knowledgeable of the material.” Yet you provide no argument or evidence for why this would be true. Finally, you criticize the CrossFit L1 for not covering the same topics as the “big 4 NCCA” tests. Did it occur to you that this might have something to do with the fact that the CrossFit methodology is an fundamentally different program than these 4, in many cases teaching the exact opposite information as they do?

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