Should Personal Trainers and Coaches Be Licensed by the State?

Sure, I could join. But the bigger question remains: why should there be a state license for the practice of exercise prescription? Or cutting hair or doing manicures or massage or plumbing or Physical Therapy, or any number of other activities about which adults are capable of making a decision on whom they hire for the job?

State licensure of exercise would start with the establishment of a State Board of Exercise Prescription Examiners (The SBEPE, acronyms being very important). On this august panel would sit a number of orthopedic surgeons, perhaps a nurse practitioner, a couple of Athletic Trainers, Certified, a couple of exercise physiology professors, an aerobics instructor or two, a Pilates teacher, a token health club chain owner, and most importantly, several Physical Therapists. The SBEPE would be tasked with the production of a document that would serve as the Standards of Practice for the business of exercise prescription in the state.

Our emphasis is strength training using the classic barbell exercises, the most effective exercises in existence for increasing strength -- the most critical physical attribute for athletic performance, functional integrity, and longevity. But barbell strength training remains poorly understood by doctors, Physical Therapists, Athletic Trainers, Certified, as well as exercise physiology professors, aerobics instructors, and many professional strength coaches.

What do you suppose the SBEPE would say about full squats, as we perform them in our method, and as described in a previous article on this website? Bad for the knees.

Despite the fact that they are not, as my experience with them for 38 years and the experiences of countless thousands of trainees have indicated.

Brooklyn Starting Strength Seminar

Deadlifts? Destroy the back. Shear the spine. Instant paralysis. Barbell presses overhead? Destroy the shoulders. Impingement. Olympic lifts, like the snatch and the clean & jerk? Too dangerous, too difficult to coach.


What do you suppose their Standards of Practice document would approve of?

Such a government authority would be placed in a position to regulate that with which they have absolutely no experience. Because -- believe it or not -- orthopedic surgeons, nurses, Athletic Trainers, Certified, aerobics instructors, Pilates teachers, chain health club owners, exercise physiology professors, and, most importantly, Physical Therapists are not qualified to evaluate either the merits or the negative aspects of barbell strength training.

Unless they have personally participated in it, none of these professionals have had any educational exposure to it, because barbell strength training is absent from the standard curricula of these professions’ preparatory education.

Perhaps the most compelling argument that will be used in this effort to regulate exercise prescription through licensure will be Safety -- always the first thing out of the regulator's tool kit. The SBEPE will be The Experts. They can judge what is safe. You can't, because you are not an expert and you cannot possibly know what will or will not hurt you. Therefore, they must protect you. You want to be protected, of course. So you must be in favor of state licensure.

The difference between state licensure and voluntary certification is very important. In the field of exercise prescription and strength training, people acquire education and certification because they are interested in bettering themselves professionally, not because licensure requirements force them to do so. Voluntarily certified professionals keep up with continuing educational opportunities because they strive to remain competitive and are interested in their field, not because they will lose their state-granted license if they don't.

And voluntarily certified trainers are free to explore the rapidly evolving options for the exercise specialty they wish to employ as their professional emphasis. A Standards of Practice document has the potential to drastically restrict the market for the kind of physical activity you as the consumer prefer to participate in.

Unlike the already thorough, complete, and utterly faultless understanding of climate science, the science of exercise is not settled, at all. Human physiology is a study always in flux because of the astronomically high number of variables in the system, and what we knew 30 years ago was far from correct.

In the past 30 years, how many times have dietary guidelines changed while licensed dieticians have not updated?

The writing in stone of a Standard of Practice will stifle our profession and limit the options available to the market. Before this attempt at the control of one more segment of voluntary market activity progresses any further, think about the broader question: How much more of your ability to judge for yourself are you willing to cede to yet another bureaucracy?

Does your state know better than you do whether full squats are “bad for your knees”?