Using a Certified Coach or Trainer—Worth It? Drives Me Nuts…

We get so boxed in sometimes, don’t we?

I recently got trained as a Golden Hearts® Instructor. I’ve been a certified personal trainer for 4 years through the Aerobics and Fitness Association, and have been a Road Runners Club of America certified running coach for 5 years, and informally coaching since hanging out as a gym rat as a kid. Some of you may know I’m currently 7th in the US W60-641500 meters, 10th in the 400 meters and more, plus I’ve placed in 71 5K races for my age group since 2006.

My publisher reminds me frequently that it takes decades to be an overnight success and that his favorite book he recommends to all authors is, “Don’t Quit Your Day Job.”

I haven’t. But I didn’t get the patience gene, and doing all that I do, I sometimes wonder what it takes to get the attention of in particular, the national media. The first step is getting the attention of the “choir;” vegans who understand that a plant-based diet is the best kept secret in America and beyond. Add to that, running, and the equation is magical. Keeping off excess weight, feeling great and having lots of energy is ridiculously easy.

I’ve been lucky to have the support of vegan doctors like Dr. Neal Barnard and Dr. John McDougall. With Dr. Barnard, first as a staff Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine media consultant, then as a trained Cancer Project cooking instructor for 6 years before the book tour took over my schedule. And Dr. McDougall in his patient answering questions in e-mails, and then inviting me as a guest chef to their Advanced Study Weekend last year.

Let’s review. A certification means you have studied for an ongoing class, a class that is exactly the same for everyone who takes it. You take the same exam everyone does. And you have to keep your certification active by taking in my case, 18 CEUs, or continuing education units or credits. When you take a class, you get a certifiCATE. Not a certification.

There are many running around out there saying they are certified when all they did was take one class. I have been blown away by visiting websites of people who speak at huge events, get treated like royalty, and yet when you visit their websites, there’s nothing about being certified. My mama always taught me that if I didn’t have something nice to say, don’t say it. My publisher/guru instructs to take the high road. So I’m not naming names. But as a former TV investigative/consumer with a leftover healthy dose of reporter’s righteous indigation, I feel like the rules should apply to everyone. And if others in the general public don’t know what the rules are, it is up to those of us certified to spread the word about what that means to you.

What does certification really mean? Almost always it means we are constantly educated about new research and best practices in our industry. It means we get the benefit of the knowledge of many experts who are willing to share their knowledge in many classes we take. And then we have to prove proficiency to pass the same standardized test on a coordinated, regular basis.

Not to take away from many great athletes, and especially runners out there. But it is one thing to do well in a race, or even finish a hundred-mile long race for example, and quite another to have the skills and knowledge to instruct others. I can’t tell you how often I’ve seen organizations choose to have someone educate them based on the athlete’s own personal experience, which is great, but may or may not have a relevant thing to do with instructing a mass audience whose needs, abilities and goals may be, and should be very different.

My takeaway is that you have every right ask an instructor or a speaker for their credentials. Ask to see certifications. I have photos of mine on my website and on social media. I worked hard and long for mine and feel that they represent a level of education and expertise that those who don’t have them, don’t have. I’ve seen those not certified lead head and neck tilts in group classes. Due to potential osteoporosis and spine fracture, should not be crunching any part of the spine toward the back. I’ve seen an instructor tell a senior population to jump repeatedly on and off a concrete curb. While running 100 miles or winning a marathon is an awesome accomplishment, it doesn’t mean someone has the expertise to train, coach or design a program that is right for you, or anyone other than themselves.