BOSTON — It may be May, but some certification agencies are feeling like they've been left in the cold despite a deadline extension from the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) on its personal trainer certification recommendation and an expansion of recognized accrediting bodies.

In March, IHRSA's Board of Directors approved a revised resolution on third-party accreditation of personal training certification programs. The group now recommends that “by January 1, 2006, IHRSA member clubs hire personal trainers holding at least one certification from an organization/agency that has begun third-party accreditation of its certification procedures and protocols from an independent, experienced and nationally recognized accrediting body.” IHRSA originally recommended that the certifying agencies complete the process by Dec. 31, 2005, but the association now recommends that the agencies begin the process by Jan. 1, 2006.

With regards to approved accrediting agencies, the resolution now says that the group will recognize more accrediting bodies than the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) — which previously was the only accrediting body recognized by IHRSA. In addition to NCCA, IHRSA will recognize accrediting groups that are “an established accreditation body recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and/or the United States Department of Education (USDE) for the purposes of providing independent, third-party accreditation.”

The problem with this change, according to some certifying agencies, is that these two groups recognize accrediting organizations that accredit curriculum not exams. This means that a certifying agency must have its exam accredited by NCCA or its curriculum accredited by CHEA or USDE.

However, some of the certifying agencies have already had their exams accredited by Vital Research, another accrediting organization that is not recognized by IHRSA. These certifying agencies would prefer that their accreditation be “grandfathered” into the recommendation. CHEA and USDE don't recognize Vital Research because it only accredits exams not curriculum. Despite being the recommended accrediting agency, NCCA also only accredits exams not curriculum, and it is not recognized by CHEA or USDE.

Thomas Richards, JD, public policy manager for IHRSA, stated in a letter to some of the certifying agencies that IHRSA “has no plans to alter the resolution to formally recognize other accrediting bodies not recognized by CHEA or USDE.”

However, if the certifying agencies that do not want to go with NCCA would prefer to forego getting their exams accredited and instead get their curriculum accredited through an accrediting agency recognized by CHEA or USDE, they may be out of luck, too. That's because the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) is sponsoring a committee under the auspices of the Commission of Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) — which guides the accreditation of curriculum or education standards but not exams at the higher or degreed level of study for allied health professionals — to set educational standards for personal training programs. The committee, called the Committee on Accreditation of Exercise Science programs (CoAES), is establishing standards and guidelines for academic programs that facilitate the preparation of students seeking employment in the health, fitness and exercise industry, according to the group's Web site. CoAES also is establishing and implementing a process of self-study, review and recommendation for all programs seeking CAAHEP accreditation.

Unfortunately for most certifying agencies, CAAHEP only accredits curriculum for higher education and most certifying agencies do not operate within the university setting. Therefore, a program to accredit non-degreed programs would have to be set up by CoAES.

ACSM recently began offering its first nondegreed personal training certification, which makes it a competitor of the other certifying agencies offering nondegreed certifications, who can't get their curriculum accredited by CAAHEP and who don't want to go through NCCA for accreditation of their exams.

To become part of the CoAES, certifying agencies must petition to join the committee (which in addition to ACSM is also sponsored by the American Association for Cardiovascular an Pulmonary Rehabilitation, American Kinesiotherapy Association and the Medical Fitness Association) and be accepted unanimously by those already on the committee (and then approved by CAAHEP at its annual meeting). As of press time, none of the certifying agencies had petitioned to join the committee.

Prior to making the revised recommendation on personal trainer certifications, IHRSA's board heard from a three-member panel put together by IHRSA to look at concerns of some of the certifying agencies. The agencies (most of which were for-profit groups) were concerned that the recommendation of NCCA as the only accrediting agency set up potential, unintended barriers to accreditation by for-profit certification agencies and that alternative avenues for accreditation should be offered. The panel determined that the original resolution is appropriate for the purposes of the club-based personal training initiative and that it does not impose unintended barriers to accreditation for for-profit organizations. NCCA only recently began offering accreditation to for-profit groups, having focused in the past on nonprofits.

The panel did recommend a longer timeline for implementing the recommendation since earning NCCA accreditation may take as long as a year or more after the initial application.