Health club owners may have more certifying agencies to choose from now that the deadline for third-party accreditation has been pushed back.

The board of IHRSA pushed back the deadline for certifying agencies to become accredited by a third party to Dec. 31, 2005. The original deadline was Dec. 31, 2004. The change came after a meeting in March of 15 certifying agencies and IHRSA. At the meeting, several of the certifying agencies expressed concerns about meeting the 2004 deadline.

IHRSA had recommended that as of Dec. 31, 2004, IHRSA member health clubs hire personal trainers who hold at least one current certification from a certifying organization that has obtained third-party accreditation of its certification procedures and protocols from an independent, experienced and nationally recognized accrediting body. IHRSA identified the National Commission for Certifying Agencies, the accreditation body of the National Organization for Competency Assurance, as an acceptable accrediting organization. IHRSA's recommendation still holds true except for the extension of the deadline to Dec. 31, 2005.

While IHRSA had stated it may recognize other accrediting organizations in the future, no other accrediting organization has been added to the list, said Bill Howland, spokesperson for IHRSA. Two other accreditation groups exist in the United States.

“They (club operators) set their hiring criteria as it meets their needs,” said Howland. “Certification is relevant, but education levels attained factor into hiring decisions as does relevant work experience. Our position leaves open to the club owner as to how much weight he or she puts on any or all of those.”

While the number of certifying agencies involved in the effort has increased to 15 from six, some of the agencies participating in the meetings have concerns about the group and its intent. The Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA) is concerned about legal implications of a small group of certifying agencies applying standards for the entire industry. Many certifying agencies are being excluded from the process, the group said, and in fact, some of the smaller organizations may not even be aware of the meetings. AFAA also is concerned that just one accrediting body has been recommended when two others exist.

The group also discussed the idea of a National Board of Fitness Examiners, an idea proposed by Dr. Sal Arria, founder of ISSA and head of the National Board of Fitness Examiners. The board would require certified personal trainers to pass a standardized test to receive a license. Arria plans for the first board exams to be ready by 2005.

At the meeting with the certifying agencies, Arria opened the board to nominations. The deadline to nominate someone to the board is April 30.

Some of the agencies expressed reservations about the National Board, mostly on the grounds that it was set up by the founder of a certifying agency. One individual expressed that had the National Board been set up by a “neutral” individual, then more of the agencies might be willing to follow.

Jim Bell, president of the International Fitness Professional Association (IFPA), had mixed feelings about the board idea.

“The overall concept sounds good,” he said. “I'm not sure that it will be good. You don't always see which dominoes will get knocked over.”

His concern is that a National Board exam will cause the certifying agencies to change their tests and education to target what will be on the National Board exam.

“One of the beauties of the different certifications is that the emphasis is unique on each one,” said Bell. “Because the different certifications have their differences, by getting different certifications you get a different feel for what personal training is all about. If you just teach them to pass the board, then you teach just that. I think overall it would be a mistake.”

However, other certifying agencies were willing to look at the National Board as a possibility.

“Accreditation is helpful in setting and maintaining high standards in the fitness training industry,” said Linda Pfiffer, president of AFAA. “However, accreditation is not the only (and may not be the best) approach to achieving this goal. The ultimate solution may instead be standardized testing that assures all fitness professionals have passed the same tests and achieved the same level of competence. That is why the establishment of a National Board of Fitness Examiners is another promising approach, and one that has attracted a great deal of interest in the fitness industry.”

The certifying groups plan to get together again soon to help each other through the accreditation process and to make further recommendations to IHRSA. A date had not been set as of press time.