The IFPA. The NETA. The NCSF. At first glance, it can seem like the world of fitness associations is just a confusing jumble of letters. But as it turns out, these organizations provide a very important function for the fitness industry. What is a fitness association? Is joining a fitness association worth the cost?
Spoilers: the answer is yes. Joining a fitness association (along with making use of helpful technology like custom-branded fitness apps) is one of the most important things you can do for your career. Keep reading to learn why.
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What is a fitness association?
Unlike healthcare, many aspects of the fitness industry are largely unregulated. Fitness associations evolved to fill the need for standardization and professionalism in the fitness industry.
Among other things, these associations advocate for education, scientific research, and safety in the fitness industry, and different organizations will focus on different specialized areas. For example, the Association of Fitness Studios provides support and resources to gym owners, while the National Strength and Conditioning Association concentrates on education and certification within the area of strength and conditioning.
Membership vs. Certification
Because there are hundreds of fitness associations, “joining” one of them means different things depending on the organization. Some, like the IHRSA, offer membership plans. Others, like the American Council on Exercise, offer certifications. Still others, like the American College of Sports Medicine, offer both. What’s the difference?
Membership typically gains you access to services offered by the fitness association, such as education, webinars, in-person events, etc. Memberships are paid monthly or annually and will continue as long as they are paid (and, depending on the organization, as long as you meet their membership requirements).
Certification means the fitness organization has evaluated your skill and knowledge as a fitness professional and found that you meet the organization’s standards. Certifications must be renewed periodically, and renewal is typically accompanied by educational requirements. Certifications expire if they are not renewed.
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What are the benefits of joining a fitness association?
There are numerous benefits to joining a fitness association, including access to emerging technology, education, networking, and the latest science and trends. But perhaps the two largest benefits are specialization and credibility.
Specializing in a fitness niche not only makes you a more well-rounded fitness professional, it can also help you stand out against competitors. For example, the National Academy of Sports Medicine offers fitness specialist courses in topics like senior fitness and golf fitness. The International Sports Sciences Association offers certifications in topics like bodybuilding and indoor cycling instruction.
When you have put in the work to earn a certification from a fitness association, it shows that you have attained a level of expertise in your chosen field. In reality, there is nothing to stop any random person from waking up one day, calling themselves a fitness professional, and starting to coach clients. Certification validates that you know what you’re talking about and that you can be trusted to care for the health of your clients.
The Bottom Line: Are fitness associations worth it?
If you are serious about your career as a fitness professional, joining a fitness association is something you should consider. Yes, it will require some investment (both in terms of money and the time and effort to achieve certification), but nothing worth having is easy. Even though there is a huge volume of fitness associations available, do a bit of research and choose one or two that will provide the greatest benefits for your specific career goals.
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