After you get the necessary certifications to pursue a career in personal training, you have to consider how to keep learning and continue getting better in this competitive field.
One option to supplement your knowledge is to read articles, as you are doing now, and books from experienced thought leaders in the industry. Another is to find seminars, classes, workshops, conferences, and so on to attend. The difference is that to be a personal trainer, reading books and articles is optional, while you actually need to periodically pursue educational opportunities within the industry. Most of the major certifying bodies, including ACE, NSCA, NASM, and ACSM, each require that you fulfill a certain amount of continuing education units, or CEUs, to expand your knowledge and skill set.
CEUs give you the perfect opportunity to enhance your educational background, maintain a high level of professional qualification, and increase your ability to assist and attract clients. The conundrum is that in today's increasingly digital world, you have more continuing education options than ever, ranging from online courses to in-person workshops.
On one hand, the online courses can seem like the more convenient way to go, but don't just blindly opt-in to a continuing education class based on convenience. Instead, consider the following three factors before deciding what to study next:
- Purpose: Is there a good reason you are choosing this specific course? Will you have good use for the materials you learn?
- Population: Will the skills you learn benefit the population you want to work with, or are currently working with?
- Passion: Do you actually enjoy this topic?
You should also consider what the online or in-person courses entail. The basic rule of thumb is that if a topic is very hands-on, it is probably better studied in-person.
For example, TRX training is not something that you'd want to learn about at an at-home study course, since you won't get the full benefits of how to use it with your clients. There are a lot of nuances with using it, and not to mention, all of the ideas you can talk about with other coaches. By contrast, something that is not hands-on, like a business development and sales course, can be fine to do online because these are more conceptual ideas and lessons, rather than hands-on work.
The considerations don't end there though. Let's take a closer look at the pros and cons of in-person continuing education workshops versus online CEUs to help you choose the most appropriate courses for your career.
The pros of in-person CEU workshops
- You get face-to-face time: The "personal" in personal training does connote helping people in person. This kind of interaction allows you to ask questions (and get responses) immediately, try specific methods with a live person, and solve problems in an interactive and dynamic environment. When a specific type of training is demonstrated on you, you and your clients benefit significantly more.
- You get a focused learning environment: The focused educational environment of in-person workshops can help you to stay engaged and on-task. Your time is entirely dedicated to education and collaborating with your peers and instructors.
- You get networking potential: When you attend in-person workshops, you'll be meeting lots of like-minded people, often who live near you. These networking opportunities can exist in class, during breaks, or outside of the learning environment such as at social events.
- They're fun: Group fitness instructors, for example, are well aware of the camaraderie that exists in their classes that keeps people engaged and coming back for more. A workshop can provide the same benefits because you're in a class with people who are all on the same journey as you.
- You have a better completion rate: When you make a commitment to show up for a weekend of continuing education, you are practically guaranteed to earn the credits.
The cons of in-person CEU workshops
- They're less convenient: In-person workshops don't happen every weekend and are less frequent than online counterparts. For example, the IDEA World Fitness Convention, one of my personal picks for the best available continuing education courses for personal trainers only happens once per year.
- They require more logistics: In-person workshops often include travel, booking an entire weekend away from home, the required expenses of flights or car rentals/transportation, food, parking, and hotels.
- They have high costs: Because of the logistical considerations that were just mentioned, in-person workshops tend to be more expensive than the online model.
- There's a limited topic pool: There tends to be a finite pool of continuing education topics that are offered, either nearby or nationwide.
- Assessment may be lacking: Some in-person workshops only require that the attendees show up. There may be no requirement to interact, ask questions, or provide the tools to truly absorb what is taught. Often people can show up and still receive credits with no guarantee that they will retain what they learned. It helps to contact the organization (or organizer) beforehand to get a clearer picture of what to expect at the workshop.
- They also cost time: We're busy. Any requirements that take our time away from home, especially a whole weekend, can mean time away from loved ones, as well as time away from training and making money. However, if it's on something you feel strongly about or at least curious about, don't be shy about investing in your education--and subsequently, your future.
- No review of material: Not every workshop will provide the prerequisite knowledge that's required for you to fully understand the concepts therein. Ask if there are significant resources that are readily available or provided. If not, contact the organizer, brush up, and go to the workshop with a list of key questions. By asking questions and being genuinely curious, you have an "in" networking with fellow coaches as well.
The pros of online CEU workshops
- They're highly accessible: The convenience of the online model also lends itself to its convenience and accessibility. You can work at your own pace, at any time you want, and however long you want--as long as you have a WiFi connection. If you want to cram the materials in over a day, you can, or you can spread them out as you please.
- You get a broader range of topics: Every major personal training certification body offers continuing education online, allowing you to access any of these courses in virtually any niche you can imagine. This provides you the flexibility to expand your knowledge in specific areas that you might be interested in, or focus on areas you would like to advance for the sake of growing your businesses.
- You get more rigorous assessments: Most online continuing education courses require you to pass some type of test to prove you have retained what you have learned and can think critically about it. This forces you to be more involved with the course and the material so that you can get the certificate of completion.
- You get a greater review of material: Online courses typically consist of reading material, videos, online webinars, and other educational material. Most of these can be referenced or accessed again, allowing you to utilize the material as you need to.
The cons of online CEU workshops
- No in-person interaction: You won't get the same type of interaction as you would in an in-person course. While you may have a decent amount of interaction with a live human via email, phone, or messaging services, any questions you (or your peers) have may not be answered immediately as they would in-person.
- No learning environment: Sometimes the pro of having your own schedule results in procrastination. If you are this type of person, the lack of accountability in online courses will could hurt you. You may benefit more from having to show up at an in-person workshop to ensure you complete the course.
- No networking potential: As you don't have a classroom to attend, there are no other participants whom you can speak with, get to know, or network with.
Are in-person workshops or online CEUs better for me?
We all have our preferences for learning and goals for the progression of our careers. When deciding between in-person classes or online options, consider the above--specifically, you should place your personal advancement first and consider the classes that are going to get you closer to your final goal.
Perhaps you really like the trainer who is offering a class and would love to meet that trainer in-person. It really helps to know what kind of person you are as well: If you're a self-starter, online courses may not be as big of a hindrance as they may be to someone who tends to procrastinate getting things done. If you procrastinate, go with an in-person, weekend workshop, where they require you to go in to complete the course right then and there.
One other thing I'd stress is that any continuing education materials which are very hands-on are probably best learned in-person, as they will have to be duplicated in the gym or fitness center. Alternatively, a marketing class, nutritional programming class, or a "strength training for fat loss" class, for example, could be best served in a convenient, online learning environment.
Regardless of the route you take in progressing your personal training career, it is not the way you learn that matters, it is what you learn. It's your money (and your career), so don't just throw it away merely to meet CEUs.