It's hard to say exactly how many people kick off the New Year with grand plans to shed excess pounds and firm up their flabby muscles. However, it is not a stretch to assume that getting in shape and losing weight ranks among the most popular resolutions made each year. If you are rolling out a new diet or exercise regime for 2012, consider going one step further: Combine it with a new career as well.
Careers in fitness top government growth chart
Fitness workers are a diverse group that ranges from aerobics instructors to physical therapists. Although no two fitness jobs are exactly the same, most have two things in common: They are committed to helping individuals safely get fit, and many are expected to be among the fastest-growing jobs in the nation. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the top 30 fastest-growing occupations include the following fitness professions, which are projected to grow by nearly 30 percent or more from 2008-2018:
- Athletic trainers: 37 percent
- Physical therapist aides: 36 percent
- Physical therapists: 30 percent
- Fitness trainers and aerobics instructors: 29 percent
Working as a fitness professional
Individuals enter the fitness field from all walks of life. Mary Miriani, an Illinois health fitness specialist, began working in fitness as a second career. Others like Chris Finn, the owner of New Kinetic Solutions in N.C., found the fitness field was a natural extension of experience in high school and college athletics. Still others pursued a fitness career only when it became apparent their dreams of going pro were not meant to be.
"I decided to pursue a career in athletic training at an early age," said Denny Krahe, owner of DK FitSolutions, which provides customized fitness plans for individuals and corporations. "I don't remember exactly how old I was, but as the realization I wasn't going to become a professional athlete sank in, I was looking for a career that would still keep me around sports and athletes."
Despite their varied paths into the field, all agree that fitness professionals need at least four years of college to be properly trained.
"If you are going to be legitimate, you need at least a bachelor's degree," Finn said. "There is so much going on in the human body. You are going to hurt someone without the right education."
Miriani agrees. She also says having the right education offers more than client safety. It can result in better employment opportunities as well.
"If you want to get the best certifications, you'll need a bachelor's degree," she said. "It will open more job doors and allow you to command more money."
Top certifications for fitness jobs
What are the best certifications? According to both Miriani and Finn, those offered by the American College of Sports Medicine and the National Strength and Conditioning Association represent the industry's gold standard.
"Personal training is a little interesting because there is no governing board," said Finn.
The result is a number of organizations offering certifications with little industry legitimacy backing their credentials. While some of these organizations will certify individuals with only short-term vocational training or an associate degree, Finn says both the ACSM and NSCA require a bachelor's degree for their certification programs.
While the ACSM and NSCA are industry certifications, other fitness-related careers require government licensure. Athletic trainers need to have a bachelor's degree, and virtually every state requires that they be licensed before beginning work. Meanwhile, physical therapists are required to have a master's degree as well as a government license to start practicing.
Advice for potential students
Regardless of whether you want to work as a personal trainer, physical therapist or athletic trainer, fitness professionals say nothing is more important than the right education background.
"Anyone interested in a career in fitness must have a solid understanding of human anatomy," said Krahe. "In both athletic training and personal training, fads and trends come and go. However, if you have a good understanding of anatomy that allows you to always make the best decisions possible for your athletes or clients."
Finn also suggests students shadow a fitness professional before enrolling in a degree program. Job duties can vary significantly among fitness occupations, and students should be sure they will enjoy their selected type of work before entering school.
"To put that much time and money into a degree before knowing what to expect is a common mistake," said Finn.
Once you are in school, Miriani suggests getting an internship in a clinical or research setting. She cautions students to avoid "big box" fitness clubs where the emphasis can sometimes be more on sales than fitness.
As a final word of advice, fitness professionals say students should be prepared to practice what they preach.
"How do you think you will inspire people to lose weight and be healthy if you are obese and unable to do the things you are telling your clients to do?" said Krahe.
And that is the beauty of fitness careers -- no more excuses about why you can't get into shape. With the right education, 2012 can be a fabulous and fit year!
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