Plato, the original King of the Iron, once said “the measure of a man is what he does with power”. We can modernize the quote by changing “man” to “person”, and the substance remains the same. However, to best fit the world of fitness professionals, we need to modify it even further:
“The measure of a person is how many letters they have behind their name”.
Feel free to write that down.
Sometimes folks will have a signature block complete with an alphabet soup that takes up nearly as much space as the email itself, showcasing their pursuit of knowledge. But...what does having all those letters really mean? With the internet, we have more access to knowledge than ever before. Because of this, some people become professional consumers of information, gathering up as much as they can, but ultimately never putting it to use. What if someone did that with the food they ate? Just took in as much as they could, but never actually did anything to use that energy? Taken to the extreme, they would reach unhealthy levels of weight...aka become obese. Well, these information consumers are no different; to paraphrase one article, they become Knowledge Obese.
In this article I’m going to be comparing and contrasting certifications versus weekend clinics and seminars, discussing the similarities, differences, and most importantly, what they mean for you as the Coach.
Terms and Conditions Apply
Before we get too far, we have to establish some common definitions, namely between a “certification” and a “certificate”. A certification is a formal process that recognizes and validates someone’s qualifications in a certain subject, and is earned from a professional society. On the other hand, a certificate demonstrates that an individual has achieved a baseline level of competence in a subject area, and is capable of handling the challenges he or she might face in a specific job. Certifications must also be renewed periodically, usually through continuing education (more on that later), whereas certificates generally do not.
A big difference between these two is competency. A CF L1 or USAW weekend grants you a certificate, which says you have a baseline level of competency to coach in that specific role. A certification like the CSCS or TSAC covers a much wider base of knowledge, providing you a broader depth of competency to build on.
At quick glance they seem nothing alike, almost at opposite ends of the spectrum from one another. But, scratch the surface a bit and you’ll see there are some areas where they do overlap and share similar characteristics. Firstly, both require a financial investment. Weekend seminars and clinics range anywhere from $500-$1000 or more. Certifications might be less out of pocket initially, but you can expect to spend more over the long haul. For example, a textbook will potentially cost you $90 (brand new), to take the test, you’re looking at a $475 testing fee. And, continuing education to maintain the certification isn’t exactly free.
Both also require an investment of time. People say time is our most valuable resource, and you’re choosing to spend it honing your craft. You’re taking time away from friends, spouses, children, and potentially work, to better yourself and your coaching game. And guess what, if those seminars happen to be out of town somewhere, now you’re looking at more time for travel, and even more time away from family (not to mention the associated costs).
Definitely Not Same Same
Even with those similarities, the differences run much deeper and are in stark contrast to one another. The first big one? Time, both quantity and quality. Clinics and seminars usually just ask for a weekend from you, and might include some material you need to study ahead of time before going in. On the other hand, at some of the weekend seminars I’ve seen, I’m not even sure you need to be 100% mentally present the entire time. If you can fog a mirror and fill a seat, you’ll get some letters on Sunday afternoon.
Compare this to some of those big certifications, where you’re looking potentially at MONTHS of studying before going to take the test (which can take up to 3 hours itself). That’s time away from friends and family, nose buried in a textbook. And if you fail the test...guess what, back to the books (not to mention that retest fee).
Even though I’ve touched on it twice, I would be remiss if I didn’t bring up continuing education here. Certifications require you to take regular continuing education units, or CEUs, in order to maintain periodicity. Now, I will grant the CEU process isn’t the most well vetted, and there is lots of wiggle room for what counts as a CEU, but as a principle the goal is for you to continue to seek new knowledge and expand your capabilities; you can’t just earn the cert and sit back on your laurels.
Variety. It’s the Spice of Life.
So which is better? Where should you focus your energy? To folks who ask this, I say both. Both of these have value and a space in the strength and conditioning world; to throw one or the other away would be a huge mistake.
In short, whichever you have more of, do the opposite.
Have you just been a letter chaser? Hit up some weekend certs. They can give you some great tools and practical knowledge to add to your toolbox. And, you’ll have the chance to interact and network with other coaches both in and out of your area. It’s not what you know, but who you know, and these give you the opportunity to interact with your peers in a (relatively) stress-free environment.
Do you have a binder full of 2-day graduation certificates? Push yourself and buckle down for one of those bigger certs. In my previous series about Mercenary Coaches, I gave a warning to not treat this coaching as a side hustle, and to give it the respect a career deserves. You know what really shows you’re invested? Getting some of those certifications that are career milestones for the full-time strength and conditioning professional. It shows you care enough to invest real time and money in bettering yourself.
If you type “fitness certification” into a google search bar, you’ll pull up approximately 261 MILLION results in less than a second. If you want to start eating this elephant, you may have no idea where to take your first bite.
Remember that old tagline “what are you training for?” from the Cough-fit Football days? Well, take a breath, and ask yourself “what are you learning for”? Meaning, once you earn that certificate or certification, what are you going to do with it?
The true value in a certificate, certification, or seminar isn’t just what letters you get or who is backing it; it's in the application, and what you do with it. In the introduction I talked about folks suffering from information obesity, where they just consumed but never used. If someone came into our gyms and described this as their eating habits, we’d tell them to limit their intake and start putting that energy to good use. The same thing applies here. When trying to decide what certification or seminar to spend your time and money on, one of the first questions to ask is if it will do you any good? Is it an extremely niche knowledge area, or does it have broader application to your population? If you can’t use apply it, save your time and money for something that you can.
At Power Athlete we like to encourage people to empty their cup, meaning don’t bring in preconceived notions when learning something new. When it comes to the realm of learning though, I want to take this a step further: never let that cup fill. Keep that cup bottomless, continuously pursue what is useful, discard what is useless, and always be looking for what you can pour in next.
Looking for somewhere to get started? We just opened up Semester 10 of the Power Athlete Methodology course. Click the link below and head over to reserve your spot now!
EDUCATION: Power Athlete Methodology
BLOG: So You Want To Be A Mercenary by Adam Campbell
BLOG: Power Coach: Education by Tex McQuilkin
Adam grew up a lifetime athlete, playing soccer, baseball, basketball, and practicing martial arts, earning his black belt at age 12. While in college, he decided to join the Navy and soon adopted CrossFit to help prepare him for the demands of the military. Adam earned his commission in 2008, and while on active duty earned his CrossFit Level 1 in 2010 and CrossFit Football certification in 2012. He was part of the first class to go through the Power Athlete methodology course, and the first group to earn their Block One certification in September 2017.
He currently coaches at two gyms in San Diego, applying the principles from the Power Athlete Methodology to both general population and field sport athletes.
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